Swimming and Bathing for Sport, Leisure and Health
Enlarge image Fun at an open-air pool in Hanover (© picture alliance / dpa) Whether in a sea, a local lake, “the bathing ship” or the neighborhood pool, Germans gravitate to cool and refreshing waters in hot months. Throughout the year, one can swim in a number of natatoria, but it is in summer that the number of fans multiplies exponentially.
Practically every city in Germany offers a Freibad, an open-air water park or pool. Many of these are quite large and offer multiple pools, allowing the kids and social groups to be separated from the more serious swimmers looking to get in a few laps. These outdoor pools have a long history in Germany and have been popular since the 18th century.
Enlarge image Guests at the Badeschiff swim alongside the Spree with a view of two Berlin landmarks, the Oberbaum Bridge and the TV Tower, in the background. (© picture-alliance/ dpa) Of course, the history of bathing in Germany goes back much further. Remains of ancient Roman baths have been found in the cities of Trier and Aachen, and a number of spa towns also have histories reaching back to ancient Roman times. After public bathing houses fell out of fashion during the Middle Ages, it was not until the mid 18th century that the tradition was revived.
In Berlin, there’s something called the Badeschiff, a large swimming pool fashioned out of an old ship that floats on the river Spree. This builds on the 18th-century tradition of locating swimming pools along the river. In Berlin alone, there were said to be 15 such pools along the Spree, and they were common in cities throughout Germany. Some are even still being used. The Badeschiff is, however, thoroughly modern: in addition to functioning as a pool, it serves as a venue for concerts and boasts an open-air bar in the summer.
There are many beautiful lakes located throughout Germany which are known for their pristine, clear waters. Known as the “land of a thousand lakes,” the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern alone boasts some 2,000 sparkling lakes. The deep bodies of water that make up the Mecklenburg Lake District were formed when the glaciers melted at the end of the last Ice Age, some tens of thousands of years ago.
Enlarge image A leisurly summer day on the banks of Lake Starnberg in Bavaria (© picture alliance / Andreas Keuch) The North Sea and the Baltic Sea are, of course, perennial favorites for people from across Germany and beyond. The seaside resorts there have a long history and were popular for the treatment of a variety of ailments and as a retreat. Heiligendamm, the oldest seaside spa in Germany, was founded on the Baltic Sea in 1793. It was popular among the noble classes and frequented by the German Emperors. The spa has also garnered international attention in recent years. On July 13, 2006, President George W. Bush stayed at Heiligendamm during a state visit to see German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Stralsund. Heiligendamm’s Grand Hotel was also the site of the 33rd summit of G8 leaders from June 6 to 8, 2007.
Even at the height of the summer, however, the temperature of these salty waters remains quite cool. “When I was younger I wanted to stay in the water all day. My mother, however, would finally convince me to get out of the water by saying that my lips had started turning a bit blue. I don’t know whether that’s actually true,” said one German about his family trips to the Baltic Sea.
Enlarge image The beach at Ahlbeck on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom is dotted with the wicker chairs that provide a place to rest and are typical of the area. (© picture-alliance) Many public and private bathing facilities also offer various saunas or thermal baths. German health insurance companies support this form of therapy, enabling those suffering from chronic conditions to attend a Kur, or cure therapy, at one of the certified Kurorte or spas every three years for a few weeks at a time. This, too, has been a part of German culture since the time of the Roman Empire. The word spa itself is an acronym for the Latin “sanus per aquam,” or “health by water.”