Thursday, 18 July 2013
Ich bin ein Berliner
'What is this?'
'It's a svimming pool. Do you vant to go svimming?'
I am standing in front of a ten foot high wire fence talking to a security guard. I am surrounded by disused factories and warehouse. One carries the name it has always carried - the Glashaus. To get here I have walked through possibly the most graffitied urban area I've ever seen. Not artist grafitti as featured on the nearby Berlin Wall East Gallery, but old fashioned untidy overtagged urban grunge.
'How much to svim?'
'Fife Euro' the guard tells me.
I look beyond his imposing presence and can see an open area covered in imported sand. I offer him five euros telling him that I've come from the other side of the planet to svim in unusual places so I can't resist. Five euros is twice what I'd pay in Brisbane but this is Berlin and this is the River Spree. Berliners were keen on swimming in the prewar years. There were numerous swimming clubs and enclosures along these reaches. This is an attempt to reinvent the swimming culture.
The guard declines to take my money and directs me to the bar inside the compound. There i find myself in the company of a half a dozen drinkers. Certainly not swimmers. A young woman behind the counter takes my cash and directs me to the change rooms. For an extra Euro I can rent a locker but I must also surrender some form of photo ID. It all seems a bit much but I offer her my Seniors Card, partly by way of a joke and partly because i don't have any photo ID and don't want to hand over a credit card. She smiles, but not at my little joke. She just smiles in what i think is a shated acknowledgemwent that perhaps the high security is a little bit beyond the absolutely necessary.
The change room is a sandy space with a curtain for privacy. The Germans are quite formal about many things. Rules are to be followed but when it comes to disrobing they are relaxed and informal. A group of teenage boys have arrived on their bikes and they are in the water when I emerge in my DTs, my Speedos, my racing trunks. I carry nothing else but my tiny travelling towel and the key to my locker.
The pool is a former canal barge modified and lined with fibreglas and tethered in the river. It floats. It's filled with treated water so it's bright blue alongside the dirty Spree. Rules: No photos. No glass. No sandy feet. The three boys are in giant board shorts. They frolic. I swim lengths. It's a 25 metre pool and heated. The only other people around the pool are a young couple intent on a form of leisure not exactly connected with water - more an exchange of saliva.
My swim is accompanied by a techno beat that broadcasts across the sand. Upstream from the pool is a sad old river boat moored to the bank. There's no one in sight but I'm sure there is another techno beat pulsing from its guts. The river is alive with passing tourist cruise boats built to resemble horizontal missiles. A man in a small cruiser moored at the mouth of a canal waits for non-existent customers to hire his fleet of faded orange canoes.
I do my twenty laps. I collect my towel and exchange my key for my card. I am momentarily tempted to have a drink at the bar but quickly make the decision to continue my journey into Berlin subculture. I am in old East Berlin by a matter of a hundred metres. This is the hiden quarter.
I have swum in, or to be more precise, on the Spree. I have immersed myself in one of the more obscure aspects of Berlin culture.
Like JFK before me I am now in a position to make my claim "Ich bin ein Berliner".