Berlin bathers brave cold to help cut Russian gas dependence

By Kerstin Sopke And Frank Jordans

BERLIN (AP) — It’s a sunny May morning as the early crowd arrives for a dip at Berlin’s Prinzenbad outdoor pool, but the air is still crisp and the water isn’t much warmer — one of many small impacts that Germany is currently feeling from the war in Ukraine.

“Berlin’s pools have decided to heat the water a little bit less, to contribute to reducing the dependence on Russian gas supplies,” said Martina van der Wehr, a spokeswoman for the German capital’s public baths.

The regulars don’t seem to mind.

Sabine Gutenmueller, a physiotherapist with an annual pool pass, said she was skeptical at first when she heard the water would be about 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) cooler than usual. That took it to 20 C (68 degrees Fahrenheit), about 5 degrees Celsius higher than the air temperature.

“The temperatures outside aren’t really warm yet,” Gutenmueller said. “But it wasn’t as cold as I expected.”

Klaus, an 84-year-old swimmer who declined to give his last name, said he was fine with the cooler water as well, considering the sky-high cost of energy these days and the looming risk that Russia might cut off supplies to countries it deems hostile — such as Germany.

“I think it’s really good the temperatures are a bit lower, because that way we’ll save a lot,” he said. “After all, we need the gas for other things.”

The German government recently urged citizens to cut back their energy use by turning down radiators, switching off the lights and working from home rather than driving to the office.

“As a rule of thumb I’d suggest: saving 10% is always possible,” Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy and energy minister said last month.

Aside from softening the blow of high energy prices, the appeal is also intended to help Germany wean itself off Russian oil, coal and gas.

Germany is estimated to have paid Russia more than 9.1 billion euros ($9.6 billion) since the war began more than two months ago. Critics claimed these imports help finance Moscow’s war against Ukraine.

Speaking Monday before heading to Brussels for talks about a possible European Union embargo on Russian oil, Habeck warned that consumers will likely have to bear the costs of higher energy prices passed on by companies — a factor that’s already spurring record inflation.

It is unclear whether the belt-tightening calls will have any impact on government officials themselves. None of the ministries contacted by The Associated Press were able to detail any new measures to reduce energy use in federal buildings since the start of the war.

Still, officials pointed to the government’s long-running efforts to cut back on fossil fuel as part of its plan to reduce the country’s emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gas.

Selma Nielsen, a 42-year-old theater agent taking an early-morning dip at the Prinzenbad on Monday, said the pool’s decision to lower the water temperature was overdue.

“I think it’s a good thing, not just because of Ukraine but for the climate,” she said. “As such, I think it’s a step in the right direction.”