Posts Tagged ‘German unification 1871’

Strandbad Wannsee – still popular

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Strandbad Wannsee has been a popular public swimming area in Berlin, Germany, for the past 100 years. It is located on the eastern shore of the River Havel, where the river forms a large bay, the Grosser Wannsee. Its broad, shallow beach is almost one mile long and is replenished annually with sand from the Baltic. Four historic two-story, clinkered buildings are arranged in a row parallel to the beach.

Strandbad Wannsee is one of the largest such inland lidos in Europe. It is run by the City of Berlin, and on a hot summer day, up to 30,000 visitors take advantage of this public beach. There is something for everyone: Strandkorb and deckchair rentals are available, a separate nude-bathing section is offered, and a water slide, a playground for children and a park and promenade for the entire family are on hand.


Strandbad Wannsee as seen from the River Havel. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017,

Strandbad Wannsee as seen from the River Havel. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017,

History of Strandbad Wannsee

Following Germany’s first unification in 1871, the City of Berlin experienced an unprecedented population growth. Existing housing could not absorb the sudden influx, so that inhabitants ended up packed into tiny flats like sardines, without much light or fresh air. As a result, residents sought escape in the great outdoors. But their yearning for sun and fresh air caused a new problem because the moral standards of the time demanded that men and women not bath within sight of each other.

In 1909, a public beach and swimming area – which eventually became the Strandbad Wannsee – was constructed at the River Havel. It was built with distinctly separate sections for men, women and families. The sections were separated by wooden fences, each containing tents that served as changing facilities. Changing stations were surrounded by yet another fence to discourage looky-loos.

After World War I, the City of Berlin took over Strandbad Wannsee. In 1924, the tents were replaced by thatched pavilions, and the sanitary facilities were improved. By then, the S-Bahn, Berlin’s elevated train system, had opened and made the area more accessible. During World War II, Strandbad Wannsee provided a welcome escape from the devastation in the city.

Pack your swimsuit … and off to Strandbad Wannsee

In 1951, eight-year-old Conny Froboess turned Strandbad Wannsee into a household word with her song Pack die Badehose ein … und nichts wie raus nach Wannsee (Pack your swimsuit … and off the Strandbad Wannsee). Conny was only two years older than I, and I envied her for being able to ride her bike, unsupervised, to the Wannsee lido. I only dreamt of such autonomy. The song, written by her father, became one of the great hits of that time.  To hear Conny Froboess, click


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.