Bear with duck, logo of Flussbad e.V.

Reclaim Spree!

with Flussbad Berlin e.V.

Swimming along city’s river, quick bath for refreshment during hot summer day – could have been the simplest and most obvious idea. Not in Berlin! The entire Spree river in the territory of the city belongs to waterways and can be exclusively used by ships, motorboats. Additionally, as the expertise says, Spree is too contaminated to ensure safe bathing. Therefore – no swimming allowed! It has not always have been this way. Almost hundred years ago Berliners were enjoying river’s pool.

PROJECT FLUSSBAD refers to this tradition and is busy lobbying and researching for establishment of a pool on Spree Canal (along the historical center of Berlin’s spree island). At the same time – underlining how cleaning the river will contribute to rebuilding it’s natural habitat. The association Flussbad Berlin e.V. started working in 2012, but the idea of a pool was loudly pronounced already in 1997. by Tim and and Jan Edler. Authorities commented it: this project is sufficiently unrealistic to discuss it impartially¹.

And so, years after – crazy idea becomes reality. Almost. For the second time already Flussbad Project received grants from the National Urban Development Projects program. The main actions are: building a staircase in front of the Berliner Schloss (Humboltforum) enabling a direct access to Spree, and research about filters – testing prototypes, examining how well can they deal with filtering water. The laboratory (a boat Hans Wilhelm) and the progress of the project are public. You can visit the Flussbad Garten – check the info-point, enjoy a drink from it’s small bar, sit at the floaty- wooden construction (which shape is based on the model of the future pool itself) with the view on filtering plants!

It’s not the only publicly accessible part of the project! Fluss lauf takes place every month. You can get to known the details about building plans, history of Berlin from the perspective of Spree transformations and insights of decision making and formal obstacles of the initiative. 

Three sections of Flussbad project

by Flussbad Berlin e.V. / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
  1. Swimming Section – Monbijou bridge up to the the area of ESMT 

There are two main focuses behind FLUSSBAD project. One is to give the river back to people – citizens of Berlin. Along the whole arm of Spree where the project shall be located, there is no single usable access to the water itself! Very symbolical trial of providing it is the staircase of James Simon Gallery – suppose to bring you directly to the water. Guess what – it’s forbidden to use it 🙁 Still –  worth noticing, nice try! 

2. Natural waterways Section – Eastern tip of the “Fischerinsel” down to “Gertrauden” bridge

The other focus – helping Spree’s ecosystem. No section of river in Berlin provides fish with the spot to safely nourish, rest, breed – get stronger before further journey. It’s rather the opposite – barrages, watergates, canal walls– create additional obstacles – bringing dull results of fish dying. 

Filters laboratory on Hans Wilhelm Boat // photo N.Wilk

3.  Filter area – along Friedrichsgracht

Between mentioned parts- filters! High tech filtering solution is taken from the best possible creator of cleaning self controlling systems = nature! Plants, gravel, bacterias living in those two and maybe mussels (in trial phase)! That’s it!

Relation to the river 

The main pollution of Spree comes from the canalisation. Within the history river was changing it’s meaning to citizens – transport, socialising, hygienic purpose, waste disposal. Today – it’s mainly the canalisation that directly connects our life with the river. Till the moment it doesn’t rain hard – all works great and both river and waste water flows their ways. Once it does – dirt overflow ends up directly in the river. Have a look under bridges. Pipes sticking out of the wall – that’s where products of your toilette can end up. 

Other human products are drowning in Spree as well. Two rusty bicycles and one scooter recovered from the river bottom stands at “Lustgarten” square.  We can only guess how many more random litters ends up in water. 

bikes and scooter recovered from Spree bottom // Lustgarten // photo N. Wilk

What Flussbad project funders promote is the belief that once river is designed for public usage people might care more about what they throw to it. If we would be given a chance to have a personal connection to the river – we could possibly develop an automatism of protecting what we love. 

There is no obstacle that water cannot flow around…. ? 

Social aspect it’s where it all started – literally and metaphorically. 

During the walk you will pass by the Lustgarten square – where Schinkel builded the old museum. That’s exactly the place where Spree first connected Museum Insel with Fischer Insel and where ages after separated East from West Berlin. The place where Berlin started (as a Spree island with funding of the city Cölln in the 13th Century) is also the most itchy point of Flussbad.

What we see around here is Berliner Schloss (Association of Berlin Schlosses E.V / Humboldt Forum), Museumsinsel (Unesco world heritage, Masterplan Museumsinsel), federal Foreign Office, GDR state council (ESMT Business school). Other authorities not directly visible, but included in the group of Interest like the waterway administration, Bezirk Mitte,  city of Berlin, Berliner Wasserbetriebe and monument conservation (Denkmal Schutz) are players in the game. No-one has bad intentions, yet – achieving a common agreement to push the river pool project forward with the support of all players and someone that will finance it – is not an easy goal, resulting in postponing the final completion time from 2025 to 2035!

Can the idea that seems so absolutely positive and beneficial for people and environment win with an accusation of destroying the historical alignment of the canal walls, limiting shipping traffic or of disturbing the peace of monumental berlin palace copula with gathering of cheering (and topless) visitors ? In this most historical part of the Capital!

James Simon Gallery staircase // photo N. Wilk

You are water! 

The question cannot be answered differently then by patience – like water does. Every year The Berliner Flussbad POKAL is organised in the future swimming section of Spree Canal. The only legal possibility to swim in the river without disturbance from motorboats or police. Water quality is examined at the day of an event. Depending on the test results – POKAL is happening or can be cancelled. 

That is what supporters of Flussbad can do! Showing the joy of being in the water and uniting with Spree flows. 

Have a look at the project website and get to know how can you help in case the river Spree has a sweet spot in your Berliner’s heart. There is plenty of options to show your support. Yet noticing that the river is there for you, questioning how do you relate to it – is the very precious and important beginning.   

Flow with your river!


1.Quote from Baustadtrat Flierl 1998, according to Jan Edler 25.11.2015 at “Ausschuss für Stadtentwicklung”:, translated to english by Natalia Wilk