There were always sunny, warm summer days in my childhood, when my parents went with us children, as far as we already existed, to the outdoor pool, a few photos bear witness to this. On the other hand, it couldn’t have been so often, because I don’t remember any routine leisure activities like the one I met as the father of two children from a different perspective in my later life. So maybe I had certain chances to learn to swim, but obviously I didn’t use them. I suspect there were some clumsy attempts to release me from my huge skepticism, by sticking me into a so-called swimming tire and then pulling me while kind-of-singing freely imagined water noises with some speed through the pool that the developing bow wave became my problem – for one moment I was still safe on the arm of one of my parents, the other I plowed suddenly through cold water, which threatened to run into my angst widened mouth. The idea behind these actions must have been that after the first shock I would accept the strange element as a new friend, because it was so refreshing in the middle of summer. No. No. No
A few years later I still hadn’t learned to swim. That didn’t attract much attention in the first years of elementary school, because nobody in the schools had the idea to go swimming with small children. So the time at primary school was nearing its end, and I was without swimming skills. My acclimatisation to water (as one would say nowadays) was also dramatically underdeveloped. Washing my hair was still a horror to me, showers were hardly known in the households of the fifties, so my mother approached me with this water-spitting hose and put my head under water, so that I passed in the truest sense of the word hearing and seeing. I was allowed to hold a washcloth in front of my face to prevent the worst. My greatest fear was that the water could somehow enter me uncontrollably and damage something inside me. A premonition gave me the burning feeling that the not yet so modern sensitive shampoos of that time left in my eyes. Somewhere the shampoo made it through my cover again and again.
So my parents were worried after one of the first parents’ evenings at grammar school when they learned about swimming lessons that I could be the victim of teasing and mockery at grammar school. They somehow convinced me that it was urgent to learn to swim as quickly as possible. I had so my experiences with teasing, because I was a moderately entertaining classmate, but did not have necessarily the need for rankings brawls on the garden-like arranged area behind the class tracts, which was not so well visible by the break supervisor. However, I was forced to take part in some of these fights, which I did comparatively honourably, as I let the muscle riding of the winners pass me by without a tear, while I generously conceded to my opponent that he had won, but that this sport was not my turf, and that I therefore would not provide any excessive resistance. The challengers then really let go of me soon and lastingly, especially since I was able to keep up when we were playing soccer with the small balls that were sometimes given to me when I bought my shoes. Fortunately for me there were apparently more and better victims. But perhaps only the sadistic inspirations were missing, which today penetrate the world of today’s children in endless succession through television, DVDs and the cinema.
So I had agreed and the day of the first swimming lesson was approaching. It was not a good day. I no longer remember the exact month, but in Leverkusen, from the bath on the outskirts of Cologne, which the Bayer company had built there for its employees, there was only the outdoor pool, and the water there adapted to the conditions. Heating the water independently of the weather was not planned. And the weather was not comfortable. Maybe it was a day in June. It rained, the air had 14 degrees, while the water had 16 degrees. According to that reading it was a lucky circumstance, because if the air was colder than the water, the latter was called quite warm. Fortunately. At least those responsible found themselves together in this memorable late afternoon covered by dark grey clouds to give me the first lesson on time. Whether to my support or to the control, my father had come with me, had driven me with his Citroen ID surely to the bathing establishment and had answered now to the swimming instructor, who offered a shift in view of the weather conditions, completely in the sense of his contempt of cowardice before the enemy: “oh, where we are already here…” and asked me with his view to agree with him. Yes daddy! So I stripped off my everyday clothes until the swimming trunks came out, which I had already worn at home at my mother’s behest. This saved them the great embarrassment of changing clothes on the spot. This was a common practice. Even in later years at grammar school, most of the children had put on their gym pants under their day pants on the day when physical education was on the timetable. Even after the lesson they kept it that way.
Back to the course of events. With light drizzle, it was probably about 17.30, now a largely undressed child, as well as three men in appropriate, weatherproof clothes crossed the lawn towards the non-swimmer’s pool, which of all places was at the other end. When I arrived there, I was asked to climb into the water, which only reached up to my thighs when I entered the pool. They explained the right movements for my arms and legs and let me do them in the water. I had to lay down on the water with my stomach, hold on to the edge of the overflow channel with my arms stretched out and imitate the typical straddling movement of the breaststroke. After several repetitions and repeated corrections to the motion sequence, I did the second exercise, which I had to sit down in the low water. As I sat, the water came dangerously close to the chin. Now I had to use my arms with this lateral shovel movement. Also here several new admissions of the action order by my swimming teacher. In between also every now and then appreciative conversations of the adults at the edge of the pool, which could have made me proud if the cold had not slowly robbed me of my senses. When I had to pay special attention to my breathing, ON & OFF + ON & OFF, I had to pass. A tremor had seized me. And although the promised half hour of lessons had not yet completely expired, the swimming court was merciful and allowed me to return to the changing room. Further words of appreciation, addressed to my father, followed, one spoke of bravery. The brave man, on the other hand, had trouble in the unheated cabin to graze over the dry clothes, heard his father thank the gentlemen, then he called for him and the two quickly drove home, because the father had to go to the office for a short time.
Shortly afterwards we arrived at home, my mother, who had already been expecting us, came towards us, she looked first at me, then at my father, and her face turned reddish as she fired reproach salvos from her mouth. Since when has the boy been so pale? And you do not want to have seen those blue lips? Can’t you see how he trembles? My father had fallen silent in a strange way, mumbled something about the office for a moment, and my mother sat me in the bathtub and poured almost hot water over me. For the first time it was all right with me. A kind of success. Progress sometimes takes strange paths.
After another hour of swimming lessons, I refused to continue, claiming I would teach myself the rest. That succeeded. I could finally swim. But I did not become an enthusiastic swimmer. Meanwhile, almost sixty years later, I don’t want any new swimming trunks either. And I threw away the old one. Water gymnastics for seniors. Not with me. Enough. Finito. Off. Basta!