Ich Bin Ein Berlin Swimmer!
By Brette Bossick & Phil Nicodemus
The Flussbad Berlin (“river pool”) project is many years in the making and aims to turn an old, more or less unused, dirty city canal into a massive, 840-meter long ‘natural’ pool, complete with public locker room facilities, floating piers, and even competitive swimming lanes. That makes it roughly 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools in length, but without all the red eyes, dry skin, and expense that comes with chlorine and other chemically-based water treatments. And now, due to recent national and local funding amounting to 4 million Euro and an increase in media attention (see articles in The New York Times and Newsweek), the Flussbad is closer than ever to becoming a reality on the Spree River in downtown Berlin.
The Spree River is a medium-sized, unassuming waterway that meanders through the heart of Berlin on its way to meet with the much larger Havel, headed toward the North Sea. Since the founding of the German capital in the 1300s, the Spree has provided various services to the city: fresh water, waste disposal, flood defense, transportation, and recreation. The river, and its patchwork of man-made dams, dikes, and shipping lanes added on slowly throughout the centuries to address the problems Berliners faced at the time, is now suffering from chronic water quality issues that make the river a dirty, unpleasant place to be, for man, or for nature. As is the case with many urban rivers across the world today, as the city has changed, so have the needs of its people. This is a fundamental principle of the Naru Project; and for Berlin, this is where the ‘Flussbad’ comes in.
The Flussbad consists of three main components:
1. “Renatured” River
The eastern upper section of the canal to the east, next to Fischerinsel (Fisher Island) and continuing on to Gertraudenbrücke (Gertrauden Bridge) will become a home for insects, birds, and fish. This will be a direct result of the slowing the current down to only a few centimeters per second, allowing wildlife to settle. Portions of the canal wall, next to Fischerinsel, will also be removed to soften the river’s edges, resulting in a “renatured” river – a place where habitat can thrive.
2. Filtered Basin
In order for the water to be cleaned to a degree where people can swim in it, it will be filtered through natural methods. The water will first pass through patches of wetlands, consisting of natural and native plants. Between Gertraudenbrücke and Schleusenbrücke (next to the Federal Foreign Affairs Ofice), the water will then be pushed through 80-centimeters of gravel and sediment into a drainage layer below and flow in its newly-cleansed state toward the swimming area. The gravel will also be covered with reeds to sustain permeability at the surface.
An external energy source is not needed for the process, as an already-existing 1.5 meter high dam-like structure already exists in the area. This structure provides enough gravity to pump the water through the filter system at 500 liters per second – fast enough to cleanse the water.
3. Swimming Area
The 840-meter section of the Spree canal, between Schlossplatz and Bode Museum, will become the swimming area for Berliners and visitors. A small dam will be constructed near Monbijoubrücke to separate the clean water from the Spree’s main channel, ensuring the water remains clean for swimmers. Stairs will extend into the canal at Lustgarten and Humboldt-Forum for access to the water.
Such projects are commonplace in Berlin, and Germany at-large, as the concept of ‘Umweltschutz’ (environmental protection) is a theme ubiquitous in German politics, as well as the hearts and minds of the German people themselves. While a very large endeavor, the stalwart support the project has received from the Germany's Federal Ministry for the Environment and the Berlin Senate Department for Urban Development makes the Flussbad likely to become a reality in the very near future, and could be a shining example of how urban centers can solve multiple big city problems while simultaneously connecting the city and its citizens to their river once again.