Swimming on Water

Vienna’s In-Town Alternativefor a Hot Summer’s Day, Complete With Cocktails and Deck Chairs

On The Town | Jessica Spiegel | September 2007

The Badeschiff, a floating public pool located between Schwedenplatz and the Urania (Photo: Hossein Nabavi)

Vienna has long been known for its abundance of public swimming pools. But try to find a place for a quick dip in the first district and you will be in for a disappointment.  The Stadion Bad in the Prater, possibly the closest to the city center, requires a lengthy tram ride, an equally long walk from the tram stop, and – if you are unlucky – an even longer wait to get in. But this was before the Badeschiff Wien welcomed the public aboard last July.

The so-called ‘Pool Ship,’ anchored between Schwedenplatz and the Urania in the Danube canal, is easy to spot in the murky waters – it’s bright orange. So one particularly steamy August day, I took advantage of its proximity, only a short walk from my office, and headed for the water. I descended the stairs from the Aspernbrücke, and walked the short strip of the Canallände to the narrow bridge that brings you on board.

The construction is actually two separate vessels – the main orange one and the smaller pool ship attached to its stern.  An assistant gladly took my five euros and pointed me in the direction of three pint-sized cubicles where visitors can shower and change. After doing the mandatory rinse, I approached the pool extending southward 30 metres down the canal.

A small group of people were already in the water swimming their laps and a buff lifeguard sat gazing lovingly over his flock. As I approached, I saw there was only one way to get in – right next to the guard at the front. In fact, the designers had wasted no time on needless accessories; a narrow white drain about 30 centimetres wide was the only thing between the edge of the pool and falling overboard. I climbed down the one and only ladder and dipped into the refreshingly cold water.

At first, it seemed a bit strange to be swimming in a pool of water floating on top of another pool of water, but a closer glance clarified the irony. The hazy brown canal, with the occasional beer can bobbing along, streamed by the Badeschiff in dramatic contrast to the clear chlorinated water of the pool. Once I had cooled off, I decided to take after a girl who had squeezed herself onto the scant drain cover between the railing and the rim to soak up some sun.

I pulled myself up, and with a stiff sand bag as a pillow tried to feel relaxed. But 30 centimetres doesn’t allow for much: I could either dangle my left arm and leg over the hull, or let the right leg hang into the pool where my toes were in danger of being side-swiped by a passing swimmer.  I opted for plan B, finding the swimmers less disturbing than the goggle-eyed tourists who sailed by on tour boats down the canal every 15 minutes.

However, despite the staring tourists, I found the atmosphere strangely serene. Perhaps due the danger of a child falling overboard, the Badeschiff is comfortably void of the usual screaming cherubs and the tainted water characteristic of most public pools.

There was just one problem: I had nothing to read. But to get a book to my chosen spot on the drain, I would have had to throw it very carefully across the pool or wade through the water, book held high over head. Both alternatives seemed embarrassing. So I rolled over into the water, swam back to the ladder and walked toward the larger ship where swimmers relaxed on the wooden patio furniture across from a long bar.

On the main deck, small snacks and sandwiches are available all day and hot food in the evening, including that treasured Austrian tradition of Steckerlfisch. But it was shaded, so I made my way to the uncovered roof.

The upper deck promised a plethora of sun chairs, but sadly, I wasn’t the only one wanting to work on my tan. As the Herman Strand Bar on shore could attest, if you offer the Viennese a few deck chairs, a full bar and a waiter, there are rarely any vacancies.

I finally found one remaining lonely chair stuck in a corner, ordered a Weissen Spritzer and settled in with my book.

And it is always those moments… just when you think you’re safe, a cell phone rings. My neighbour on the deck, a middle aged woman with a thick Viennese accent, began to prattle endlessly about absolutely nothing to her girlfriend.  I tried plugging the ear closest to her, hoping she would get the point. But alas, she was oblivious.

After 45 minutes of a nearly irresistible urge to throw her over the railing, she finally hung up, just as a relaxed Brazilian salsa beat started to play over the speakers. But one speaker just happened to be right next to my other ear, making reading out of the question.

Time to go. Not the most memorable swim of my life, perhaps, but at least I cooled down without having to take five hours out of my day to do so.

I dressed, walked off the boat and wondered whether I should try again another time, at least for the Steckerlfisch. According to one of the flyers at the front desk, the Badeschiff turns to a ‘Party Schiff’ when the sun goes down, promising a variety of DJs who play in the cargo area of the ship’s hold at night.

I let my thoughts wander…  nothing better after a long night of dancing than being thrown into a pool with your clothes on.

Maybe there would be a next time after all.

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