Is swimming natural or learned

If all goes well, Matthias Heimbach will come home next week. He's now counting the days in the countdown to May 25th, when things are about to start again, while keeping an eye on another number, incidence. Please stay below 100 permanently, otherwise it won't work again.

In a basin not far from the center of Munich in a youth hostel, the water is already being let in, you can't get a swimming pool ready from one day to the next, it takes more than a week. At another practice site of Heimbach's swimming school "Flipper", a public indoor swimming pool just outside the city, everything is fortunately already set up so that little people can plow through the water again with large pool noodles, dive for rings and at some point perhaps proudly hold a badge in their hand hold. The seahorse, which can be easily sewn onto swimming trunks and suits and has been a visible and proud symbol for generations: I can stay afloat, at least for a limited time.

For seven months, Matthias Heimbach, 38, was largely unable to offer any courses. Soon to be in and around the water again, the smell of chlorine, the children, he says on the phone, for him it is like "coming home". Because of the great demand for his courses, he has organized an additional teacher at short notice. If you still call and want to register, you will not get a place until autumn at the earliest.

He is now asked smaller questions on the phone: Will I get my money back if the incidence rises again? Do the children need a mask? But behind all of this, of course, a bigger, more fundamental question arises: What are the consequences if up to two cohorts of children do not learn at all or only under difficult conditions to stay afloat?

Learning to swim is not a pure pleasure. On the one hand, there is the complex sequence of movements, which is technically demanding and, in addition to patience and practice, usually also requires a teacher. On the other hand, it is a sport that at some point is not only fun - the gentle gliding in the water, the feeling of weightlessness - but also protects: Whoever masters chest pulls and the frog leg technique or can even crawl is much better protected against drowning - still one of the most common causes of death in childhood. Last year alone, 18 preschool children and five primary school children died in the water in Germany.

Because there is definitely a social interest in children and thus later adults being able to swim, there are not only commercial providers such as Matthias Heimbach or courses at the German Lifesaving Society (DLRG), but also swimming lessons at primary schools, mostly in the second or third grade . Theoretically. According to an estimate by the DLRG, after 15 months of pandemic and mostly canceled classes, 70,000 children did not learn to swim safely in these months. And she has just published more figures on this. Last year, a seahorse badge was only presented 14,566 times, a decrease of over 70 percent.

"Significantly more non-swimmers in Germany"

Even before the pandemic, according to the DLRG, almost a quarter of all primary schools were no longer able to offer swimming lessons, simply because there were no baths available to them. A Forsa survey had already come to the result in 2017 that around 60 percent of primary school students are non-swimmers or poor swimmers. And now? Now there is, especially due to Corona, "significantly more non-swimmers in Germany," says Achim Haag, President of the DLRG.

If you talk to associations, swimming instructors and officials, they pretty much unanimously declare that they are supporting the government's pandemic measures. And yet they sometimes felt that they were not being heard enough by politicians. The past outdoor pool season with elaborate pool pandemic plans and newly introduced ticket models went pretty well. According to Christian Mankel, managing director of the German Bathing Society, there were "neither sources of infection nor hotspots".

This March, a study by the Hermann Rietschel Institute of the TU Berlin came to the conclusion that even swimming pools with an occupancy rate reduced to 75 percent have a significantly lower risk of infection with an R value of 0.5 than, for example, an office with one occupancy of only 20 percent and a mask requirement - the R value is 1.6. Transmission in chlorinated water itself is considered very unlikely.

Eleven baths will open in Berlin on Friday

But while hotels including wellness areas can partially reopen, indoor swimming pools, according to Christian Mankel, lack a "uniform perspective". A "large, nationwide opening date" is not yet clearly foreseeable. After all, in outdoor pools you can sometimes swim your laps or play water polo again, so if the incidence remains stable, it could be a season like last year there. Berlin opens eleven outdoor pools this Friday, but only for those who can show a negative corona test.

But: Open outdoor pools, as great as they are especially for children - with water slides, French fries and lazy-on-the-meadow loungers - they don't solve the current swimming dilemma. The DLRG is now planning to offer courses primarily during the holiday periods and is hoping for the support of the municipalities. In other places, too, many show initiative, for example individual pool operators in Bavaria have applied to be able to open their pools for school sports. Efforts are being made in Saxony to offer swimming camps for primary school students in the summer.

Matthias Heimbach, the Munich swimming school director, was a competitive athlete for over 20 years, he was able to stay afloat at the age of five. To this day it is his element, in pre-pandemic times he swam at least three kilometers every week, crawling, chest, back, simply "to clear his head". Hasn't worked in the past few months, so he worked a bit in the garden, plucked, mowed, and dug. But that, he says, "has not replaced it".