Berlin hasn’t always been a very “hygienic city”. Some say it still isn’t, but considering it boasts over 67 public baths today (83 if you count the members only / non-communal ones) then I’d think you’d be safe to say a lot has changed over the years. While public baths have been around in Berlin in some form since the late 1870s, architecturally speaking they hit their true stride in the years between 1900 and 1914. A prime example of the new found “Bath Architecture” was the Stadtbad Lichtenberg – also known as the Hubertusbad
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Berlin – a City that stinks
Berlin saw a rapid industrialization from the mid 1850s onwards, with factories springing up everywhere in the city. This in turn resulted in a massive influx of workers and a massive housing shortage. What didn’t help was the fact that Berlin was the last major European city to build a central water supply in 1852 (a good example of this is the Wasserturm in Prenzlauer Berg).
Ironically, as Berlin was turning into the largest industrial city in Europe – it couldn’t keep up with the housing demand. Single rooms were being sublet, half the apartments in Berlin had no heating and a third of apartments had no kitchen or bathroom to speak of. If you were lucky and wealthy enough, you might even have had a shared toilet in the midfloor between you and your neighbours apartment.
All this caused infectious diseases like Cholera, Typhus, the pox and many more to spread exponentially among the populace. France and England were the first to introduce public baths and laundry services in industrial areas, with Hamburg and then Berlin being among the first in Germany to follow suit. Ironically many of the workers at the time lacked the necessary insight to use these bathing opportunities. By the late 1870s, only about a dozen public baths existed, but the realization was there that all places in Germany needed to increase the availability and reduce the costs of these public baths.
Lichtenberg needs a Stadtbad
By the late 19th century, Lichtenberg was still an independent community and not part of Berlin. The rapid industrialization in Berlin and lack of space worked in Lichtenberg’s favor as it had enough space for new housing and industrial plants. What also helped was that around the same time, Berlin decided to open up the Stadt and Ringbahn – which had previously been restricted to freight traffic – to the public. This gave Lichtenberg direct access (with the help of a little track expansion) to Berlin.
With its rapid growth (and some long political negotiations) Lichtenberg received its City Rights on the 15th of October 1907. After establishing its own City hall, the new city administration planned on establishing a district court, a hospital, a maternity ward, schools and a Volksbad – a public bath.
The hygienic situation in the German Reich had developed at such a pace that cities now had enacted legal stipulations. At the urging of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Volksbäder, various laws were passed in the early years of the 20th century to improve bathing and hygiene. With the granting of city rights, Lichtenberg was now obligated with the implementation of the legal regulations to improve hygiene, health and bathing. For the vast majority of the Lichtenberg population (over 68,000 at this point), there were very few opportunities to take a clean bath in or near Lichtenberg.
River and outdoor swimming pools were the only way to meet the demand for personal hygiene – and these could only really be used during the summer months. For the winter months, there were only a few smaller, “Warmbadeanstalten” in Lichtenberg. These establishments consisted of room with a bathtub often coupled with the possibility of doing laundry (these were not free of course). One of the outdoor Baths available to the population of Lichtenberg was the Wernerbad in Kaulsdorf, Berlins oldest open air public swimming pool. Established in 1905, it was sadly closed and abandoned in 2002.
These bathing locations were however far from sufficient when it came to providing the population with a suitable bath at least once a week (from 1899 onwards, the German Association for Public Baths promoted the slogan “Every German, a bath once a week” throughout the German Empire). In February 1909, Lichtenberg planned to allocate 150,000 mark for the construction of a bathing establishment, and eventually bought a 2000sqm of land in 1913. The intention was to build a corresponding boiler and machine house for 15 showers and 10 baths.
The city of Lichtenberg bit off a little bit more than it could chew at this point. The city still had to implement various other projects that it was obligated to construct after receiving its city rights. Schools were high in demand, as was a hospital and the sewage system needed to be expanded as well. The city put the construction of the Stadtbad Lichtenberg on the backburner, as the costs for it were deemed prohibitive – and the city would rather subsidize bathing cards for the other public baths for their residents (the long-awaited Hospital – the Krankenhaus Lichtenberg was eventually built in 1912).
The Stadtbad Lichtenberg is finally built
The first architectural plans for the Stadtbad Lichtenberg were drawn up sometime during the First World War (sadly most documents concerning this were destroyed during the second world war), but nothing else happened due to all resources being pumped into the war efforts. The foundations for the Stadtbad Lichtenberg were laid in 1919, but again not much else happened as Lichtenberg was incorporated as a district into Berlin, though one can safely assume that budget constraints put this project on hold.
