Berlin is full of history. Obviously, any place is full of history, but this city very often lets you experience it live. So many houses have been left to fate, visiting them gives you the opportunity to time travel. This time, I would like to take you on a tour to abandoned Ballhaus Riviera in Berlin.
We find it in one of those adventurous traveling guides and know immediately: that’s where we need to go. My friend Maaike is visiting from the Netherlands for the weekend. We met in the Philippines in 2011, where we ended up travelling together for six weeks. Back in Europe, I am excited to show her a little bit of my new home: Berlin.
Maaike is not very much into standard sightseeing, and neither am I. This is how we already got along in Asia and why she is gonna l o v e this city. There is no reason to even think about standard tours when you get the chance to explore the town through places that have long been abandoned, that used to be full of life, that want you to feel, remember and imagine their stories.
Berlin covers a huge area: 878 km² all together since the “Groß-Berlin-Gesetz” in 1920¹, today even 891,12 km²-². This made Berlin after Los Angeles the second most wide-spread municipality worldwide³. Grünau is a district in the Southeast of Berlin, not far from the airport Schönefeld and is – as its name reveals – a very green area.
Alongside the Dahme, we can find many spots to go swimming in the middle of the woods and due to its widespread nature, chances are high, you don’t run into people at all. Yes, we are in the capital of Germany, but being in Grünau can feel like being on an adventurous trip with the scouts or on a weekend getaway.
Entertainment needed in 20th century Grünau
The end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century were times of fast growth for Berlin. Increasingly more people were moving to the green, surrounding areas of the city. This came with a need for entertainment: The many waterways and canals offered opportunities for water sports, such as rowing, paddling or sailing. Alongside the water, restaurants and dancing cafés started to open up, one of them was the Ballhaus Riviera⁴.
The Beginning Of Ballhaus Riviera
In 1888, the Riviera opened up as a beer bar alongside the river Dahme. People could stop by with their boats for a refreshment, enjoying the sun and some company. Two years later, the owner at the time, Ernst Krüger, added a ballroom with a nice view over the water. In 1895, the Riviera looked like this:
The owners changed several times, in the 1920s and 30s the architect Otto Gerth enriched the place with many flowers, palm trees, waterworks and a glass dome. It became a famous establishment and surprisingly enough, it survived both world wars without being damaged. This might have something to do with the fact that during NS times, the nazi-organization “Kraft der Freude” was the alleged owner of the Riviera⁵. Even in 2013, when we visit the abandoned Ballhaus, we find many swastikas as graffitis around, which make the atmosphere increasingly scary.
The Abandoned Riviera in 2013
I will never forget how I felt, standing in these abandoned, cold, somewhat dangerous and unwelcoming rooms and having all these images of warm, lively and joyful ballroom dancing times in my head.
Nobody has taken interest in abandoned places in a long time, apart from adventurous photographers, artists, and, unfortunately, people who seem to be interested in vandalism. We make our way inside from the cellar, since the entrances are blocked. What we find inside is beyond what we dared to imagine: a huge ballroom that makes us feel tiny and lets our phantasy go wild how this once must have been full of music, life, and joy!
Unfortunately, there is no light inside, since all the windows have been barricaded, which is why we hardly see the colored walls and cannot take any pictures. As soon as I catch a spot with some light shining in through the wooden barricades, I take the chance to take a photo of the beautiful ceiling:
We find many small rooms and corridors that let us imagine how they might have been used in the past. Above a doorway, a sign says “Garderobe” (cloakroom), but it rather looks as if someone has added it quite recently.
Visiting abandoned places is a venturesome experience – every time. You don’t even know whether you can find your way in, and if you do: you don’t know, what to expect there. All kinds of stones, wooden blanks, wires, corroded nails are laying around and it’s incredibly important to watch your step not to get hurt. (This is clearly not an invitation to visit abandoned places. If you do so: Be aware of these risks!)
We are very happy about our successful visit, that we got the chance to relive and imagine some of Berlin’s most vivid history. I will never forget how I felt, standing in these abandoned, cold, somewhat dangerous and unwelcoming rooms and having all these images of warm, lively and joyful times in my head.
Back to the present
Our little time travelling adventure came to an end and we were in desperate need of some warmth and cosiness. Lucky us, there is a tiny Berliner café just across the abandoned Riviera, that is worth a visit in itself: Café Liebig. We enjoy a cup of tea and feel as 2013-life comes back into our bodies.
Updates – 2019 onwards
Unfortunately, researching for this article, I found out that the Ballhaus has become victim of an arson attack in July, 2019. The inside is lost completely, only the facade stayed intact.
I am very disappointed and sad, reading and seeing this. From what I found, an investor bought the areal in 2017, and there were plans about building a retirement home on the property next to the Dahme.
Well, nothing stays forever. This way, hopefully new life comes into this beautiful area. Life, like it used to be in the 19th and 20th century with people stopping by on their boats, enjoying a drink in the sun next to the water, dancing to joyful music – like in the good old times of Ballhaus Riviera.
You feel like more?
Please note that I do not see my blog posts as travel suggestions for you but merely as sharing my experiences. Traveling is different for every single one of us and you might have completely different expectations towards places you stay at or you visit, so chances are high you might not like what I do. If there is something specific you are looking for, do your research thoroughly and always be open to a different outcome: Areas change quickly – also in Berlin. In addition, be very careful about abandoned places. Often, access is prohibited and dangerous. Beware.
Sources ¹ "Groß Berlin", In: Wikipedia, Feb 2020 ² Statistik Berlin Brandenburg, Feb 2020 ³ Berliner Stadtentwicklung. In: Spiegel Online, 16. Aug 2017 ⁴ "Riviera (Berlin)", In: Wikipedia, Feb 2020 ⁵ "Vergessene Vergnügungsorte", In: Zitty Berlin (2014), accessed in Jan 2020 and Digital Cosmonaut (2013): 111 Places in Berlin - Nr 5: The Ballhaus in Grünau