The open-air lido has been tremendously popular destination among the residents of Berlin since 1907, when the local authorities officially allowed public bathing on a stretch of beach on the shore of the Wannsee. The number of visitors grew from year to year, so that the need for the construction of some permanent facilities became apparent. In a project headed by municipal building director Martin Wagner, who had already put together an initial land-use plan in 1915, Richard Ermisch began planning a modern “cosmopolitan” bathing facility in the New Objectivity style that was finally erected in 1929–30.
As a municipal facility, the public bath embodied the recreational and physical culture of the Weimar Republic, with its demand for light, air and sun that was often also promoted in the field of home construction in the 1920s. With its 1300-meter long sand beach, Wannsee offered all the outdoor pleasures of summer to those Berliners who could not afford to vacation at the more exclusive resorts on the Baltic Sea.
Martin Wagner had a recreation facility in mind that was like a “sanatorium for one’s physical and mental regeneration.” Ermisch replaced the original thatched wooden buildings with four two-story, steel-skeleton cubic halls with yellow clinker-brick façades that were connected to each other with a roofed promenade. Aside from the dressing rooms (on the upper floors of the halls) and showers, the complex included shops and restaurants, sporting facilities and a garden. The terrace-like areas on the roofs were used for sunbathing.
The new bathing beach was a huge success, with attendance reaching 1.3 million visitors by 1930, despite the fact that only one half of the planned structures were actually built due to the Depression. Later extensions were left unrealized because the building style was considered too modern for the National Socialists and as such inappropriate.
The Wannsee lido remained popular among Berlin’s residents after the end of the war, when it offered a brief escape from the routines of everyday life. With increasing prosperity, however, Berliners were able to vacation elsewhere; attendance dropped and the buildings deteriorated. They were only refurbished in 2007 to mark the lido’s one hundredth anniversary. The Wannsee bathing beach and its various buildings are not only once again fulfilling their original purpose as a recreational facility but also serve as a vivid monument to the socio-political ambitions of the 1920s. [DB/HY]
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