The official Summer Hols post

I am just on the way out of the editorial office. Writing this down after the last few absolutely frantic hours of putting touches to the next paper, conducting two interviews with leading politicians for the upcoming elections, extinguishing the inevitable last minute bushfires around the place means mainly one thing: I am writing these lines to tell myself that yes, it really is happening.

Yes, I am officially signing off for the next few weeks. Yes, I am away as of now.

So please don’t expect anything till the middle of September. Until then I will be completely offline. No internet, no phone, no TV, no radio, no newspaper. No facebook, no twitter, no blogging (though I will keep a diary….).

So that means recharging time with the family and friends, but also lots of swimming, reading, writing. Apart from keeping the diary I look forward to spending time on some non-factual storytelling. It will be like putting on a favourite old jumper that you haven’t worn for a long time because for inexplicable reasons you forgot about it at the back of the cupboard. Or so I pretentiously imagine.


(Image: Steve McFarland via Flickr Creative Commons)

Why is it so hard to swim in German pools?

If only some crazy miracle would happen and continental Europe could start introducing these signs! (CC-Image: Susan Sharpless Smith)

[Update in April 2015: Sadly, all of what I have written about here is still very true. Found a hilarious and accurate cartoon by one Thierry Gregorius which I will share below. In the meantime, if you are blissfully unaware what to do at a pool, please read this excellent post right now and if you can, also this here. It will teach you some basic pool and lane etiquette. Thanks!] 

As anyone who has driven on the Autobahn can attest – or anyone who has dared to stand as a humble pedestrian on a German bike path: People here like their traffic in neatly ordered, divided lanes.

However, when it comes to pools, there is only one rule: absolute anarchy.

Why is it that – of all people! – the ever so well-organised Germans can’t seem to get this right? For anyone who loves doing laps in the pool, the experience of going swimming in Germany is bound to be one riddled with painful, embarrassing and/or annoying encounters. Ok, I am generalising, but just a bit.

Consider a few days ago: I was doing some laps in an indoor pool in Munich. Not a bad pool as such, this. A decent 25m-affair, with about 8 lanes to choose from. Not many people in it – I would say less than ten. And not a single lane rope between them, except one to separate out the jumping basin to the side. As usual when finding myself in these situations, I stuck to the lane next to the wall, to avoid nice old ladies, cantankerous pensioners or unhinged kids just swimming into my way or being bothered by me splashing water.

After about 10 minutes or so, two elderly ladies entered the water right in that lane and proceded to swim there. There was plenty of room to go elsewhere, but they simply swam up and down my lane. I politely took a wide berth around them, as I passed them, passed them again, and passed them again. This went on for another ten minutes or so, but since it did not bother me too much, I almost forgot about it. Presently, an embarrassed lifeguard stopped me and politely asked me to move into a different lane: the ladies were complaining about “you swimming”. I asked the reason, and they both glowered at me and confirmed: yes, they were complaining about me swimming. In the swimming pool. It was too absurd to even get angry about. I smiled politely and said: Sorry about that – and moved over to the other side of the pool, where I only was bothered by a bunch of young girls sitting on the lane ropes and jumping straight into my way once or twice.

Fast forward to a few days later: I was doing laps in a really big 50-meter outdoor pool in the countryside to the South of Munich. A trio of middle-aged breast strokers had decided to take over the one lane divided off for “Sportschwimmer”. Never mind. Since the rest of the pool was almost empty, I just jumped into the big blue and started doing my laps, following the path furthest away from everyone else. As I was doing backstroke, a middle-aged couple, who previously had spent about twenty minutes watching me doing laps, promptly entered the pool and swam right into me from the side. I suddenly came up with someone hitting my side, so I stopped, apologised, saying I was sorry but I did not have eyes in the back of my head. The man was friendly enough and apologised too. But his wife was quite indignant, and crossly said: But surely you can see under water with those goggles?! No, she was not making a joke. I was so flabbergasted by the sheer stupidity and the rude deliverance, I did the only thing that made sense: put on my goggles and swam away. Which is my preferred way of dealing with rude compatriots.

