Fashion expert Barbara Vinken goes swimming in the lake in winter – company
Glistening light, the last wisps of fog, the lake shimmers blue-grey and is absolutely still. A few ducks are bobbing in the water, in the distance the outlines of a winterized boat can be made out, the Alps are still disappearing in the morning haze and so is the nearby Rose Island, where the later Empress Sisi often met King Ludwig II, her brother in the spirits. Barbara Vinken loves this place, which is actually called “paradise”, Steg 1 in Possenhofen am starnberger Lake. In the summer, after long days at the university in Munich, where she has been a professor of general literature and Romance philology since 2004, she sometimes drives here and goes swimming.
To swim, she said on the drive from Munich, is a “time out for her. A zero state of life. You are flattered, you lose your earthly gravity, you become very light. Very meditative, very beautiful, very calm. And at the same time tender”. She packs her bathing suit two or three times a week, no matter what country or city she is in, no matter whether it’s a lake, sea or swimming pool, no matter whether it’s June or, like now, February.
Barbara Vinken stands on the steps of the wooden pier and looks down with a little skepticism. A real appearance: fur hat, fingernails painted red, heavy chain around the neck, dramatically made-up eyes. The 63-year-old is known for books like “Attracted – the secret of the Fashion‘, or the recently released ‘Disguise. What we do when we get dressed” has also made a name for herself as a fashion theorist. None dissects the listlessness of Germans when it comes to fashion and their unbroken love for functional clothing so cleverly; none names so precisely that a lot of things here are supposed to make sense and many little sense have for sensuality when it comes to fine fabrics, artistic seams, exquisite tailoring.
The favorite bath has closed because of the energy crisis
“How many degrees did you say the water is? Only five, really?” she asks in her bright singsong, which gives her something girlish. Five degrees – that’s already cold, of course. Normally Vinken swims in Munich in winter Dante bath in the 50-meter outdoor pool at much more pleasant temperatures, preferably with a yellow-golden shimmering bathing cap and so-called swimming earrings, always chest, always head up, and usually exactly 45 minutes, i.e. exactly one university hour. But this winter isn’t normal, and so her favorite spa has closed due to the energy crisis. The professor has moved to the Nordbad in Schwabing, not far from her apartment, which is worth mentioning in that the close-knit Dante swimming community, to which Vinken belongs, meets there now: “It’s so funny! They’re all there. Even them Lifeguard!” She last swam in a lake in November in Italy, on Lake Como, where she has a “little tower”, but according to her feeling it was “around 18 degrees”.
After all, the outside temperatures in “paradise”, just below zero, are slowly rising. Two loungers are dragged onto the pebble beach by two blond women from Starnberg, one with a bold Chanel sign on her black winter boots, the other with a cell phone in a Louis Vuitton case. Her white and black coat, says the fashion expert with a connoisseur’s eye, “could also be from Chanel because of the seams”. The kiosk employee elatedly opens his window hatches and shouts into the cold air: “The sun is coming out!”, which Barbara Vinken interprets as a signal: “Children, let’s go in there now.”
She quickly slips into her eggshell-colored bikini by the French brand Eres, which is held together by a clasp; best proof that functional clothing can be pretty pretty too. Even the fur hat is not just an extravagance for a fashion-conscious woman, but chosen with care: because the body loses a lot of heat through the head when bathing in freezing temperatures, it should be covered. Is there anything better than that fluffy and hairy hood you bought years ago at your trusted thrift store?
There are eleven steps down the wooden staircase into the water, which now glows fascinatingly turquoise-green due to the incidence of light, gray stones lie on the bottom, and Vinken had thought aloud about their possible slipperiness beforehand, because she doesn’t wear bathing shoes. Then she suddenly spoke a few sentences in French, which was probably less an expression of a certain cosmopolitanism that she undoubtedly has, who taught in New York as well as in Paris, but is more due to the fact that she, the daughter of a Belgian, grew up bilingually is. She loves France, the country, the culture, has written a book about Flaubert.
She goes in nimbly, no hesitation, no frightened tripping steps, “breathe slowly” had been called out to her beforehand, probably completely superfluous advice. A hyperventilating Barbara Vinken is simply unimaginable, she is too elegant for that. She dives in, lies down briefly on her back, calls out: “Is that cold!” Did the kiosk employee really say earlier that he sometimes swims from jetty to jetty on days like this?
Especially since Corona, winter bathing is no longer just popular with crazy Scandinavians, but also with Germans who are keen to experiment. Blogs are full of testimonials and tips, one of which is: start slowly, get used to your body, go out when your body not only tingles but also starts to sting. But the feeling afterwards: priceless. The immediate cold shock, in which all vessels contract, “that really pushes you!” exclaims Vinken enthusiastically. She says she would do it again in a heartbeat. She dries off, watched closely by two pairs of sun-shaded eyes on the pebble beach.
The peaks of the Zugspitze can now be seen in the distance, with the outlines of the Roseninsel in front of them. Last summer Vinken swam to the island from here, Sisi was also a passionate swimmer. She was still amazed at how easy and quick it was – “I was there in no time!” – until she found an explanation on the way back: a strong current. The friend who was there had already called the lifeguard because Vinken didn’t show up at all. But she remembered an important piece of swimming wisdom: breathe in, breathe out, stay calm. Then, step by step, she came back.
No passion without accessories. Barbara Vinken needs these items for swimming:
The swim earrings
“I got these from a friend, aren’t they cute? With this white and soft pink and the sparkling something, they remind me a bit of dragonflies, with a fake diamond. And yes, they are really called swimming earrings because the water doesn’t do anything to them I actually wear them a lot when I go swimming.”
The fur hat
“I bought these years ago in a second-hand shop around the corner from me. The owner was very lovely, she often called me and said: ‘Ms. Vinken, I think I have something for you, would you like to come by ?’ When it comes to winter bathing, it’s important to cover your head so your body doesn’t lose too much heat, so it’s perfect for that.”
“I always use these thin fabric towels, that’s all I need. I travel a lot, but I always pack my bathing suit so I can swim anywhere. These towels are light and take up little space – and of course they’re pretty also.”
Surfing with Maximilian Brückner, Swimming with Ulrike Folkerts, Riding with Karen Duve: More episodes of “My passion” do you think …? Find here.