Why German life guards are stuck in coronavirus dilemma on beaches

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Why German life guards are stuck in coronavirus dilemma on beaches
Guards at Travermünde. Photo: DPA

Life guards on Germany's overcrowded beaches have been told that they have to respect social distancing. This brings them into a moral dilemma if they have to rescue people from the sea.


A family heads for the main guard station run by the German Life Rescue Society (DLRG) in the Baltic resort of Travemünde. 

The father has a circular red pustule on his leg. 

"Something must have stung me. Can you help me?" he asks. 

"Sure, my colleague will have a look at it," says guard Hans Andonovic-Wagner.

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"The majority of our call outs are like this. Fortunately, we have to save relatively few people from drowning," says the 45-year-old.

According to the DLRG, 192 people drowned in Germany in the first seven months of the year, 63 more than in the same period last year. 


The main reasons for the drowning, according to the data, were bathing on unguarded beaches, alcohol, carelessness and overestimation of one's own capabilities. 

"Especially on the weekends it has been incredibly crowded, from above you could hardly see any sand because of all the people," Andonovic-Wagner says. 

Despite the crowds, Travermünde’s water police have confirmed that the necessary hygiene rules have been observed everywhere.


In the Corona pandemic even lifeguards are instructed to keep their distance.

"We are in a moral dilemma here," Andonovic-Wagner says. "We have to keep our distance so as not to endanger ourselves and others, but with a distance of 1.50 metres it is difficult to save someone from drowning." 

Ultimately, each guard has to decide for himself what risk he wants to take.

Rowdy beach-goers

The same problem faces the lifeguards of the DRK-Wasserwacht (German Red Cross water rescue service) who guard the beaches of Warnemünde in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. 

Up to 200,000 people have crowded the 8-kilometre beach on weekends, says lifeguard Lukas Knaup, the head of the Warnemünde water rescue service. The 27-year-old is full of praise for "his" bathers and their discipline during the corona period. 

"People understand that keeping distance is important," he comments.


So that the lifeguards can also keep their distance to the bathers, he now gives tips for smaller first aid operations. 

"If a person comes in with a cut, we give them bandages so they can take care of it themselves," Knaup says. 

If the helpers have to get really close to the patients, a mask, gloves or protective gowns are available. 

But before contact is made, questions have to be asked, including: "Do you come from a risk area, have you had contact with someone with corona, and do you have symptoms yourself?”

But when Knaup looks down from his tower at the crowd, he says "I don't feel at risk."


On Usedom lifeguard Thomas Powasserat says that the new rules and increased volume of bathers have led to his guards facing aggression. 

"People insult lifeguards when they drive through to patients using blue lights or forbid bathing in dangerous currents." 

Some have even been threatened with physical violence.

Jens Michael from Warnemünde also reports more unpleasant encounters.

Due to the current high danger of forest fires, fires and even barbecues are banned. Some people react aggressively. 

"In the past, young people used to go to the clubs in the evening, but now they are all closed", says Michael.

Guard Andonovic-Wagner in Travemuiünde has also had some testy encounters, but on the whole he is enthusiastic about "his" beach guests. 

"If I’m allowed, I'd be happy to come back [next year]," he says.


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Anonymous 2020/08/15 17:39
Only in Germany could you read about such pedantic life guards. Torn between Meistership and Corona....

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