Can All Germans Swim?

There's a heat wave going on in Germany right now. Trains are screeching to a halt, asphalt is melting, and people are flocking to local lakes to cool off. Yesterday, in this part of Germany alone, four adults drowned (g) in those lakes, and one six-year-old boy almost drowned.

This is pretty shocking. Four people in one day! Is this because they can't swim, or can't swim well enough? I wonder whether Germans routinely learn to swim during their education. This is standard in most parts of the USA, where hot weather and swimming pools and beaches are a fact of life. Maybe not so in Germany, where there are perhaps 15 really hot days in any given year.

Or perhaps it's a combination of (1) no lifeguard supervision; (2) alcohol consumption; and (3) murky water and uneven surfaces. Any other theories?

11 thoughts on “Can All Germans Swim?

  1. Cardiovascular issues? More likely to act up during a heatwave and pretty unpleasant while you’re in a lake.


  2. One of these four people was actually a serbian who swam in a forbidden baggersee (obstacles underwater, uneven surface, different temperature zones). More swimming people, more accidents.

    And yes, swimming is part of the german basic education. But especially moslem girls don’t get that education, because the swimming lessons are mixed sex, so is the regular Badeanstaltbetrieb.


  3. Same here in England. For instance, a 22-year-old drowned on July 1 after jumping into a lake to cool off. I don’t think you’d jump in if you couldn’t swim:

    ‘Emergency services today once more warned people of the dangers of cooling off in open water during the searing heat.

    The contrast between the warm weather and freezing waters – known as coldshock – can paralyse the mind and muscles and presents a serious risk of drowning.

    A sign at the reservoir clearly states: “NO BATHING. NO PADDLING. NO LAUNCHING OF BOATS OR RAFTS.” ‘


  4. The FAZ hints at the unmentionable: “Immer mehr Nichtschwimmer – Unterprivilegiert im Becken *

    This is more explicit: “Viele Schüler, Rentner und Migranten können nicht richtig schwimmen – Können wir uns noch über Wasser halten? **

    For reasons unfathomable cultures originating in the deserts (and staying there way too long) don’t fancy swimming, much. Also, modesty. I made my Freischwimmer and Fahrtenschwimmer aged six in the sixties, it was considered awkwardly late at the time, but what did we bigots know.

    That said, the resident underclass is losing it, too–they’re adapting to the new norms. Of course this brave new world has upsides, too, eg if you blithely try to explain things away with, say, cardiovascular issues, you’re signalling that you’re happily removed from underclass woes, signalling (desired) social and financial standing at that. To be fair, as do Mexican immigrants in the US, Euro migrants are fatter than resident populations on average, so mentioning cardiovascular issues could be more charitably interpreted as a hint, or else a message from the subconscious–we need to watch our thoughts as our more progressive brethren might come after us with a vengeance.

    * “More and more non-swimmers at the pool – Lacking privilege at the pool”

    ** “Many students, pensioners, and migrants*** don’t know how to swim properly – Can we keep afloat?”

    *** Duckspeak -> German translation: migrant kids and their parents, grandparents


  5. CDC reports 3782 drowning deaths in the US and DLRG reports 761 cases in Germany. That’s 12 per million in the US, and 9 per million in Germany. So clearly American water is more dangerous than German water.


  6. @Trieloff: That sounds about right. Beaches are a lot more dangerous than inland lakes (riptide, stinging creatures, sudden currents), and American is surrounded by them. Be interesting to see the non-beach-related drowning figures.

    @Marek: I would also be interested to know how many of the drowners were foreigners, but I’m sure even that breakdown would be considered insensitive and irrelevant by you-know-who. One of the many distinguishing marks of societies that function at a high level is having the human and physical resources to teach all or almost all children to swim. The gigantic, broiling megacity of Cairo apparently has almost no public swimming pools, since this article about where to go to cool off mentions only fee-based access to pools in Western hotels:


  7. The percentage of bad swimmers or those who learn swimming rather late (or not at all) is probably rising. I actually learned only at 10 to swim because my parents were so busy with younger siblings (but they learned it all at around 5-7, I think). My sister’s boyfriend (born in Poland but came to Germany about 4 y.o.) only learned to swim properly in his 20s (father died early, mother could not really swim herself).
    To have a few non-swimmers was not that uncommon. I had a children’s book from the 60s or 70s where a 13-14 year old boy (8th grade) learns to swim and passes the “Freischwimmer” on a school trip. It was embarrassing not to be able to swim at such an age but it happened.

    However, I would take bets that hardly any of the drowning victims were muslim or Eastern European middle-aged women.

    I am pretty sure that most deaths are related to Andrew’s points 1-3, especially alcohol or other foolish behavior


  8. Learning to swim was subject to peer pressure in earlier decades. With classrooms in Kreuzberg or Neukölln having up to 99% migrant kids there is a lot of social shaming going on, too, but hardly about learning to swim, or anything. A relative worked in a Kreuzberg school for half a year, one of the few left where non-migrant parents would want to send their kids – half of the kids didn’t even speak German well enough to make any sense of the lessons–it didn’t show in the grading whatsoever, of course. There was an old teacher just about to retire my relative could talk about this in confidence, else it was taboo. Middle and upper class didn’t get unhealthier or dumber lately. There are more elderly around, but though they increasingly do sports they are much less likely to do it than the average person, they’re also less likely to be risk takers, so I surmise an underclass problem. Natives will still want to go swimming, but chances are they are less well trained.


  9. In the Netherlands, it 35(!) per million, 27.000 people killed by drowning in the 25 year period 1982-2007 (source: Dutch Bureau of Statistics).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s