Donnerstag, 7. August 2008

In Berlin, a River Runs Through It

by Kimberly Bradley

It’s been an intermittently scorching summer in Berlin and the 30-odd “beaches” and waterfront bars that have cropped up on the banks of the Spree River in the last six or seven years are hopping. What were once desolate industrial areas or Cold War no-man’s lands have morphed into spots for hammock-lounging, casual dining, beach-ball events, swimming or just getting some imported Baltic sand between your toes.

For the hipster set, the urban summer wonderland starts near the Ostbahnhof and heads eastward along the Spree and partially behind the East Side gallery — the longest standing strip of the Berlin wall. On the north bank there’s Oststrand (, with expanses of sand, palm trees and a moored-boat platform. Then there’s the wild-west atmosphere of Strandmarkt (, a sister to the American-owned club/restaurant White Trash Fast Food.

A series of wooden docks and a lush garden make for weekend-long partying at the now infamous Bar 25 (, and an African market and hip-hop parties spice things up at Yaam (, which began as a youth project in 1996. And while Strandgut’s white leather lounge sofas and wooden walkways ( attract a slightly bridge-and-tunnel crowd, they’re summer-night sultry just the same.

Waterfront amusement continues on the other side of the river, too. At Spindler and Klatt ( guests dine al fresco on white couches set on a riverside terrace. At Kiki Blofeld ( patrons enjoy finger food and cocktails on both the beach and a grassy lawn. And a bit further is the fabulous Badeschiff (, where wooden terraces jut into the river, culminating in a converted-barge floating pool that almost makes you feel like you’re actually swimming in the Spree.

“It’s a bit crazy that something like this could happen in such a central part of the city,” says Matthias Böttger, who not only co-founded an annual beach dodge ball tournament at Oststrand, but is also an architect and urban planner (an aside: Böttger and his partner Friedrich von Börries were chosen to exhibit in the German Pavilion of the Venice Architecture Biennale in September this year). Several of the venues are offshoots of the city’s biggest clubs, and the Badeschiff, which morphs into a sauna in winter, was an art project in 2004.

But the wild-East vibe of these watering holes might not last much longer, at least in this incarnation. A real-estate development group called Media Spree plans to erect a series of office buildings along the river, an idea that’s not been popular with everyone. Locals against the development gathered enough signatures to instigate a referendum that took place on July 13: Nearly 87 percent of neighborhood constituents voted to leave the riverbanks as they are. But now city politicians are getting involved, discussing financial ramifications to the city if the project is indeed halted, and it’s unclear what exactly will happen.

According to Media Spree plans, the “skyscrapers” will not exceed a height of 22 meters and parks, pathways, bridges and playgrounds will be installed. So the beaches could become even more public than they are now (many of the aforementioned venues charge admission).

“From an urban-planning viewpoint, it’s really exciting to see how a dead zone can become a recreation area that people can enjoy, which is really positive,” says Böttger, describing the status quo. “But the Berlin scene keeps moving. You can’t artificially keep a subculture. If you try to conserve things, it turns into Disneyland.”

Either way, those wanting to catch the feel of the independent beach scene in the shadow of Berlin’s TV tower should do so soon, since the summer is slipping away. Or imitate the Berliners and find another huge, empty, unclaimed space: just this year, a new beach-based recreation area called Funkpark ( opened even further east on the riverside grounds of the GDR’s former broadcasting station. It offers beach volleyball, cool DJs, boat rental, a restaurant and club, even camping. So…go east, young hipster.

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