Thomas Grommes manages the refuse incineration power station in Ludwigshafen and has turned a 1950s jewel into the certainly most unusual exhibition area of the Rhine-Neckar Region. A particular course with stations shows visitors around the great issues of our time—passing art and 1,000 ideas.
It stopped a few minutes before twelve o’clock, one day—the golden clock on the tiled decorative wall in the Hallenbad Nord indoor swimming pool in Ludwigshafen. And in fact, its time had nearly come. The journalist Karin Leydecker published a guidebook on architecture in Rhineland-Palatinate in 2005. Her thoughtful text about this “memorable witness of bathing culture” sounded like the last acknowledgement to be made just before its impending demolition. The large pool with the sky-blue tiles was empty. The attendant’s little glasshouse was abandoned. The pot plants in the 50s-style containers were wilted. Nothing in this environment suggested that life could ever return to this bright and beautiful trailblazing architecture—and that, of all incidents, a big fire would be the reason why the pool would be full of water again one day, even though it is not for the purpose of swimming.
It is afternoon and the water pump makes roaring noises. Thomas Grommes casts an expert eye over it at the side of the pool. The pump facilitates a million litres of water to be retained for his neighbouring refuse incineration power station. Round the clock. It is this idea that made the station manager and chemist with a doctorate also become a conservationist, event manager and exhibition inventor a few years ago, because an uncontrollable fire in the refuse bunker had caused damages of about 30 million euro in October 2010. So the station was under construction for redevelopment for five years. A shortage in the water supply grid had restricted the fire fighting. Thomas thought it’d be a good idea to use the nearby vacant swimming pool as a reservoir from then on.
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Thomas Grommes (links) mit Matthias Ehringer von der Unteren Denkmalschutzbehörde der Stadt Ludwigshafen. Foto: Weindel
Foto: Stadtarchiv Ludwigshafen
Einst ein Ort für Wettkämpfe: das Hallenbad Nord. Foto: Stadtarchiv Ludwigshafen
Entspannen auf der (einstigen) Grünfläche vor dem Hallenbad Nord. Foto: Stadtarchiv Ludwigshafen
The Gemeinschafts-Müllheizkraftwerk Ludwigshafen GmbH (GML) takes care of the daily non-recyclable waste disposed of by one million inhabitants in the Metropolitan Region. The company bought a part of the Hallenbad Nord indoor swimming pool in 2011, securing its own operating licence as well as the maintenance of the unique building. “The indoor pool was added to the cultural monuments list in 2009,” says Matthias Ehringer, who works at the town’s authority in charge, the Untere Denkmalschutzbehörde. However, no concept was in place for its usage for a long time even though the “Winterbad” had once been built as an impressive example of the modern post-war period according to the plans by Heinrich Schmitt and Philipp Blaumer in 1956. It comprises the pool room flooded with light, a 25-metre basin, a diving platform as well as baths and showering pools. The ‘enjoy-life concept’ included a hairdresser’s and a milk bar as well as a steam bath and a sunny terrace. The sauna became famous among art historians, because Rolf Müller-Landau left a number of beautiful mosaics on the walls here; and famous in world politics as well, because German Chancellor Helmut Kohl regularly gathered friends here for conversation.
„Ich habe damals selbst nicht geahnt, was wir hier alles in Gang setzen würden“
“In the beginning, I couldn’t imagine how much we’d pull together here,” Thomas says with a smile. Indeed, he has turned the “old lady,” as he calls his pool, step by step into one of the most unusual event locations in the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region. First, he developed a concept for an information centre on climate protection and waste in cooperation with Klaus Kufeld, who had been in charge of the Ludwigshafen Bloch-Zentrum, and Ulrike Stadtmüller, a professor for environmental engineering. “Die vier Elemente” (the four elements) is on permanent display showcasing fire, water, earth and air and, actually, the great issues of our time. How clean is what the refuse incineration power station releases into the air every day? What does domestic refuse contain and how could it be avoided?
Here you can go off in search of answers, along the stations of a course from one side of the building to the other, from the gallery down the stairs to the former showers and changing rooms. The course stations have more to offer than plain information boards: you can take a look into the power station’s boiler with a virtual reality headset; a kettle bubbles along next to the former pool attendant’s house, in which there is still the old record player for the aquarobics that used to be offered here; funny videos in remodelled dustbins inform you about the consumption issue.
Since 2016, Thomas has made the indoor pool available to the art and cultural scene as well. In the same year, the Technische Werke Ludwigshafen utilities took over the remaining area of the indoor pool, towards Pettenkoferstraße road. This part is being transformed into the “Freischwimmer” start-up centre — a rebuilding concept that was even nominated for the DAM award that is granted by the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt every year.
The GML power station part of the building can hold about 200 people—on the gallery and at the side of the basin that witnessed internet activist Sascha Lobo holding discussions with his guests, curator Julia Katharina Thiemann organizing a Lecture Performance, soloists of the Rhineland-Palatinate State Philharmonic performing music and the musical project Leopold and Ultramaryn alias Mareike Berg from the Popakademie in Mannheim recording their music videos. The building has good acoustics thanks to covered ceilings and airbricks. “We have already had two world premieres in this location,” says Thomas proudly. He has recently made his refuse incineration power station available to the ‘Industrietempel’ association that presented an impressive art performance: The group of artists displayed videos with consumption-critical content on the hot concrete walls while enormous claw arms moved tons of waste from one place to another.
Artist Konstantin Voit has turned a stairwell into a kind of submarine landscape with innumerable technical signs. Artist Stephan Horch has fished up and documented plastic waste during his many canoeing tours. The pictures critical of consumption are pinned on the walls and sway, fixed to polystyrene plates, on the surface of the water as a warning sign—in the indoor swimming pool that welcomes 1,000 ideas.
Unter dem Titel „LUcation“ sind neben dem ehemaligen Hallenbad Nord weit
Apart from the former Hallenbad Nord, you can find further exceptional event locations in Ludwigshafen under the name “LUcation” such as the Cinema Paradiso or the Leerguthalle on the premises of the Berkel company: www.lucations.de
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