Swimming with Seals, Berlin Style

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Orankesee

Early morning, Sunday, Berlin. At 10 o’clock the Berliner Seehunde (Berlin Seals) meet at Orankesee in the north-east of the city. It’s an easy trip by tram from the centre of town to the old east Berlin, followed by a short walk to the beach at the far end of the lake.

That’s where we meet the Seehunde themselves. A good old Berlin tradition, gathered in their bright red jackets, they stand out brightly against the muted autumn colours of October. As 10 ‘o clock gets closer, more and more arrive until a crowd of 40 are poised ready for their morning swim.

Following a short list of announcements (including a welcome to the newbie Brits of KinaMara) it’s time to strip off and descend to the water’s edge. A word to the wise here. Nudity is the norm amongst these adventurous swimmers although modesty prevents KinaMara from joining them as nature intended. We’ve got a swimwear to promote, after all.

The naked ice-man cometh

The water is a sharp 12 degrees centigrade. A noticeable drop from recent lido escapades in south London, but pleasant all the same. We swim widths of the beach until the chill starts to mount in our fingers and toes. Although for many, it’s enough to wade in to waist or neck height, and chat in small groups.

It’s all very polite and well-organised, as you’d expect. Although fellow swimmer, Jessica Lee, (author of the Berlin swimming memoir, Turning), reminds us that when the cold really sets in, it’s advisable to keep a safe distance as a naked Seal hacks away at the ice with an axe until there’s a space enough in the water for all to enter.

Still we’re in double digit temperatures for now. And following the one minute per degree rule, we are out within the quarter hour. There are no showers out of season so it’s best to bring plenty of layers and wrap up warm.

Then a series of hasty farewells as everyone makes their way home or to another weekend appointment. Maybe too hasty? We’ll be bringing a flapjack or two next time. Let’s see if we can get them hooked on the coffee and cake after-swimming ritual.  I think these Berlin Seals can be tempted.