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The poetry of 550 tons of steel

After almost 30 years of discussions, actual building work got underway three years ago; the ribbon-cutting for the new Paracelsusbad only taking place very recently. Having offered therapy programs since July 2019, the city-center swimming pool and wellness area opened in October.

The long wait paid off, a result that wasn’t hard to foresee even before construction had been completed. The new Paracelsus Bad & Kurhaus (the official title of the Paracelsusbad) stands at the same location in the Kurgarten adjacent to Palace Mirabell, where Salzburgers were able to enjoy their first swimming pool and sauna back in May 1868.

Known then as an “Actien-Badehaus” and built on the grounds of the former city fortifications, it received a direct hit from a bomb during an air raid in November 1944 and was destroyed. Some 10 years later, the city council passed a resolution to build a new therapy and recreational facility including an indoor pool. The people of Salzburg essentially financed their “people’s pool” themselves through a special levy – the so-called “bathing shilling”. And they loved it. Generations of children learned to swim at the Paracelsusbad, professionals came to train, older guests became regulars – often in groups – both of the pool as well as the sauna. Until the very end, the strictly functional 1950s architecture of Josef Havranek, enhanced by works from prominent Salzburg artists such as Toni Schneider-Manzell as well as Josef and Rosita Magnus, continued to make a powerful statement.

But: Space became too cramped for the many guests and swimming clubs; and though always well maintained, the equipment eventually grew long in the tooth. Beginning in the 1990s, the city began playing with plans for a new building that offered more room. In Leopoldskron? In Liefering? Or perhaps somewhere else? To the joy of many, a final decision was made to rebuild a new Paracelsusbad at its traditional location in the heart of the city. On 30 November 2016, the old facility closed its doors. Many vintage pieces from the offices and bistro, along with nostalgic memorabilia such as signs and life preservers from the pool, sauna and changing rooms, found excited new owners at the big flea market held just a few days before the start of demolition work.

In the meantime, and in accordance with plans drawn up by architects Berger+Parkkinen, roughly 550 tons of steel, 10,000 m³ of concrete and around 13,000 screws have been put in place. Spectacular: The completely glass-wall bathing level is on the third floor, treating guests to phenomenal views across the crowns of the old trees in the Kurgarten as well as the city itself. The free-standing ceiling construction of the swimming hall – an ingenious steel structure spanning 35 m – was installed at a height of 12 m in a jaw-dropping operation last summer. Lying above this is the upper, apparently floating part of the structure, which will house a restaurant and sauna facilities beginning in autumn, and, in combination with the outdoor area, will deliver an additional showstopper: an outdoor saltwater pool with views of the historical district. In contrast, the Kurhaus area for medicinal and therapeutic treatments is somewhat introverted, housed in an approximately 11 m high pedestal beneath the swimming pool.

Incidentally, finds unearthed below the new Paracelsusbad have proved thoroughly intriguing. As the old facility was being demolished, archaeologists and experts from the Austrian Monuments Office discovered part of the Baroque city fortifications. In 1621, Archbishop Paris Lodron ordered the building of a semicircular bastion preceded by a trench in the area of today’s Kurgarten in order to protect the right side of the city – especially Schloss Mirabell. These defensive walls were some 2 ½ m thick, with additional buttresses on the inside providing even greater stability to the fortifications. In the mid-19th century, the city fathers decided to demolish the defensive walls. The blocks of conglomerate rock were – as was usual at that time – recycled and used for construction of a new city canal and to regulate the River Salzach. In future, the uncovered section of the old city walls will remain visible, specifically in the area where the bike path runs through the Kurgarten: The archaeologists are creating a “window into the past” in the underground garage below, treating guests to an unobstructed view of the Baroque bastion’s walls.

Our tip for nostalgia fans: Georg Oberweger, a Viennese photographer with Salzburg roots, has immortalized the old Paracelsusbad in striking pictures. His photos recount silent stories, focusing on the commonplace and often-seen, which in turn imbues those photos with a very special aesthetic. This photo collection (german) was published by Edition Tandem in 2018.