The other day, a German friend living here in Western Washington said she was missing the German swimming pool culture. I started musing when was the last time I swam over here in the US – and it is true: hardly ever. Not that I did so much more often back in my mother country. But there certainly is a difference in opportunity.
Actually, the only time I have swum over here, was in Florida where we use to visit my mother-in-law every once in a while. The Pacific is a no-go with its strong undercurrents, the lakes here are treacherous, sometimes deadly with their cold undercurrents, and if you want to use a YMCA swimming pool, you have to pay a monthly membership fee. Here in Lakewood that is a bit more than 60 dollars for a single adult, a bit over 90 dollars for a couple. The membership opens up the entire program of the YMCA, of course, but what if you would only like to swim once or twice … a year?
Well, in Germany swimming pools are pretty much a given in any bigger community. There are indoor pools and outdoor pools, mostly belonging to the community, and you pay a fee per use. When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for outdoor pool season to open. There was a very pretty outdoor pool near where I lived. Large meadows and big trees surrounded the kids’ shallow pool and the combined swimming and diving pool. There was a chess playing field and table tennis. There was a kiosk selling ice cream, snacks, and beverages. There were even BBQ grills. We used to bring our picnic blankets and a bag packed for an entire day.
I learned how to swim in an indoor pool. That one was built only in the mid-seventies and was the big attraction of another suburb of my hometown. It had a pool with bathtub warm water for toddlers, a non-swimmers’ pool, a swimming pool with massage jets, and a diving pool. There were stone benches to leave your towels on, and an outdoor meadow if you preferred to relax there between swims. They even had a solarium which you paid for separately, and a restaurant. Thursdays were a bit more expensive – because that was the warm bathing day, meaning they heated the water in all the pools to some really snug temperature.
At a particular period in my teens, we discovered thermal mineral baths. Now, that is with what the spa towns in Germany are making some real neat penny. An entire industry of bottling companies, hotels, restaurants, high end medical massage practices, fashion boutiques, and souvenir shops has been depending on these natural fountains that are used to heal or prevent specific ailments. Friday afternoons, when my dad returned home from his office, we had already packed all our swimming gear into two bags, and then we headed to Bad Liebenzell in the Black Forest. It was a good hours’ drive during which anticipation grew. Once you had paid your steeper entrance fee, you entered a fountain hall. Behind the dress cabins and showers, you got into the swimming area with one really hot pool and a pool that was half indoors, half outdoors. I loved it especially in winter. Imagine the warm water steaming into the air while there is snow in the surrounding hills. Imagine hanging out at the rim of the pool, looking across the spa town below and the forested hills beyond. And the quiet – because of the spa character. Totally relaxing!
These days, there are way more so-called leisure pools in Germany. You buy day tickets for those, sometimes multi-day ones. They are presenting you with the illusion of tropical landscapes, with different restaurant options, water slides, massage areas, saunas, even nude bathing areas. I have never been to one of those. Somehow, that is a bit over the top for my taste.
Apart from swimming in ponds and lakes, in the Baltic Sea and in the North Sea, I guess I made pretty good use of the swimming pool opportunities back in Germany. I even swam in a saltwater indoor wave pool on the island of Sylt one time – it was too cold and rainy that week to dip into the sea. Do I miss swimming here? Not really. I enjoy my beach walks on the Pacific shore or my leisurely walks on Puget Sound or around Lake Waughop; I feel totally carefree swimming at Bathtub Reef Beach, FL. And I fondly remember those days back in Germany with picnic blankets on a meadow, eating ice-cream sandwiches at some outdoor pool. Sometimes you can’t have it all. But that’s fine with me.