It’s easy to forget, but Berlin was much smaller back in the day. Only after the creation of Groß-Berlin in 1920, which saw the incorporation of six surrounding cities and 59 villages did Berlin become the 3rd most populous city in the world (after New York and London) and the second largest city in the world (after LA).
Only in 1925 did construction of the Stadtbad begin again. The existing plans were updated by the architects Rudolf Gleye and Otto Weis, with the result being a multi-part cubic structure in the style of Expressionism. The newly built Stadtbad – also known as the Hubertusbad or “Hupe” (due to it being located on the Hubertus Straße) was built and outfitted with the most modern equipment of the time.
Most visitors to the Stadtbad would have immediately noticed the four “Wasserspringerin” (Female Divers) above the entrance door. Ludwig Isenbeck (born 1882 in Potsdam, died 1952 in Berlin) was one of three artists who worked on the construction of the Stadtbad, and was the sculptor responsible for the expressionist statues. While the statues had the appearance to be made out of sandstone, they were actually made of concrete mixture that simulated the effect. This was most likely done to save on costs, but nevertheless the statues are a striking detail of this lovely bath. Ludwig Isenbecks work can be found on the exterior of the Rathaus Schöneberg, the Vier-Winde-Brunnen in Lankwitz, as well as on churches in Karlshorst and Dahlem.
The Stadtbad Lichtenberg had medical baths, a sauna area with massage cabins, shower rooms and a cold water pool, a large a large water exchange container in the basement which made it possible to quickly clean the pool water, a women’s pool (20 meters longs) and a men’s pool (25 meters long), a Bath tub and shower section as well as galleries to the swimming pools, a gymnasium and areas for physiotherapy treatments, a sun terrace and even an elevator. The Hubertusbad officially opened on the 2nd of February, 1928 – roughly 21 years after its original conception.
The Hubertusbad after World War II
During the Second World War, a bomb hit the northwest side of the building, breaking almost all of the glass panels of bath – though the building still remained operational. After the end of the War, the allies had banned organized sports, the swimming pool was left abandoned for – though the SMAD (Soviet Military Administration) did allow the local residents to make use of the baths and showers which had seen some makeshift repairs.
Use of the swimming pools was still not possible as the supply of hot water could not be guaranteed. With both pools being out of commission, the Red Army wanted to convert the smaller of the two pools (the women’s pool) into a potato warehouse for the Army – but thanks to the intervention of the of the Stadtbad Staff this was averted.
It wasn’t until 1948 that the Soviet Authorities allowed Betriebssportgemeinschaften (company sports clubs) to be founded again. The swimming team of the BSG Medizin Lichtenberg (the sports club of the Hospitals in Lichtenberg) was the first to make use of the Hubertusbad again as a training and competition venue. Soon enough, the Hubertusbad was used again for the obligatory school swimming lessons.
Life Guards were trained here, and even the Sportclub Dynamo (the sports club of the Stasi and the Ministry of the Interior) trained here. Up until the late 1950s, only Lichtenberg, Prenzlauer Berg (the once abandoned and now refurbished Stadtbad Oderberger Straße), Friedrichshain and Mitte had indoor swimming pools – so it wasn’t a great surprise that the Hubertusbad in Lichtenberg was in such a high demand.
The Stadtbad Lichtenberg shuts its doors
The Hubertusbad soon lost its importance when entire new city districts were built – which included more modern swimming pools. What didn’t help the situation was that structural defects which had existed since the building was built in 1925 were becoming increasingly serious, forcing the city to close the large swimming pool in 1988.
The main reason for this was the water treatment and heating system broke down, and was in such a poor state that it could not be repaired anymore (and replacing it would have been too costly). The Stadtbad Lichtenberg fell more and more into disrepair thanks to a lack of funds and general neglect, that the main water supply ended up breaking in 1991. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and the entire Stadtbad was closed down. The small pool was then repurposed as a storage warehouse. Sadly the Hubertusbad wasnt the only swimming pool to be abandoned in Berlin, other prime examples were the the Freibad in Lichtenberg and the Schwimmhalle in Pankow.
And nothing much changed for the next 8 years. The Stadtbad Lichtenberg was closed off and virtually abandoned until a community initiative was founded in 1999. The initiative sought to “motivate” the city to renovate and re-open the Stadtbad, but to no avail. In 2001, the Hubertusbad was handed over to the Liegenschaftsfonds Berlin GmbH & Co. KG – whose purpose was to either find investors or sell off properties which the state (i.e. Berlin) did not need.
