As far as summer beach destinations go, Berlin isn’t the most intuitive choice. It boasts no majestic coastline nor consistently pleasant weather– even in summertime. Compared with Los Angeles, which has over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, Berlin enjoys only 1,625. It’s about 145 miles from Germany’s coast and it’s rarely warm enough to go without a sweater, let alone a bathing suit. And yet, I, a SoCal native who grew up spoiled by a region that basically invented beach culture and swimming pools, found myself ready for a piña colada and a bottle of sunscreen in the German capital.
While many cities have nice lakes, rivers or public pools, Berlin takes these aquatic spaces to the next level. Here’s a rundown of some of the beach and pool destinations (and inspirations) worth visiting in Berlin right now.
At once hilarious and oddly genius, Strandbars (literally means “beach bars”) are more or less pop-up tropical environments oftentimes along a waterfront. In an odd and charming mixture of sand, palm trees, and with tropical-inspired drink menus, Strandbars are all about making the most out of Berlin’s few rays of sunshine. This is a habit, says West Hollywood-based designer and native of Germany Thomas Schoos, that is quintessentially German. He says because the weather is unpredictable in summertime, these spaces serve as temporary oases that capitalize off of Berlin’s temperamental sunshine. On German weather, Schoos says, “You never know: in June it can be freakin’ cold, it can be rainy, and then the next thing YES, YES, WE HAVE SUNSHINE!”
Schoos, who actually created his own German-style Strandbar in West Hollywood called Beach Nation, also attributes the creation of Strandbars’ to Germans’ famous love of travel. “A beach bar is something that they reflect positively to, because the Germans are a traveling culture. If the world had a butt, a German, you would find them there.” The German love of jetsetting according to newssite Deutsche Welle, is serious business. They claim no one else “trots the globe” quite as much as Germans do.
Badeschiff is perhaps technically a Strandbar as well, but it is an experience in a class of its own. If there was ever a swimming pool that embodied the spirit of a city, Badeschiff is it. Badeschiff is that architectural rendering of a place so creative and contrarian that it goes viral for a day, but never gets built. But Badeschiff is real, and it’s pretty incredible.
Opened in 2004, the pool is in the hull of a 30-year old barge and was the competition-winning design by the artist/architect team of Susanne Lorenz, with architects AMP and Gil Will.
Hovering over Berlin’s Spree River in trendy Kreuzberg, Badeschiff is a swimming destination, bar and event venue all rolled into one (that becomes a closed-over sauna in winter). Order a drink, grab some deck chairs and enjoy the techno-pool ambiance.
The pool itself is not your standard lap pool. It’s fairly deep throughout, and that’s why images of Badeschiff typically show people sitting along its ledges. From the pool, you have an incredible panoramic view of some of the city’s landmarks. You have a great view of the giant sculpture Molecule Man, and additionally you literally are floating on what was a boundary between East and West Berlin. According to Visit Berlin, the southwestern bank of the Spree River belonged to West Berlin, while the water itself was East Berlin territory.”
On hot days: get there early or expect to wait in a massive line.
While Badeschiff represents the Berlin of now, Strandbad Wannsee is a relic of Berlin’s past. With imported sand from the Baltic Sea, Strandbad Wannsee is an over a hundred years old 1,275-metre long beach south and west of Berlin along Wannsee Lake.
Its facilities were originally built in the early 1900s, and they were updated and completed by 1930 by Martin Wagner and Richard Ermisch in the functional Modern style that came out of a Weimar-era progressive design movement called New Objectivity. There are showers, bathrooms and food stalls where you can order everything from Currywurst to ice cream. Peppered along the sand are strandkorbs (wicker chairs) that are available for rent. As with Badeschiff, get there early or prepare to wait in a line on hot days.
Today Strandbad Wannsee is a Cultural Heritage site and one of the most popular bathing destinations in all of Germany, but it has a dark history. It is near where the Wannsee Conference took place where Hitler and other Nazi leaders devised the Final Solution. Strandbad Wannsee itself was a target of the Nazis for having “un-german” architecture. As with many other sites in Germany, Jews were forbidden from entering after 1938.
Cool Am Pool: The Board Game that Epitomizes the German Obsession with the Best Beach Spots
Berliners’ obsession with water leisure also occupies a special place in the imagination. During a visit to Spielwiese, the world’s first board game cafe, I met some young board game designers who were playing a soon-to-be published game by Hartwig Jakubik called “Cool Am Pool.” The objective? Players compete to put their towels down as close as they can to the swimming pool. A friend of Jakubik gave a simple explanation of how it works: “Early in the morning people come and place their towels on the good places, then they go to have breakfast, then they come back. When they come back, they roll the dice, they need to have enough dice of the same color to get to their towels.”
The game reflects a well-known stereotype about German tourists: they wake up early and snatch the best spots on the beach in cities like Miami and Barcelona.
“They travel maybe two to three weeks out of the year and that two to three weeks better be full of sun, blue sky and water,” Schoos says of this tendency. The limited hours of sun in Berlin each year perhaps means they simply appreciate it more than other people. In any case, the creativity around water based leisure in Berlin was incredibly refreshing. If you’re in Europe this summer and want to enjoy a less conventional, but completely inspiring beach vacation, head to Berlin. But get your towel out early.