Letters From Berlin

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03/26/2004: "People watching"

I see the Aquarium from my bike as I commute from Berlin to Potsdam. It is part of the Zoo, which lends its name to the station where I lock my bike and catch the train to work. Before I say goodbye to Berlin May 3rd, I plan to visit the zoo to see the monkeys, and go to the aquarium. A couple of the things on my mental to-do checklist.
A visit to the human aquarium was also on the list. So, Tuesday night I went. It’s actually a public swimming pool. The building that houses it must be about a hundred years old, and architecturally, it is a gem. The Germans call the style Jugendstil, in English it’s Art Nouveau. The place is light, pretty, and full of charming frescoes. There is a new public pool right next door, but I have only ever gone to this pool, the old one.
I went there Tuesday night for old time’s sake. I wanted to see it again, and to see if things had changed much. The price has gone up. It costs four euros to swim. It used to be half that.
Other than that, things are pretty much the same. The pool still has a stainless steel liner, that gleams with the swirl pattern of the polished metal. The water is a cool, calming, darkened blue. The color seems natural, until I think about it. Water in a stainless steel kitchen sink is not blue. Either the bottom of the pool is tinted dark blue, or the water itself has some blue coloring in it. Still, I like how the stainless steel liner fits the architectural style.
When I was in Berlin in 1992, Monday night was naked swim night here. Now Tuesday and Friday nights are naked. I paid my four euros, and went in. There are separate changing rooms and showers for men and women, but then everyone emerges naked to the pool. Butt naked in the water, it seems to me like an aquarium, full of human beings. Every body looks better in the water. No matter whether trim or chubby or neither, the water embraces and supports, and our species looks better in water.
Some of us are not actually naked, we wear goggles. Somehow, they do not disqualify one from being naked. Underwater I see better with goggles, and I love the view of all these bodies in blue water in stainless steel in a Jugendstil building. There should be a window for all the animals in the zoo to come by to look at us. It is the only pool where I have ever seen swimmers just drift to the bottom of the pool to gaze at the other swimmers. Others move like otters through the water, observing other bodies as they pass by. Unlike most pool swimming, this looking is to see for the sake of seeing, not just for the practical matter of not colliding.
In a culture like this, where nudity is more common, I take this looking to be really about enjoying the naked human form. I get to be naked, and I get to be around naked people. Still, the men outnumbered the women about eight to one. There has to be a reason for this. There were only two women there. One was about thirty, with an athletic figure, and long dark hair, looking much like the Greek actress who lit the Olympic flame yesterday. The other was much stockier and probably more my age, 50, and churned as she moved through the water. Side by side, they seemed like a wringer washer and a dolphin. Both familiar with water, but very different energies.
The men were a curious lot. Mostly working class and over forty, no GQ models, no pretty boys, no athletes. Probably mostly homosexual, but probably not openly gay. Maybe a couple times a month these guys come here to shed all, be surrounded by and have a look at a few other naked blokes. There is no naked swim night here during summer months. From May on it is warm enough to take advantage of being naked in the meadows in the local parks. During the rest of the year, there is FKK (Freie Körperliche Kulture - free body culture) night here at the pool in Krummestrasse (crooked street).

I leave for ten days in Spain on Sunday morning. In mid-April I go to Norway for a week. Both countries I have never seen. My time living in Europe dwindles. As always, sand is passing through the hourglass. These days, listening carefully, I hear it.

March 2004
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