| Antonia Lange |
Schorndorf, Germany (dpa) – Katharina Hegemann’s work attire consists of a colourful glittering tail and an upper-body array of shells or flowers artfully covering her bosom.
If she really wants to dress up, though, she throws a fishing net around her waist.
The 26-year-old has no humdrum job – she’s a mermaid, and makes a steady living passing on her tail-end skills to the growing tide of mermaids appearing in heated swimming pools around Germany.
Nor is it just little girls who want to dive and frolic like the Disney character Ariel.
Plenty of adults, female and male, have also swapped their flippers for a monofin.
Hegemann founded the country’s first mermaid club in the southern town of Mutlangen two years ago.
“It appeared because there was a demand for it,” she says.
She decided to take the plunge after chancing on a tail-fin costume made of swimsuit fabric – and loved it.
Soon she was seeking like-minded aquatic spirits to join her in the local baths, although her own circle was rather baffled by her fishy transformation.
“My friends didn’t dare to go swimming with me, because it was too embarrassing,” she adds.
Today, her club has 34 regular members, with a steady flow of newcomers on its special mermaid swimming courses.
This year, one of the shoal was for the first time elected “Miss German Mermaid”.
But the great equaliser between them all is the challenge of learning the art of swimming with a tail.
“It’s a bit like wearing a sausage skin,” admits 31-year-old Steffi Praher as she works on her skills at an indoor pool in the neighbouring town of Schorndorf.
Once she has wriggled into her costume she also notes that her mermaiding “embodies a good measure of femininity”.
But still, why voluntarily pull a tight tail over your legs? A hard and fast answer is about as elusive as real mermaids in the open seas.
Sociologist Tilman Allert of Frankfurt University hazards a guess: “In the water you are flexible, faster than people on land, you are untouchable – and you don’t have to talk either.
“To see yourself as a phenomenon that can appear and disappear is a longing that makes being a mermaid so interesting. So much so that you will pay for costumes and swimming lessons.”
“It looks simple but it is incredibly demanding,” says Praher, whose swimming motion resembles that of a dolphin. “When I started, my abdominal muscles and legs would really throb.”
Since then her daughters have also decided to take the plunge as mermaids and asked for their own fins for Christmas.
Nor are Hegemann’s small-town mermaids alone. Swimming schools for would-be sea creatures have sprung up in two other German cities, Freiburg and Munich.
There’s a lot to learn, apart from how to glide through water by flipping.
Many of the younger mermaids don’t actually know the 1989 Disney animated film, ‘The Little Mermaid’, which features Ariel, let alone the 1984 US rom-com fantasy Splash.
“We have already instituted a compulsory DVD evening because none of the younger ones knew who Ariel was,” says Hegemann.
The latest mermaiding trend has been boosted by an Australian TV show “H2O: Just Add Water”, in which three girls save turtles and fight injustice while trying to hide their mermaid origins.
It’s all good news for Magictail, a mermaid costume maker based in the same German state, Baden-Wuerttemberg.
“Overall demand has steadily increased,” says managing director Kirsten Soeller. Since 2011, the company has sold 20,000 costumes, half of them in Germany.
A set costs between 120 and 160 euros (at least US$150).
“Our most popular costume is still the H2O,” says Soeller. The model is a nod to the TV series.