Look, I could go on, But getting back to the point of my post, the question is: What the hell is wrong here? Why is it so hard to swim in German swimming pools?

I have a number of theories on the subject, some of them funny, some serious ones, but I think the following – or rather, a combination of the following – answers is the most likely:

1. The vast majority of people here can’t really swim properly; and they don’t see a swimming pool as a place to swim. After all, they don’t go swimming, they go to the baths Sie gehen baden.Most Germans never learn more than the above-water breast stroke, the kind preferred by old ladies the world over because it is easy – and keeps the hairdo dry. Not swimming applies to the kids too; they love to splash in the water like everywhere, but they don’t swim, they “bathe” – in essence, just like the grown-ups. There is nothing wrong with this as such, of course. But it leads to all sorts of problems. In fact, less and less Germans even learn how to swim nowadays. That is bad enough. Every child should at the very least learn to swim back to the edge of the pool in case she falls in / is pushed.

2. Being a logical people, and since point 1. applies, Germans think swimming pools are not for swimming. Yes, that is absurd. But it is also true. For your average German family, pools are places exclusively reserved to splash about on hot days, or do some criss-crossing of breast stroke between sunbathing (another type of bathing that is still popular here). And above all, the swimming pool is a place to park your kids, relax, enjoy some “wellness”, in other words: hit the sauna/aromatherapy/massage/cosmetics section. Not to mention throwing a towel on a deck chair (lots and lots and lots of those around). In fact, I have seen a number of pools from Heidelberg to Munich that closed off swimming sections to cater better to the “wellness enthusiasts”. Just to remain financially viable. Contrast that with a pool in Australia: it is a turquoise box, subdivided by lane ropes, where people choose the lane best suited to their speed, and then they procede to just swim. Sigh.

3. With devastating efficiency, consequently, many Germans don’t like others actually swimming. That’s right: Germans treat pools like clueless flaneurs might treat a golfing green or an athletics oval. They would walk here and there, enjoying the green grass to lie around and sit and loung about…and complain about those pesky golfers with their dangerous flying balls – or about runners running around and causing a fuss. Point is though: Germans aren’t clueless. So why do they still behave as though they are?

Well that is where my reasoning hits the wall. I could offer a few reasons for point 3. but frankly none them are convincing.

Anyway, time to end this rant. It has been building in me for three years but I feel better now.

Hilarious but true: And make that "English speaking nations" versus Continental Europe....(CC Image by Thierry Gregorius via Flickr)
Hilarious but true: And make that “English speaking nations” versus Continental Europe….(CC Image by Thierry Gregorius via Flickr)

Wimmers Woche: Im Sitzen sterben


Was haben wir nicht schon alles ausprobiert in den vergangene Wochen im Medienhaus! Neue Tagesordnungen, eine App, die anhand der Gehälter der Anwesenden die Minuten in Euro berechnet…alles, damit unsere Sitzungen straff und so kurz wie möglich sind. Dabei laufen die meisten “Meetings” bei uns ohnehin zackig. Mehr als eine halbe Stunde ist selten. 

Also, wenn ich da an Sitzungen bei einer Vorgesetzten in einer andern Firma auf einem anderen Kontinent zurück denke… aber darüber lieber ein anderes Mal.

Nun gibt es eine Sitzung, die regelmäßig eine Stunde dauert, und manchmal sogar bedeutend länger: Die Redaktionskonferenz der Zeitung. Gut: Wir haben eine Menge vor jede Woche, planen und diskutieren die nächste Ausgabe, machen eine gründliche Blattkritik der aktuellen, und jonglieren nebenbei noch mehrere Projekte. Trotzdem: Als ich heute diesen Artikel im geschätzten Economist gelesen habe darüber, dass wir alle im Sitzen vor uns hinsterben, war ich versucht, die nächste Sitzung (sie ist morgen am Vormittag, nach einer anderen) als “Stand up Meeting” zu versuchen. Aber ohne Tisch? Die Vorstellung, wie wir alle gebückt über dem Konferenztisch herumstehen, war dann doch zu komisch.



