Guest column by Pam Roberts
Courtesy of: Shoshanna Rutemiller
Courtesy of: Shoshanna Rutemiller
BERLIN, Germany, July 11. SUMMER is here. Finally. After freezing our way through April, May and most parts of June, summer has finally decided to pay a visit to central Europe. Though sadly, the good almost always gets accompanied by the bad.
Within the last month, maybe even less, nine people died of drowning in Germany alone, the youngest being an eight year old boy. Just earlier today, the body of a 21-year-old male was discovered in a Berlin lake after the man had been missing for days.
Safety plays a role in everyone's life. You buckle your seat belt when you get in your car. You don't cross the street at a red light. You hold onto the handrail when you use a train or a bus. And yet, a lot of people don't seem to have a logical thought process when it comes to the water.
My hometown Berlin doesn't have many outdoor pools and a lot of indoor pools are closed for maintenance in the summer holidays between mid June and late August. And if you want to get to a lake that has a public swimming area with a little inner city beach and maybe a playground for the kids, you still have to pay ?4.50 entrance fee for adults and ?2.80 for a child ($5.87 and $3.26 at the current exchange rate) and let's be honest, if you're a family of two adults and two kids, that alone is a lot of money to spend. So of course a lot of families, teenagers and adults use the cheaper option. Find a lake and don't go to the public areas, get your own secluded spot away from entrance fees, other swimmers and lifeguards. And that's where the danger lies.
I only learned swimming in school, at the age of 10. And even then, at an indoor pool with three lifeguards on duty plus two swimming teachers, one message was drilled into our little heads -- respect the water. Don't jump in head first when you don't know how close the bottom is and what might be lurking there. To me, even at 10 years old, that seemed completely logical. So at 31 years old, I am having a hard time understanding what makes a grown-up jump head first into a lake where you can't even see the ground. One of the recent deaths by drowning happened to an adult male who got caught in some plant under water.
Another thing that apparently doesn't get said often enough is -- know your own limits. You wouldn't jump off the couch and spontaneously run two miles either, would you? Chances are that you only swim in the summer which means you simply cannot expect to hop in the water and swim huge distances. It doesn't work indoors and it doesn't work in open water either. In a pool, you eventually hit the wall. In open water you don't. So just please don't think that you can easily make it to that little island in the middle of the lake because I can guarantee you that it's about three times as far away as you anticipated.
Yet another cause of drowning in open water appears to be heart failure caused by shock. As I've said, it hasn't been very warm for very long yet. So naturally, out in the open, the water can still be a little cold. So when you're heated up from hanging around in the sun all day, either tanning or playing a little game of outdoor soccer or something equally exhausting with your friends and you want to get in the water to cool down, go slow. Your friends may laugh at you and call you a baby, but at least you will be alive to listen to it.
Another thing that seems to be logical to me but isn't to others is to not swim drunk or in the dark or God forbid both at the same time. Of course peer pressure is a thing and it is hard to be the smart one when your friends seem to have the time of their lives skinny dipping at midnight, but in the end the time of their lives may come to a rapid end, right?
Of course, swimming is dangerous everywhere. Even in your own backyard. A lot of parents seem to forget about the natural curiosity of their kids and even just turning your head for a minute can be fatal.
So as a conclusion, there are only a few things left to say. Use your head before you act, think logical. Know your own limits. If you have kids, make sure they know the dangers of the water, sign them up for swim classes as soon as possible. And most importantly -- respect the water, because you never know what may be hidden underneath the surface.