Miriam Widman for NPR Berlin
Scene of the crime: Miriam Widman tiptoes with street shoes into Stadtbad Wilmerdorf, a
Scene of the crime: Miriam Widman tiptoes with street shoes into Stadtbad Wilmerdorf, a verboten place. Miriam Widman for NPR Berlin
I violated the Badeordnung
I really did.
But I didn't mean to, and I'm very sorry. If it wasn't for that damn bathing suit that I happened to forget.
I only realized it back home and had to ride back to Stadtbad Wilmersdorf, where I take an occasional dip.
The nice lady at the front desk nodded knowingly when I tried to explain that I'd forgotten my suit. She wouldn't even let me finish my sentence, as she immediately knew what had happened.
I'm obviously not the first person to forget a bathing suit at Stadtbad Wilmersdorf.
But the niceness ended with the lady at the front desk.
Here was the dilemma: As many people know, Germany is a country with a lot of rules. There is a Badeordnung. Just like there's a Hausordnung and a Strassenverkehrsordnung. I like that latter one. It's a word with 23 letters in it.
The Badeordnung – or house rules for the pool – says you can't use street shoes in the barefoot areas.
This is what the rule looks like in German. (It must be really important because it's up at the top.)
A. Schwimmhallen: Mit Ihren Straßenschuhen dürfen Sie die Barfußgänge nicht betreten.
You can't go in the barefoot areas with your street shoes on. Period.
But here's the deal: I just wanted to grab my bathing suit. I didn't have any flip flops with me, and I did not want to take my shoes off, get my socks wet, put my shoes back on and have to go home with wet feet.
I gingerly entered the area where street shoes are verboten and made it past the first couple of feet.
Whew. No one was around. But as I turned the corner to where I thought I'd left my suit, there she was: An elderly woman with a vicious face.
I thought she was going to say something to me, but her silence was worse.
That look. I'll never forget it. Capital punishment has been outlawed in Germany for a very long time, but she looked like she wanted it back for Badeordnung violators.
It would have been easier had she said something. The look coupled with the silence was excruciating. I was already on my tippy toes – not wanting to put the full weight of my verboten shoes on the holy tile in the shower area.
I eyed my suit and grabbed it, muttering a sorry.
And then I ran.
I thought she might come after me or tell one of the Badeordnung ladies – you know those women responsible for enforcing law and order.
I rode my bike home as fast as I could, fearing the Badeordnung ladies might somehow catch up with me.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the front door of my apartment building.
But I felt a twinge of guilt.
I did break the rules. I violated the Badeordnung.
But I am really sorry.
Miriam Widman Pauline Grabski
Miriam Widman is a freelance writer and radio producer who lived in Berlin in the 1990s and moved back in 2011 after a long stay in Portland, Oregon. A native New Yorker, Miriam produces for The World, is founder/host of Die German Stunde, a radio program on Portland's KBOO-FM community radio station and is also a reporter for Jewish Voice from Germany, a new quarterly publication. She also blogs at zeitgeistnorthwest.wordpress.com. For the NPR Berlin blog, Miriam will be writing about daily life in Berlin.