When the going gets tough, the tough get going. A chronicle by Karsten Konrad
A brilliant text of a passionate swimmer who took part in our 1st swimming competition in July 2015.
Such upbeat enthusiasm is necessary when you find yourself standing in a swimsuit on a bridge in Berlin on a cloudy Sunday afternoon in July. The site of the competition – i.e. the Spree Canal – spreads out before me. The sky is light grey. The Spree water is muddy grey. The canal walls are dark grey. The yellow bathing caps of the other swimmers bob up and down like champagne corks in the water. Taking the staircase down to the Spree feels like descending into an underworld, albeit with a pleasant surprise at the end: thanks to the cool air temperatures, the Spree feels only slightly colder. At this point, my hesitation at fully embracing the river disappears. Likewise, the water of the Spree is much more pleasant than anticipated; it has no discernible smell and no discernible taste – tap water, perhaps? But I do have respect for the realms beneath me. I stay in a parallel position at all costs, with my legs on the water's surface so as to avoid contact with any potentially sinister, mystical objects below (do water plants even grow in the Spree?) and to steer clear of any sunken bicycles or other junk (I hope to myself that the THW (Federal Agency for Technical Relief) took any such things away as a precaution in advance).
As soon as I get going, however, everything becomes quite normal; when swimming the front crawl, one's external perception is limited anyway. Seeing the UNESCO World Heritage Site from a down-below perspective is no doubt a special thing. And yet this is a competition, so I don't have the luxury of truly taking in the unique view. From below, the canal walls are intimidatingly high and dark, almost as if I've unintentionally manoeuvred myself into a river lock. The bridges are a welcome change; they provide an orientation and create a nice hall effect.
For someone used to swimming in 27-degree indoor pool water, the chilliness of the Spree eventually makes itself felt. It's the type of cold you can't shake off even by moving your arms and legs around in a frantic motion. It's a cold that encourages you to focus on bringing your adventure to an end as quickly as possible. Finally, the finish line. Next time I'll wear a neoprene suit and cut a couple of milliseconds off my time. It's a competition, after all.
Karsten Konrad is an artist, he lives in Berlin and has been swimming 2000 meters daily for more than 25 years. He achieved place 22 at the first Flussbad swimming competition.