I like to swim in oceans and swimming pools, but freshwater lakes creep me out. They feel slimy underfoot. The reeds around them have snakes. Flesh-eating bacteria can live in them. In high school I lived in a part of Pennsylvania with a lot of quarry lakes, and hated the unsettling feeling of the sudden temperature plunge as you swim out past the point where the lake bottom drops off sharply. That people would believe leftover prehistoric monsters to lurk in the cold depths of glacial lakes does not surprise me in the least.
The area around Berlin has an abundance of both natural and quarry lakes. Many of their names suggest that whoever named them felt much the same way I do about lakes. Here is a small sampling, with literally translated English names:
Teufelssee: Lake Devil
Schlachtensee: Lake Slaughter
Pechsee: Lake Misfortune-or-Tar
Schlachtensee, a glacial trough that is probably the most attractive lake within easy S-Bahn reach of central Berlin and is thus usually packed to the gills on warm days, epitomizes all of my lake fears. Not only is it named Lake Slaughter (or maybe Lake Battle, which is not much better), its lakebed murk is especially slimy, and friends who go jogging around it report a lot of snakes in the reeds.
I used to work with a delightfully eccentric fiftysomething British woman who enjoyed both swimming laps in Schlachtensee and talking about how dangerous it was. “It’s always slender teenage boys who drown,” she would say. “They have too little body fat to absorb the shock of the change in temperature when the bottom drops off.”
“Another boy has drowned in Schlachtensee,” she said at lunch one day. “He was swimming across with his friends and they never heard a thing, just turned round at the far shore and he was gone. They sink like stones, those slender boys, they go down silently.” I gaped at her in terror. My son has such a lanky build that he has to wear drawstring pants every day because all other pants fall down. I began to imagine putting him on a regimen of bacon-wrapped cream puffs and sedentary activities to pad on enough fat to save him from the otherwise quite likely fate of someday drowning in Schlachtensee. If fattening him up didn’t work, could I perhaps permanently affix a lifejacket to him? I have since learned that drownings in Schlachtensee are less frequent than my colleague made them out to be, but I still intend not to live anywhere near a lake when my son is a skinny teenager.
To end with a linguistic tangent: the German word for quarry lake is Baggersee. Bagger means bulldozer, and is pronounced almost exactly like the English word bugger. We visited my son’s British relatives during his toddler point-out-all-the-bulldozers phase, and I would like to say that it is highly awkward to travel around England with a small boy who keeps pointing in all directions and calling out bugger! bugger! bugger!