Detour: The Art Nouveau Swimming Pool in Aachen

Elisabeth-Halle Pool and Ceiling

When in Aachen, most tourists naturally focus on the cathedral, which was Germany’s first World Heritage Site, and on the lovely historic town centre. And who would blame them – Aachen is one of the prettiest German cities I know and despite the cathedral often being overshadowed by its much larger and more well known ‘neighbour’, the Kölner Dom in nearby Cologne, I personally find Aachen Cathedral prettier.

However, a little detour within Aachen is quite in order: One really shouldn’t miss a visit to the public swimming pool Elisabeth-Halle, which is an Art Nouveau gem.

The pool building is located in the town centre and was built between 1908 and 1911, making the Elisabeth-Halle over a hundred years old and, more importantly, one of Germany’s few remaining Art Nouveau pools. Many were destroyed or experienced a change of function, unfortunately.

So, even if your hotel accommodation does not have a pool, don’t forget to bring your swimming gear on a trip to Aachen. You’ll feel transported back in time on visiting this pool, starting right on entering. The entrance hall is huge, and it only gets better the further you go inside. You’ll be awed by the high ceiling, which makes for an especially nice swim when the sun is out. With the many large windows, it feels a little like swimming outside when the weather is nice.

The changing rooms are amazing as well, charmingly old-fashioned and situated all around the pool and on two storeys, due to the height of the building. Apart from the main pool, there are several others, not all of which are still in use. In former times there were also so-called ‘Wannenbäder’ available, i.e. tubs, which could be used for small money by people who did not have proper bathing facilities in their accommodation. They can still occasionally be viewed and I found it quite interesting to see the individual small rooms, each with its own tub. Nowadays, they aren’t in use anymore, as modern facilities in houses and flats leave this former ‘Bäderkultur’ (bathhouse culture) unnecessary. There were also sweating baths and down in the cellars there was even a bathing facility for dogs! =)

When I undertook a guided tour of the building, I was quite astonished to find out that the cellars were used as air-raid shelters during WW II, you can still see some of the signage. I think I would have freaked out if I had had to spend any long-ish amount of time down there. The tour of the cellars was worthwhile, in any case, as we were given a huge amount of information on how a public pool actually works, regarding the layout, the running of it, the heating and the water hygiene regulations.

I really recommend a visit to the Elisabeth-Halle when you’re visiting Aachen, it makes for quite a change to swimming in regular, modern pools. Don’t worry, though, the showers etc. were all modernised a few years ago, its only the building and design that are retro.

The city’s webpage for the pool is only available in German, I’m afraid, but it does state the address, opening times and contact details, which should be helpful even to people who do not speak German.

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