Plea for an institution: you don’t close swimming pools!

It is the great pool for all, a sociotope, a happiness. A municipal duty. Anyone who thinks that outdoor pools are too expensive has understood nothing.

Shimmering light blue water, beautifully shaped tiles: a composition of architecture and geometry Photo: dpa

How does capitalism work? Especially in times of global monetary transactions? Something like this: In the south of the USA, a hurricane, let’s call it "Katrina," devastates large parts of a stately metropolis, and a few years later, two or three swimming pools close in Munich or Hanover. You think there’s no connection? Yes, there is.

Many of the buildings standing in New Orleans, then no longer standing due to natural disasters, are insured; the insurance companies that promised the owners of the properties a guarantee have taken out insurance with other insurance companies against these possible, now real, losses for which they have to pay; These second insurance companies, called reinsurers, have their headquarters somewhere, say in Munich or Hanover, for which they have to cede trade tax; this trade tax is calculated in a complicated way, it depends on the return or the losses of the companies, in this case the reinsurance companies – and the municipalities on the income from the trade tax.

If these revenues are now lower because the reinsurance companies have made losses due to "Katrina," the municipality has to cut costs again somewhere. And where is the easiest way to do that? In culture and public facilities. Swimming pools, for example.

To put it simply, there’s no money, and the swimming pools are closing. As early as 2016, a widespread "death of swimming pools" was diagnosed for Germany. The arguments are always the same: the costs are too high, the municipalities are tight, even those without reinsurers, savings must be made. According to the German Lifesaving Society, 175 swimming pools were closed in 2017 alone, including 62 outdoor pools.

"Swimming pools don’t pay off, they cost"

Now, a swimming pool actually requires a lot of money: personnel, electricity, water, water purification, maintenance, care, all the technology, plus this and that – and that’s just the running costs that arise when the outdoor pool is already built. "Baths don’t pay off, they cost," as a Hamburg baths boss once put it in Die Welt: "They can’t even cover their costs (…) No entrepreneur is stupid enough to invest in an area where losses are part of the business model."

Such a pool boss can only laugh about the admission fees. They cover at most half of the expenses, so they should actually be set much higher – but they are already high for normal city dwellers.

The open-air swimming pool is the bathing lake of the simple population, the Mallorca in miniature, the thermal bath for the working class.

And such a bathing day should be affordable, especially in summer. The open-air pool is the bathing lake of the simple population, the Mallorca in miniature, the big pool for everyone, the thermal bath for the working class. It is cheaper than the package tour to the south and far less harmful to the climate. In terms of cultural history, it is a utopia that was only made possible in the years of the economic miracle, and is therefore an original social democratic achievement.

Such a leisure and indoor swimming pool is a sociotope. A happiness. A cultural achievement. Like perhaps only the lending library, the museum or the municipal theater, institutions that are looked at similarly askance today, albeit perhaps for different reasons.

Closing swimming pools also kills puppies

In short, you don’t close swimming pools. By their very nature, swimming pools are part of urban culture. Whoever closes swimming pools, for whatever financial reasons, also closes animal shelters. He has not understood or does not want to understand the social aspect and access to culture for all.

How beautiful, for example, an open-air swimming pool is! Shimmering light blue water, beautifully shaped tiles, a composition of architecture and geometry. Everything, at least at the beginning of the day, is clean and tidy; lush green lawns, manicured and trimmed, offer opportunities to linger, optimally even in the shade of medieval trees. Stately diving towers rise up into the bright blue summer sky and offer a wide view over a merry throng of people; not to mention the fact that here courage and acrobatics can finally find their way to development. In short: a good open-air swimming pool is a sign of a city.

This text comes from the taz am wochenende. Always available from Saturday on the newsstand, in the eKiosk or in the practical weekend subscription. And around the clock on Facebook and Twitter.

But it’s more than that. It’s where people meet, where people show up. Want to do studies on body culture? The latest tattoo trends, the body as a showpiece: you can find it all here. An outdoor pool is also a place to grow up. Here you learn to swim, here you also learn to hold your own, not only on the diving tower, but also down below, in the water and on the meadows.

Of course, there are also downsides. Conflicts arise, which is only logical, because an outdoor pool also reflects society. In Baden-Wurttemberg, a bather recently beat up a lifeguard because he wasn’t allowed to eat chips on the edge of the pool (so the bather now). In other places, that’s exactly what’s missing: lifeguards. The shortage of skilled workers! There is also a shortage of swimmers because there is a shortage of good swimming instructors. There is a shortage of security personnel because these are low-paid jobs that administrations are usually happy to outsource to contractors. There is a shortage of many things.

And there is another problem: eventization. How many great outdoor pools, built in the days of brutalism and now no longer considered beautiful, must now make way for "bathing worlds" or "leisure pools", which are then called "GochNess", as in Goch in the Lower Rhine! The "fun pool" is a trend that has the event and commerce in mind, but rarely the common good or the simple approach of teaching children (and adults) how to swim.

The culprit, as always, is of course capitalism. It needs to be tamed. At least in our free time. Or, another idea: The municipalities reinsure themselves against trade tax losses. That would simply be turning the screw even further.

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