A second, third and fourth chance
In 2006, a group of students from the Berlin University of Applied Sciences for Technology and Economics created a detailed case study of the Stadtbad Lichtenberg. In addition of doing a thorough analysis of the current state of the baths, the overall situation of the Lichtenberg district and other social and economic factors, the students developed a detailed concept of an “innovative health center”. At a cost of 6 Million Euros, the center could have offered medical practices, sports therapy facilities, rehabilitation facilities, water treatments and alternative therapies in close cooperation with the neighboring hospital (that’s literally right next door).
In 2006, the addiction aid organization Blaues Kreuz Deutschland appeared as a prospective buyer, who wanted to buy the building complex for one euro and operate it as a youth center. However, no banks were willing to provide the money for a minimal renovation – which at the time was estimated to cost roughly 3 million euros.
Aside from having been used as a filmset for some mediocre German movies, the Stadtbad Lichtenberg remained in its vegetative state until 2011. A new public initiative – „Licht an im Hubertusbad! Initiative für die Sanierung und Belebung des Stadtbades Lichtenberg” (“Lights on in the Hubertusbad! Initiative for the renovation and revitalization of the Stadtbad Lichtenberg”). The Senate decided to declare the area in which the Stadtbad was situated in as worthy of redevelopment, which greatly increased the chances of fixing up the abandoned swimming pool.
After multiple actions, meetings, and signatures – the district-based architect and project developer Sebastian Wagner took stock of the current situation and proposed ideas. A comprehensive renovation of the building would have roughly cost 20 million euros, with the large swimming pool being turned into a publicly accessible bath and wellness area, while the smaller pool would have been turned into a hotel (mhhh – this sounds very familiar with what they did with the Stadtbad Oderberger Straße). Talks were held, but everything fell apart by January 2013 when the last investor jumped ship.
Despite all the failures – the local community did not give up, and again a new association was founded, the Stadtbad Lichtenberg e. VV.. One of its first activities was an inspection of the Stadtbad together with those responsible for the property fund. During this campaign, an agreement was reached to properly secure the building for the oncoming winter. as well as achieving a mutual agreement that the building was not at risk of collapsing and that it should be at least made available again for interim cultural usage.
Stadtbad Lichtenberg – forever abandoned
In 2016, the Berlin Senate decided that the Stadtbad Lichtenberg should remain property of the State of Berlin.
On behalf of the city, the Berlin Real Estate Management (BIM) company began looking into options for subsequent uses based on a feasibility study. Parts of the Bath could be rented out for events and smaller exhibitions could be held in some rooms. The property was to be made safe, while one of the pools and the foyer were to be made usable again (along with replacing the sanitary facilities). This also meant that inaccessible areas had to be blocked off, “barrier free access” guaranteed, as well as establishing a functioning fire protection system. Everyone was cautiously optimistic – with a proposed re-opening date being set for
Sadly – this was too optimistic. Neither the BIM, nor the Senate have shown any real interest in since then to revitalize the Hubertusbad. Thanks to the Stadtbad Lichtenberg e. V., the Stadtbad Lichtenberg can be visited once a year during the Tag der offenen Denkmäler (Day of the open Heritage Sites) – though this apparently has become harder to do over the years due to the BIM being particularly uncooperative.
The roof and the gutters were fixed up in late 2018, but nothing much has changed since. As of February 2020, the Stadtbad Lichtenberg is still locked up and slowly decaying – waiting to be saved
Stadtbad Lichtenberg Address
10365 Berlin – Lichtenberg
Good evening, Cosmonaut,
Your visits around Berlin are just amazing. That brings back memories to me, from when I was there with the French Army, at the end of the 80’s. At this time, some of the places that have disappeared today were still standing and marks of the past were still pretty much visible, then. I went back to Berlin many times since then but never had time to visit those places.
Your blog helps me doing so.
Hi Chris – im glad to hear that youve been enjoying my posts and reliving a bit of the past. Are there any specific locations that you would like to see?
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Thank you for the very interesting blogpost.
When you say that the place is still locked up, do know if we can nevertheless visit the inside?
Hi Sydney – the only way in for the time being is through one of the (very seldom) done open days. The thing is very well secured.
Hi! Very interesting information. I will visit Berlin on August 12th and 13th, do you think there is any chance of being able to look around?
Hey – just saw this comment. I highly doubt youll be able to get in. Theyre only open once or twice a year at best in September, but those dates have been cancelled due to the corona virus.
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love your work.
Can you please guide me where I can find the plans/drawings for the building? (master student Interior Architecture -seems like a suitable project for my coming thesis) thanks ♡