Temperatures dip at Berlin pools in ‘statement’ on Russian gas

A handful of Berlin's open-air pools are due to reopen this week, but swimmers may notice a slight chill in the water as operators seek to make a political point about Germany's dependence on Russian gas.

A swimmer jumps in a Berlin pool last August.
A swimmer jumps in a Berlin pool last August. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Earlier in April, Strandbad Wannsee was the first of Berlin’s many summer swimming spots to open its doors to particularly courageous swimmers.

This weekend 13 more of the open-air bathing areas are set to follow, including 10 more public beaches, the outdoor pools in Kreuzberg and the Olympic Stadium plus a public pool in Spandau. 

The remaining summer pools will continue to launch gradually, with every spot set to be open to the public by July 1st. For the first time in a few years, there will no time slots or other pandemic restrictions – but the most astute swimmers may still notice a difference. 

That’s because this year, the Berliner Bäderbetriebe (BBB), which operates the capital’s pools, will be turning down the water temperature by up to two degrees centigrade in support of Ukraine. 

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“We want to make a contribution to reducing dependence on Russian natural gas supplies,” Johannes Kleinsorg, CEO of BBB, told reporters at a recent press conference.

According to Kleinsorg, open-air pools that are heated by fossil fuels will have water temperatures reduced by up to two degrees, while indoor pools will have temperatures reduced by a maximum of one degree.

Though the slight temperature reduction should be “barely noticeable” for swimmers, the move is intended to be a “political statement” about reducing dependence on Russia following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The plan to reduce the water temperature was organised in tandem with the Berlin Senate, Kleinsorg said. 

Last year summer pools in Berlin saw an average water temperature of 22-24C. 

The small reduction in temperature will save around 20 percent of energy and won’t affect the summer pools in Gropiusstadt, Pankow and Mariendorf as these are heated using solar power. 

Why is Russian gas such a big issue?

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, Germany has been under increasing pressure to justify its ongoing business dealings with the Kremlin – particularly in the energy sector.

Though the German government has so far sent billions of euros’ worth of weapons and financial support to Ukraine, these contributions are dwarfed in comparison to the hundreds of millions the government sends to Russia each day in exchange for gas, oil and coal. 

Despite public outcry and consternation from some other nations, Germany has so far opted for a strategy of gradually weaning itself off Russian gas and oil rather than opting for a rapid embargo.

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In the oil sector, finding new suppliers has been relatively simple. Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) on Wednesday announced that the nation had so far reduced the percentage of oil imports from Russia from 35 percent to around 12 percent.

However, it says new infrastructure needs to be build in order to facilitate an end to Russian gas imports, so this could take much longer.

At the same time, fears are growing within the EU that Russia is preparing to turn of the taps to any nation who doesn’t comply with his request to pay for gas deliveries in rubles.

The Kremlin has already confirmed that it will end gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria after both nations refused to meet President Putin’s demand for payment in the Russian currency. 

This has sparked concerns that Germany could be next. 

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Berlin weighs up free public transport ticket for summer

Just a few weeks before the €9 ticket is due to be released, the Berlin Senate is mulling a new idea to offer free summer travel for people who sign up to subscriptions.

Berlin weighs up free public transport ticket for summer

According to reports in regional newspaper Tagesspiegel, the transport administration has pitched a three-month €0 ticket for customers that would run alongside the €9 ticket with the aim of pulling in new long-term customers.

In a letter obtained by Tagesschau and regional broadcaster RBB, the transport administration department told parliament that the free ticket would be exclusively available for new and existing season-ticket and subscription holders. 

“It is currently being discussed in Berlin to lower the prices for season tickets to €0 in the campaign months as an alternative to the €9 monthly ticket,” they wrote.

This could win over new customers and encourage them to start rolling subscriptions, they argued.  

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The free ticket would run from the start of June until the end of August – just like the national €9 ticket – though it’s unclear if it would only be usable for local public transport in Berlin or if, like its €9 counterpart, regional and local routes nationwide would also be included in the offer. 

Pandemic effect

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Berlin and Brandenburg’s transport operators have lost a number of their original customers. Some have switched to cars or bicycles while others are simply travelling less due to continued home office or less post-pandemic socialising. 

Fewer subscriptions – known as Abos – have been sold by S-Bahn and BVG this year. The operators are concerned that this could lead to significant revenue losses over time.

By dangling the carrot of free transport, the Senate is hoping that it can encourage some of these customers to return over summer and start paying for subscriptions when autumn rolls around.

However, the transport administration has pointed out that talks with the federal government, other federal states, transport associations and the companies involved have not yet been concluded.

“There are different models and therefore many parties to be involved,” transport administration spokesman Jan Thomsen told RBB. “A decision is still open.”

According to the Senate’s estimates, the €0 scheme would cost Berlin around €22 million. 

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