On a recent November day in Berlin's upscale Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood, locals in long jackets pushed strollers through the crisp autumn air. Others wrapped themselves in blankets and lingered at outdoor cafes. And down the street, a handful of people gripping swimsuits headed under the stone Neo-Renaissance facade at the Hotel Oderberger Berlin to partake in a beloved, centuries-old local tradition: whiling away the hours at one of Berlin's many eye-catching public indoor swimming pools (Hallenbäder).
Boasting 60 indoor public swimming pools that attract six million visitors each year, Berlin is one of the world's great indoor swimming destinations. And unlike elsewhere, where public pools are more functional than fancy, Berlin's Hallenbäder are veritable cathedrals of late 19th- and early 20th-Century design.
As I followed the crowd inside the Stadtbad Oderberger Strasse, for instance, I noticed the 20m pool was surrounded by decorative tiles, arched windows and ornate detailing on the stone railings that felt more like a Moroccan riad than a public pool. Berlin's indoor pools are also known for being places of relaxation rather than racket. Aside from the occasional splash or sandals tapping against tiles, all was quiet here. As others were quietly doing laps, it felt like I was in a library-turned-swimming pool (without the constant fear of getting shushed).