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My life as a diving widow

Seven o'clock on a cold, damp Saturday morning in autumn. The alarm clock goes off. It's the sort of day when any sensible person would just pull the duvet back over their head and snuggle down for at least another four hours' sleep.

But not my husband. He leaps out of bed as if someone has just pressed a hidden ejector button and heads for the bathroom with a spring in his step, humming a merry tune. I should point out that this is the same man who normally has to be dragged kicking and screaming out of bed at the weekend if there's anything I particularly want to do (his excuse being "I'm just not a morning person"). So what's different about today? Oh, that's right - he's going diving.

Personally, I can think of far more pleasant places to spend a wet Saturday in November than at Starnberg Lake in south Germany. Not that I've got anything nasses Vergnügen against the lake per se; quite the contrary. But when it's cold and rainy, a walk along its muddy banks really isn't much fun, and I can also think of better things to do than sit in the car for hours on end. If I were a diver, though, there'd be no shortage of things for me to do. I could get myself kitted out in thermal undies and a neoprene or dry suit (a getup in which you can move with all of the grace of C-3PO from "Star Wars"). Then I could hoist my air tanks onto my back and drag them and the rest of the equipment several feet from the car to the shore of the lake. After that I could stand around in the cold for at least another half an hour putting on the rest of my gear, connecting myself to a variety of hoses, masks, air tanks, computers and other gadgets. Then - still standing around in the freezing cold, of course - I'd have a nice long discussion with my fellow nutters (sorry, divers) about how exactly we were going to conduct the dive. Then, and only then, I'd descend into the cold, dark waters of the lake. A perfect day? Actually, I'd rather stay at home…

Of course, diving isn't just about splashing about in northern European lakes in unseasonable weather, when the temperatures are low enough to seriously damage the ability of certain body parts to ever function properly again (well, for men, anyway). No, what diving is really about is equipment. If you need any proof of this, just take a look around our bathroom. Shower gel, toothpaste, shampoo messerscharf - nothing unusual about that, you might think. But that's not all. There's a knife, too, long and sharp enough to sacrifice medium-sized animals on an altar. However, the only thing this particular knife is ever used for is cutting away underwater grass. It's very unlikely that it'll ever be needed as a defence against sharks, seeing as there aren't any in the lakes around here and nowadays you're not allowed to take this sort of "tool" on a plane. Abtropfen im Bad Another part of the standard décor of our bathroom is a scary black hood, not unlike the kind of balaclava an old-fashioned bank robber might wear, and gloves that are thick enough to handle radioactive material. Various hoses spill out from unexpected corners of the room, and of course there are several pairs of fins - although they're fluorescent yellow, they actually go quite nicely with the blue and yellow colour scheme in the rest of the room. And as for the compressed air tank, well, suffice to say I found out why divers learn to lay it on the floor instead of leaving it standing upright the day I knocked it over onto my big toe…

But let's get back to the subject of diving in German lakes. Maybe there's someone out there who can explain the attraction of this to me, because I certainly can't work it out. To take just one example: what is it about the fish? If you could see the sort of Saibling beautiful, brightly coloured fish that swim around at the Great Barrier Reef in German lakes too then I could understand why divers would want to see them under water. The only place I like to come across the local fish, however, is on my plate, preferably accompanied by a tasty serving of chips. Everything else that can be found in the lakes around here, such as grass, rubbish, shopping trolleys, maybe even the odd rusty old car if you're really lucky, can normally be seen without having to get wet in the process, or even having to leave the comfort of your home.

That's not all, though. When I think about diving, I also have an image of a certain atmosphere, a feeling of being on holiday, which I just don't get around here, at least not in autumn or winter. Instead of muddy grass or a small stony "beach" I like to imagine long stretches of white, pristine sand, palm trees instead of birches, a beach cocktail bar instead of a small stand selling fried sausages, and the scent of coconuts on the light breeze instead of frying onions. I see what my problem is, of course: diving is only something I'd do on holiday, if at all. But for real divers, like my husband, it's a passion that's about the feeling of floating weightlessly under water rather than seeing something beautiful - that's just a bonus. Most "holiday" divers don't have this passion, and don't actually need it. That's why the majority of divers would be unlikely to put themselves through the freezing agonies of a diving trip on an autumn weekend in northern Europe.


Saturday evening. My husband is back after a rewarding day's diving. He tells me that the dives were fantastic. There was visibility of up to two metres, the group went into the icy water twice and even had a barbecue in the howling wind and driving rain. And all this in November! A wonderful day. But how else do I know that my beloved hubby is home? By the sounds coming from the bathroom: "drip…drip…drip…drip". Well, all the gear has to be hung up to dry somewhere, and where better than in the bathroom? The gentle rhythm of dripping is the background, post-dive beat that will accompany us throughout the rest of the evening.

OK, if I'm feeling generous I sometimes admit that I can be a little unfair when it comes to diving. At the Great Barrier Reef in Australia I did actually realise what is so attractive about the sport. This was when I was snorkelling around on the surface, knowing that there were much better things to see a few metres below me. At times like these I can even imagine myself doing a diving course. But I know I'll never have the passion you need to jump into our little local lake in the middle of winter, which means that, in Germany at least, I'll always remain a diving widow.

© Sarah Nowotny 2004

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