“Otto was the coming of warmth and color to the drab cold city, bringing the linden trees into leaf, sweating the citizens out of their topcoats, making the bands play outdoors. Christopher rode on the bus with him to the great lake at Wannsee, where they splashed together in the shallow water amidst the holiday crowds, then wandering off into the surrounding woods to find a spot where they could be alone.”
Christopher Isherwood – ‘Christopher And His Kind’
At 1.5 kilometres long and 80 metres wide, Europe’s largest inland Lido, the Strandbad Wannsee has been a much-loved day-trip destination for generations of Berliners. The resort as we know it now owes very much to its Weimar-era heyday but its origins date back a little further than that, to 1907.
(Pic : Strandbadwannsee.de)
Times were hard in Berlin in the early 1900′s and the city’s residents liked nothing more than to escape their cramped, dark living conditions by heading out to the many lakes that surrounded the burgeoning capital. However, laws decreed that men and women bathing within sight of one another was illegal. By 1909, the authorities relented and the ‘Freibad Wannsee’ was created, with one beach each for women and men separated by a family section. An entrance fee was introduced and the whole area surrounded by fencing to discourage casual onlookers.
After the First World War, and with the ownership of the beach now transferred to the City of Berlin, the resort thrived. Temporary tented structures were replaced by thatched pavilions and the toilets and changing facilities greatly improved. The beach was now open all-year round and with the arrival of the railway, visitors topped the 900,000 mark in 1927.
The facilities were now completely overwhelmed and plans were drawn up in 1926 to erect permanent buildings at the beach. City architects Martin Wagner and Richard Ermisch were given the task of transforming the site. By the summer season of 1930, the construction of the newly named ‘Strandbad Wannsee’ was complete but the financial situation had led to the original 5 million Reichsmark budget being scaled back to 2 million Reichsmark. Attendances were now at record levels, with Berliners eager to enjoy their new city beach.
The onset of National Socialism in the early 1930′s, saw signs being erected banning Jews from the beach, although these were removed in time for the 1936 Olympics, only to be replaced in 1938. The Nazi party would only employ their own party members as staff for the resort and the only entertainment on offer was provided by bands of the Wehrmacht and the SA.
However, during the Second World War, the beach provided much-needed respite for those citizens of Berlin that were allowed to use it and with the buildings escaping the bombing, annual attendances reached 425,000 in 1944 and 615,000 by 1947. On June 1st of that year, an all-time record 51,000 people came to Stranbad Wannsee.
In 1951, the beach was featured on a hit song ‘Pack die Badehose ein’ (Pack the swimming trunks) sung by Die Kleine Cornelia – the 8 year-old incarnation of the soon-to-be hugely popular German singer Conny Froboess. She went on to represent Germany in the 1962 Eurovision Song Contest.
The beach has only rarely been closed in its time and in 2004, now under the management of the Stiftung Denkmalschutz Berlin, a comprehensive restoration and refurbishment project was undertaken. The entire area is now a listed historical site.
(pic: Alex Mauruszat)
(Pic: Alex Mauruszat)
The beach is now 355,000 sq metres and can accommodate up to 30,000 people at a time.
Ten percent of the area is dedicated FKK (nudist), there are also beach volleyball facilities, a football area, boat rental and a children’s playground. There are also a plethora of cafes and bars to choose from.
A day ticket to the beach is €5 but, as this picture from the 2013 season opening-day shows, it may be a while before you ‘Pack die Badehose ein’ this year.