This is an edited extract from the Nordic Walking chapter of Make Me German. Which is why it begins in the middle and ends before the end. You can read the whole thing inside the book.


…As I was browsing the activities book at the hotel reception, while talking to the concierge about who makes the worst tourists.

“What tourists cause the most trouble at the Hotel? The English?” I asked.

“The Dutch, señor. They are so loud. Getting drunk all the time. The Germans complain about everything, sure, but they are okay. English people don’t really come here, it is too … how you say, tranquilo?

There was nothing tranquilo about me when at that moment, I turned the page in the activities book to find an entire side devoted to Nordic Walking classes. “It says here that there is a 7am Nordic Walking session every Monday at the beach. Is that still happening?”

“It says that? Where?”

“It says it here,” I held the page up for him, “€5. One hour. 7am each Monday.”

“Well, if it says it there,” he shrugged dismissively, returning to his PC. I could see that he was Facebooking.

Unfortunately, it was 10pm on Sunday night and the reservation hotline number said weekdays, 9-6pm. I called it anyway, on the off chance.

“Hola,” a deep, male voice answered.

“Hello. I’m sorry to call you so late. Oh, err, can you speak English?”

“Yes. English. Kein Problem,” he suddenly sounded less Spanish.

“I was just reading in the activity book of my hotel that you do Nordic Walking at 7am on Mondays?”

Nordic walking?”

“Nordic walking,” I confirmed.

“Nordic walking? Hmm…” he then shouted to someone behind him, “there’s someone here asking about Nordic Walking?”

Was?” a woman’s voice answered, auf Deutsch.

“Nordic walking!” he repeated.

Nordic walking?” she said it like she was hearing the word for the first time. Obviously this was not a regularly booked activity, at least not at 10pm on a Sunday night.

A woman came on the line. “Hello. You are interested in Nordic Walking?”

“Yes,” I said. “That seems to be the rumour. It says in the book that you do a 7am Nordic Walking session?”

7am?!?!” She said it like she was hearing the number for the first time.

“Yes. That’s what it says here in the book.” I read out the whole ad from start to finish.

“Well, if it says it there.”

My belief that a) she had written the ad and, or, b) I had dialled the right number reached zero.

“Are you running this class tomorrow morning? I would like to take part.”

“I see. How many are you?” she asked.

“I’m one.” That sounded weirdly esoteric, “I mean…it’s just me.” I corrected. I could almost hear her mental calculations, balancing a lay-in against €5 and deciding it was not worth it.

“I love Nordic Walking. It is how you say? My big hobby. So it is okay for me. But if you are really just you – maybe we can do it later?”

“Perfect. Yes. Later would be better for me as well. 10am?”

“Yes. 10am.”

“It really just costs €5?” It seemed extremely cheap. “It hardly seems worth an hour of your time, to just earn €5.”

“Yes. But luckily this is not my, how you say – primary income? I love Nordic walking, I go every day for body conditioning. So if you want to come and join that’s no problem for me.”

“Well, if it’s at 10am my girlfriend will also join, so that’s €10.”

“Hoopla! I’m rich. See you at 10am.” That was that. We were going Nordic Walking.

At 10am, we were enthusiastically greeted in our hotel lobby by an eccentric Austrian woman named Nora and her German partner, Wilfried. Wearing a Barcelona shirt, he had his hat on backwards in a style popular in the 1990s, goggle style wrap-around glasses usually popular with scientists, and pilots called Biggles, all in all, he gave off the curious aura of a fifteen year old inexplicably transported in the body of a fifty year old, and trying to make the best of it.

Our instructor, Nora, was a similar age, with two thick black braided pigtails, dressed from head to toe in fitted sportswear, with a special sort of wrap around sport corset to keep her back straight and her stomach in, a stomach that she told us had swollen slightly since she’d opened a cooking school nearby. Despite agreeing that we could talk German, she addressed Annett in German, and me always in a enthusiastic hybrid mix of both English and German. English where she knew the words, German where she didn’t, or where she simply forgot she had intended to talk English. A mix that could only be described as very anstrengend.

“So here we have the Poles,” she said, handed us our poles. “Not the people. Ha! The Walking Poles. Now most people they are making the Nordic walking very falsch. The poles should be facing rückwärts,” here she made an exaggerated backwards motion with her own pole, than fully clarified the notion of rückwärts. If you’re in any doubts, I can confirm that rückwärts is indeed the opposite of vorwärts.

“Yes, rückwärts,” she said confirming we were both making the right rückwärts motion with our poles.  Then they come before your body just a little, 20 Zentimeter maximal. Now the most important motion, no that’s the wrong word in English, sorry, movement, movement not motion.”

“Motion is also correct,” I informed her.

Oh? Is it? The most important movement is the Überkreuz. The legs must überkreuzen.” She began demonstrating, überkreuzing on the spot, with her two poles balanced across a shoulder, like a soldier’s rifle.

“Annett, what is Überkreuz auf Englisch?” she asked.

“Cross over.”

“Yes, cross over. So we take the legs and we überkreuz.”

“So, poles facing rückwärts, legs überkreuz and we go. It is kompliziert, yes? Normally you see the old people, they are doing it wrong. They put the sticks just in front and they tap, tap, tap.” With this she hunched over and mimicked an elderly person hobbling and tap, tap, tapping down the road outside the hotel. “This is okay, but it is no body conditioning.”

“All this time, I thought Nordic Walking was just walking plus poles?” I said.

“No. Everybody is thinking this,” with this came an exaggerated shake of the head. Everything she did took on this curious exaggerated quality. Like normal human expression but afforded a more generous, theatrical budget.

“It is not. Nein. It is a different Art to walking. It is more like skiing. You have the same motions like skiing. No, not motion, movement.”

“Motion is also correct,” I said.

Oh? Yes, you have the same movements, yes? You see. Arms back, legs überkreuz and you glide. See? Glide,” she said as she disappeared down the road gliding and überkeuzing like her life depended upon it. Which it might have. Possibly she was actually ninety seven, but all the body condition and überkreuzing that given her the look of a fifty year old.

“See? Glide… Now you try.”