There are lots of reasons as the winter slowly slowly comes to an end to dream a dream of summer in Berlin; to dream a dream of balmy nights and sunshine streaming through the morning window; to dream a dream of beers in the park and snoozes on the canal bank. But all such dreams are not the same. The young have theirs and we, the not so young, have ours.
It is at this time of the year for example that the anarcho-socialist-hippy-eco-warrior punks start fantasizing about standing up to the ‘man’ on the streets of Kreuzberg on May 1st; it is at this time of the year also that the hip youngsters plan a new groovy photo reportage of this same event because they are STILL jealous that Mum and Dad were like actually ON the Left Bank in 1968. So they will record for posterity the presence of the crypto-fascist forces of law and order; they will celebrate the colourful and drunken denizens of everybody’s favourite anti-capitalist Kiez and they will party with the people. They will celebrate Workers’ Day with all the other non-working natives and next morning they will nurse their hangovers with a wry smile and put off searching out that internship for another week or so and go instead to brunch and toast the arrival of the sun.
But in the midst of all this early summer mayhem there is another gentler reason for we seniors to welcome the changing of the seasons – the opening, also at this time of year, of the Sommerbad at Prinzenstraße. Dismiss from your mind immediately the scenes of confusion and disorder that the word ‘Sommerbad’ might conjure up for those of you who visit it only at the weekend or in the middle of the school summer holidays.
This is when adolescents seem to have taken over the planet and raucous bonhomie rules the roost. This is when the boys play ball in amazingly inappropriate places or find an excuse to accidently wander into the nudist section. This is when the girls gather in gaggles to studiously avoid looking at the boys who are playing ball in amazingly inappropriate places and this is when young families escape the confines of their apartments to enjoy the green outdoors. This is when the Sommerbad, seen from the canal, looks and sounds like your worst summer nightmare. A mass of urban humanity shoe-horned into a space that is clearly too small for all that is going on there.
So no don’t think of that. Think instead, as I do, of the early morning when Kreuzberg has yet to rouse itself properly. When the walk from Südstern up along to Baerwaldstraße is barely interrupted by traffic and when the U-Bahn swishing past is almost empty. There is no queue at the ticket counter and the lady behind the desk has the time to smile. Think of the reduced price for early morning swimmers and think of the café as it starts to stir. Think of a gentle sun and a slight breeze that barely ruffles the surface of the water. Think of a children’s pool with no children in it, think of a slide with no-one sliding. It is at moments such as these that the earth realigns itself along its proper axis and we adults, proper adults I mean with some vintage and some heft, come blinking out of our hideaways and take possession of the world once more.
But do remember also that this is Kreuzberg we speak of, so the Sommerbad’s early morning older clientele, are by no means just portly blue-rinsed matrons or worthy Berlin burghers. The rinses here in any case are just as likely to be pink and the burghers, or many of them, will have wispy pony-tails appearing miraculously from their sun-tanned pates. But they are gentle and will come to swim as much for swimming’s sake as for the desire to quietly socialize afterwards. They will breast-stroke their way, often with surprising stamina, up and down the almost empty pools for something like an hour and then retire to the open-accessed dressing rooms where they will shower and change not bothered much by who will see them because there are not many people around in any case and then they will head for breakfast in the little café. The lady there will indulge them and perhaps flirt lightly with the oldest of the gents, still handsome with his silver moustache. Some of them will play cards, some will read the papers, but most will sit in the sunshine of the day when it is young and close their eyes and smile and enjoy the peace. A white coffee and an egg salad roll will cost a few euros and the time will pass pleasantly enough.
Conversation is subdued but you know these people have lived a life and seen things and heard things and been to places and suffered too perhaps. They are of the city; they are of Berlin; they too are of Kreuzberg. They sometimes drink beer for breakfast and smoke a rolled-up cigarette and they have piercings and tattoos and their tattoos speak of alliances or allegiances or infatuations or loves or of battles long forgotten and struggles still ongoing. But they are where they should be and they have earned the right to enjoy the early morning sun of an early summer’s day and as that day rolls on and as the place reverts to youth once more they slowly rise and go on their way and wave perhaps to each other and nod in recognition to the old lady outside who sells the newspapers and they continue with their lives. But tomorrow they will be back and the coldness of the water will take their breath away again but only for a while.
Kottbusser Tor is busy now with tourists and touts and tricksters of every hue. Unfortunates hooked on their several addictions are trying to navigate through another day and bright young things from Spain look energetic and bright-eyed with the excitement of the new. The traffic builds and the shops are full and money flows and trains arrive and depart at an ever-increasing rhythm and all is speed and noise and young. The music of the city plays and no-one would have it any other way but there is a gentler corner just down the street – wait for us oldies there tomorrow in the morning. The Sommerbad is open again for another season.
Image credits: 1. Daniel Sippel via Flickr 2. Jörn Guy Süß via Flickr 3. Epha via Flickr