Festival der Künste2021

Roger Deakin: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain

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Roger Deakin: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain | © Aljoscha Begrich
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Roger Deakin: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain | © Aljoscha Begrich

A few months ago, a friend approached me and said: ›You like to swim, don’t you? And you also love to read? Well, I have a book for you. It’s like Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn – except it’s about a swimmer.‹ I had no clue what he was talking about. Yet I gracefully accepted the book and began to read it. I was amazed. How could anyone think of such a project, execute it and write it all down? – And why did I not know about it? In the nineteen nineties, Roger Deakin decided to create a Waterlog: he crosses Great Britain and swims, swims, swims. He talks to people, takes a close look and investigates. He describes what he experiences and does not only come up with a cultural story of swimming, but also a mental geography of the country and of our time and age. He reads the natural and artificial tracks that have evolved over the years: worn down hand railings at swimming pools, washed out rocks in river estuaries, forlorn mud paths to hidden beaches. He enjoys and combats the water, sweats, shudders because he’s freezing, and he searches. As I leafed through the book to view the narrative, I was utterly confused – why aren’t there any photographs in the book? I was convinced that it was packed with pictures. Yet all there is – is the written narrative. The images were all in my head. But it wasn’t the only source – I also checked Google Maps. It was almost an obsession – the Waterlog kept pushing me to the pages of satellite photos of the places mentioned in the book. I spent almost as much time scrolling, exploring and searching in the digital map space as I whiled away reading. I’d never been to Great Britain, but now I have the feeling that I know the country better than any other. Remote beaches, traditional swimmers’ clubs, extended estuaries, narrow bent creeks, dirty harbor basins, steaming geysers and cold fenland springs. I also think of abandoned swimming pools and discontinuity points on canal bridges. Not only do I want to read and gift Waterlog time and again to make sure it gets distributed, I also would really like to write it myself! In my thoughts I keep asking myself why it should not be continued. Ever since I read it, I travel swimmingly. What differentiates bathing in a man-made dug out pond of a former brown coal mine in Saxony Anhalt from the Endmoränenrestsee (Lake) in the Uckermark, or the gliding along the lanes of an outdoor pool in Berlin and swimming in the slowly flowing Spree River? Prior to any journey, a region reveals the options it offers on a map. This is also how I began to familiarize myself with the Ruhr Region: by swimming, contemplating and discussing the matter at the outdoor pool in Recklinghausen, at the Phoenix Lake in Dortmund, at the Ruhr Beach in Mülheim, on the Bor Creek in Witten or in the harbor basin of the Rhine Herne Canal.

Aljoscha Begrich, Winter 2021