Germany — Jul 22, 2016

Goodbye Blub

I’m inexplicably heartbroken to learn this morning that Blub – a vast abandoned swimming complex in Berlin – has gone up in flames. The site already caught on fire earlier this year, but local media’s video footage and early photos of the aftermath make the damage look far more serious this time.

I wrote about the former hammam-style “bathing paradise” earlier last year, but in the wake of the blaze – which early reports are calling suspected arson – I have decided to publish some more photos from two visits to Blub in early 2015.

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Every abandoned site has its own magic; exploring Blub felt like stepping into an Arabian nights-themed wonderland, and I mean that with all the most heady and blatantly Orientalist interpretations of such a journey. The sprawling complex was once a grand project featuring whirlpools, water slides, and multiple bathing areas, which created a labyrinth of old saunas, storage rooms, and changing booths ripe for exploration after its downfall. On the other hand, graffiti artists, skateboarders, partiers, tourists, and the homeless used the space for their own purposes, so suffice it to say some rooms looked more whimsical than others.

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One could still find flyers on the ground advertising “Al Andalus,” a reference to Moorish territory spanning the Iberian Peninsula from around the 8th to 15th centuries. Receipts strewn around the ground showed refreshment deliveries from Berliner Kindl brewery dated from 2003, and other forms revealed an eerie paper trail leading up to Blub’s closure about ten years ago.

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Blub stands just outside the Ringbahn – the train-track circle that loops around the center of Berlin – and in a city that is rapidly gentrifying, it was one of the ever-decreasing testaments to an earlier incarnation of life here.

I may have arrived long after the heyday, but even in the past two years Berlin’s landscape has changed before my eyes. The demise of Blub is in some ways the latest chapter in an ongoing push-and-pull between economic development and preserving the culture painstakingly built by Berlin’s residents and artists. I, for one, will miss it.