Swimming from Garbet to Colera

The course finishes in Colera Bay. (CC-Image by Cecilia Rey)

Sunday next week I will be in Spain, swimming my first open water race –  and will do so in the “under 50 years of age” category (since the age bracket is the whole decade). It will be my first ocean race, and my first competitive swim in about 25 years. And if that is not enough to make me nervous: We will be getting to Spain with four kids in the car the night before. Urgh. Still am really looking forward to it.

Starting from Garbet Beach in Catalonia, the competition course heads out and around a rocky outcrop and then to the beach of Colera (yep!). The distance is 2.7 km, which is a touch longer than the famous Bondi to Bronte swim and definitely a challenge for me – though I would like to think I am in reasonable shape to safely do this. At the moment I swim a reasonably comfortable 3k in the local 50m pool in well under an hour.

That said: The goal I have set for myself is not to win anything (not that I would, despite the age bracket), but to take things slowly, and swim with as much comfort as possible. I plan on just enjoying the experience(s) and learning as much as I can. The summer in Spain features a whole number of these swims along the coast and I plan to do one each year we are there.

So what is the point of the exercise? Apart from getting an enormous sense of achievement from hopefully finishing the race (or trying to), no doubt, the real point is more practical – and a lot more philosophical and even spiritual. I will get into that in another blog post as domestic duty calls now. Suffice it to say that swimming keeps me healthy, happy and sane; and amongst other things, it has been one of the few real constants in my life. Even when there were whole years in between of not swimming regularly, for whatever reasons: I have always come back to it (missing it unconsciously) and from a very small age  I have absolutely loved being in the water. The older I get, the more I appreciate it on a growing number of levels.

“Veggie Day” der Grünen: Spiessig, selbstgerecht und schädlich

Das Problem mit der Forderung der Grünen nach einem Zwangsgemüsetag ist ein dreifaches. Hier stimmen weder die sonnenblumige Anglo-Verpackung, noch der vorgebliche Inhalt, noch die Motivation. Auf Bairisch gesagt: Das ganze ist ein rechter Schmarren.

Erstens: Die Verpackung. Ganz schön groovy, diese Greenies! Der Begriff erinnert an Plakate einer Drogerie-Kette kurz vor ihrem Konkurs: “For You. Vor Ort”, hiess es da. Der Firmensprecher entschuldigte das sinngemäß mit: Das Klientel sei halt nicht so gebildet. Wird jetzt ein grüner PR-Mann nach dem dritten Bio-Hugo einen ähnlichen Lapsus per Twitter leisten?Source: State Archives of Florida

Zweitens: Der Inhalt. Soll niemand glauben, dass mit zwangsverordneten Pflichttagen mehr “Gerechtigkeit mit Messer und Gabel” hergestellt werden kann. Der Zweck heiligt niemals die Mittel. Mit Bevormundung erreicht niemand Gerechtigkeit! Statt die wichtigen Anliegen von Armut und Hunger zu beleuchten, ebenso wie die positiven Aspekte vegetarischer Ernährung, wird eine Moral-Keule geschwungen. Das ist spiessig, schädlich und selbstgerecht; für mündige Bürger eine zutiefst unchristliche Zumutung.

Drittens: Die Motivation. Die ist so durchsichtig wie daneben. Die Grünen haben in einigen Diskursen die öffentliche Deutungshoheit. Was daran liegen mag, dass sie oft authentischer sind, weil sie an ihre Anliegen glauben. Aber hier werden eigene Werte instrumentalisiert, um als Akt performativer Propaganda medial ausgespielt zu werden. So wird der Etikettenschwindel möglich, der mit kurzatmigen Halbwahrheiten hinter “Happy Labels” (sic) kulturrevolutionäre Maßnahmen propagiert. Das schadet den Anliegen wie unserer Demokratie.

In meiner Familie ist seit Jahren der Freitag ein fleischloser “Pfannkuchentag”. Eine schöne Tradition, die unsere Kinder begeistert – und die Hunde, wenn wir nicht tierisch aufpassen. Aber wir haben als Christen einen besseren Grund dafür als Propaganda und Zwang; und wir respektieren die Freiheit der anderen, mit zu machen – oder nicht.

(Crossposted from here)