BLUB: From Rat Haven to Home-owner Heaven?

One of the great things about having some extra time on your hands in Berlin is that you can go and have adventures instead of doing boring, normal stuff like, well, working. So, when I came across an article about an abandoned leisure complex in Neukölln that's due to be torn down this year, I decided to go and do a bit of exploring. Because really, who in their right mind would want to be in a warm, cosy classroom when they could be running around a derelict wonderland, at risk of being robbed, assaulted, arrested or murdered? Not me, that's for sure. Still, I'll admit to being a little relieved when another member of the Berlin Logs team said that he quite fancied coming along.

Berliner Luft und Badeparadies – BLUB – opened in 1985, and cost a trifling 44 million Deutschmark at the time. Initially, it was very popular, and attracted around 600,000 people a year, who were probably drawn by the whirlpools, geysers, fountains, water slides, whitewater canal, saunas... you get the idea. However, for some reason, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the number of visitors dropped. That is to say, human visitor numbers dropped; non-human visitors' droppings increased.

No Pied Piper was necessary as the rats slowly invaded paradise, and in 2002, BLUB was shut down by local health authorities. You can't blame them really – would you want your baby swimming in rat shit? Numerous attempts (and millions in investments) failed to keep the dream alive, and the Ratsta's Paradise is now owned by a Munich-based group of investors, who plan on demolishing the whole shebang and building 450 apartments there instead. Construction on “Greenpark” is due to start this year, but luckily, not just yet.

Enjoying my new persona of mild-mannered teacher by day and intrepid explorer by...well, day, I set off for Grenzallee to meet my new partner in crime, Florian. To my delight, he was over ten minutes late – there's nothing like being more punctual than a German to give you a feeling of pointless superiority. Following my directions, we headed down Buschkrugallee, and then back up it again after realising I'm rubbish at directions.

Around twenty minutes and much confusion later, we were pushing our way through a gap in a fence into what had once been a shining star in Berlin's leisure world. Oh, how the mighty had fallen. Carefully picking our way over broken glass, we observed the debris of (clearly very unfussy) party-goers, graffiti-covered “walls”, and tumble-down shacks.

It was almost impossible to imagine what it had looked like in its hey-day, though large fragments of broken slides and a swimming pool full of shopping trolleys and other junk painted a sad picture of what had once been. Partially overgrown signs pointed to buildings that no longer existed, and a sign forbidding jumping or diving was still standing, though, looking at the murky pool, it was probably unnecessary at this stage...

As we walked along, Florian helpfully pointed out spots that would be useful for burying bodies, so very soon, we were both jumping at every cracked twig and crunch of broken glass. The silence was eerie, and the haze of falling snow didn't do much to quell our giggly unease. However, the only sign of life we saw was a guy practising his BMX skills in a large derelict building, and he nervously scarpered when he saw us nervously peering at him through a hole in the wall. Although we didn't see them, it was clear that some people had set up home in a couple of the smaller buildings. Opening a door and seeing a makeshift bed and some personal belongings felt like an invasion of privacy, so we quickly closed it again and moved on.

The site office, when we found it, was remarkably intact. Files full of documents had been left abandoned on the desk – they could be a worthwhile study in how to bankrupt a multi-million euro leisure centre if anyone fancies going back there and retrieving them. I know I don't.

For now, I guess BLUB will be left in the grubby hands of the party-goers and the claws of the rats. A few years from now, the whole site will be covered in shiny, new apartments and BLUB will be a distant memory - though I bet a few rats will have some great stories for the grandkids.

By Linda O'Grady
Linda works as an English teacher, writer and editor, and has been living in Berlin since September 2014. She also shares some of her more irreverent thoughts on life as an Irishwoman living in Germany in her blog - Expat Eye on Germany.

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