“The same rights applied in the bathroom” – Panorama

BZ INTERVIEW with Matthias Oloew, swimming pool expert, about the rebirth of swimming pools in Germany.

. Many outdoor pools start the new season in May. Cultural scientist Matthias Oloew dealt with the history of swimming pools in Germany. Peter Riesbeck told him about ancient models.

BZ: Mr. Oloew, the first modern bathhouse in Germany opened in Magdeburg in 1830, based on the British model. How was the rebirth of bathing born?
Olew: It was pure necessity. In the course of industrialization and the growth of cities, the question of better sanitation has also arisen in Germany. It was about creating healthy living conditions. Today we call these services of general interest. Local authorities were already responsible for this then. They should ensure healthy living conditions in the cities, with sewage systems, neat covered markets, good schools, but also a system of public toilets. The ancient Baths of Caracalla were unearthed in Rome in the mid-19th century. All of Europe marveled at the result obtained in antiquity. Not only from a technical point of view, but also from a hydrological point of view. Large swimming pools in which people of both sexes moved. It was sensational.
BZ: Two schools quickly formed. Doctor Oscar Lassar campaigned for the public bathroom to be a cleaning establishment. Others have propagated swimming with movement, even for fun. What characterized this debate?
Olew: Lassar was mainly concerned with hygiene. For him, the Volksbad was a shower. Lassar’s credo was: the bathroom must be structurally simple in order to be widely used. At the Berlin Hygiene Exhibition in 1882, he presented a corrugated metal construction that 10,000 people used to shower in two weeks. A great success for him.

BZ: Cleaning wasn’t enough.
Olew: Architect and urban planner Josef Stbben, for example, believed that the bathroom should not only be done as a duty, but should be enjoyed. He showed how he could be in his project for the Hohenstaufenbad in Cologne. Stbben was also of the opinion that swimming in the pool as a shared experience is an essential part of the attractiveness of public baths. And don’t clean in spartan shower stalls. Thus was born the swimming pool, architecturally expansive and also more efficient. Several people enter a pool at the same time, unlike the Lassar bathtub, it does not have to be washed after each shower. This also largely invalidated Lassar’s saying that the shower room was the real public toilet because it was the cheapest.
BZ: Stbben was inspired by the Badenweiler spa. What was special about it?
Olew: It is a bathroom construction project in two respects. The ancient ruins with their symmetrical architectural structure were exemplary on one principle: in the center a central entrance, then on one side the women’s bathroom and on the other the men’s bathroom. Around 1900, this model became the basic model for many city pools in Germany, especially if you wanted to use separate pools for both genders. The particularity of the new building of Thermae novae or Markgrafenbad as it was later called, was initially the connection of an indoor pool with an outdoor pool, and thus one of the first combined pools in this country. Architecturally, the building was borrowed from ancient Roman bath motifs. Stbben was so fascinated by the beauty of the building and the community bathing in the pool that he strongly recommended Aachen to invest in such a building. He was one of the first to see the swimming pool as an attractive element of a city. And something else is exemplary in Badenweiler: the separation between walking in boots and walking barefoot.
BZ: In 1907 the first family swimming pool in Germany was opened at Wannsee in Berlin. What was the spectacular news?
Olew: I like to talk about a thermal revolution, a sort of Schabowski moment in the history of German spas, in the form not understood as with the fall of the Wall. At that time, the Wannsee still belonged to the Teltow district. People used to go swimming there anyway. Therefore, the district administrator officially applied to the authorities for a permit for a bathing area. The Potsdam police referred to the forest administration, which referred to the police. This is how district administrator Ernst von Stubenrauch managed to persuade both of them to give up. The inauguration took place on May 8, 1907, the day of liberation in the history of the German baths.
BZ: The next step of emancipation took place after 1918. Was the swimming pool a place of equality?
Olew: Everyone had the same rights in the pool. State symbols didn’t matter. Not only were women and men equal under the new constitution, but there were also more and more toilets abolishing gender segregation. When it came to indoor pools, people were initially a little more reserved. But other countries like the Netherlands and Austria have shown that the family bathroom attracts more people. That is why they followed suit in Germany. And then there is the 50-meter swimming pool. The separate men’s and women’s pools have been combined into one pool. It was more right for the sport. And men and women swam together. Nice too.
BZ: Does individualization foster the fun bathroom trend?
Olew: In a pure hot tub, yes. But this did not become the task of the municipal bathing system. After all, exercise in the water is sport. And exercising in the water is the healthiest thing you can do. This applies to all age groups.

Matthew Olew, 53, studied history, political science and journalism at the Free University of Berlin. He is the press spokesperson for the Berlin Bder companies. In his doctorate he dealt with the history of the baths.

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