Late yesterday afternoon, while the sun was still in an eggshell blue sky, I walked down to the water with two of my mum friends. The babies were bundled, die Lüdde knocked out by die Frischluft, which became progressively fresher the closer we got to the fjord. The water, when we reached it, was like glass. Flat, clear, tinged pink by the early evening sky. We parked our prams at the water’s edge, and looked out as a ship made its way through the narrow pass, on the way to Sweden. ‘Now we know why we live in Kiel,’ said one of my friends. Dead on.
In Australia, we like to say and indeed love to hear, everything’s bigger and more dangerous. Our land and its native inhabitants are so beautiful and so deadly. Those koalas especially. It is the same with the sea. And I’m not referring to sharks, those poor fellas just doing their thing in their own environment, while we trash their reputation above the surface, but the ocean itself. The Pacific is a huge, rambunctious, temperamental beast of an ocean. She’s beautiful, that’s without doubt. Beautiful in the sun, beneath an impossibly blue sky, beautiful on a grey day when she simmers and stirs ominously, throwing waves against rocks in fits of temper. But just as she can carry you on a gentle afternoon swell of minty foaminess, she can chew you up and spit you out, dumping you on the wet sand gasping for breath. We all get dumped at some point, it’s a beachy rite of passage. You get caught in the washing machine churning beneath the waves, and clutch wildly at sand and water, trying to right yourself. I got dumped loads of times as a kid. I have no troubles recalling the feeling of salt water coursing through my nose and burning the back of my throat, that shuddery, watery gasp of air before being pulled back under and pummelled a little longer. It was unpleasant but one always emerges weirdly victorious, as if getting smashed three metres from shore is an achievement. It must be an Australian thing.
When I fist encountered a Baltic Sea beach, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. Where was the surf? Where were the thumping waves? Why was it all so flat? That was in winter, mind you, and it was bloody cold and grey, so, so grey. My first summer experience with a Baltic Sea beach was spent wondering why on earth people could wade out into, seemingly, the middle of the sea and still only be knee-deep in water. The sky was blue, the sand crunchy and beach umbrellas littered the shore. All was normal, except kilometres out to sea, it appeared, people were standing in the water playing with a frisbee. There were no lifeguards, no surf boards. It was almost like a pretend beach, where nothing could harm you, where you could probably swim to the other side quite safely without even contemplating the presence of sea life bigger than a fish. The water even smelt different, less salty.
But I have come to appreciate the Baltic’s peculiar, almost mesmerising beauty. Beauty that lies precisely in its flatness, its peacefulness, its uncanny ability to, at any given time of the day, in any given season, be the exact same colour as the sky. We live not ten minutes from the fjord, and I find myself down by it more often than not. When die Lüdde was tiny, and going through one of those nap phases, I would stalk up and down the Linie, breathing it in, praying she wouldn’t wake up and make me carry her home. I came to be quite familiar with the fjord, with its unthreatening, quiet ways. With its palette of pastels and greys and brilliant blues.
In time, perhaps, I will even come to appreciate the Baltic’s biggest trick of all; standing so blue and so quiet, collecting snow on her sides.