Kleinkind mit Schwimmflügeln im Wasser


Making a splash

Buoyancy aids that are placed around the arms – “water wings” – are commonplace today. They were invented by businessman Bernhard Markwitz in the 1960s.

A goldfish pond can change a life: in 1956, a businessman from Königsberg, Bernhard Markwitz, saw his three-year-old daughter almost drown in such a pond while playing in the family garden in Winterhude, Hamburg. She was rescued at the last moment. The incident was a shock for the whole family – and for Bernhard Markwitz an incentive to come up with something. A solution to make it easier for people to learn to swim. Water was his thing: before he had even turned 17, Markwitz was already a member of the Olympic swimming team, and he was also a trained lifeguard with the German Life Saving Association.

He knew that the cork floatation aids placed around the body, which were commonplace at the time, were not suitable for his project. They provided little buoyancy in the water and caused the upper body to tilt forward. He needed another solution. One that would help a non-swimmer to easily keep their head and upper body above water. Bernhard Markwitz’s idea: buoyancy aids for the arms. He is said to have first experimented with tubes from children’s scooters. However, PVC, a brand-new type of plastic at the time, turned out to be even more suitable. Markwitz tried out his first ideas at home in the bathtub – and they were a success.

BEMA water wings

A lottery win of 250,000 deutschmarks helped the businessman to refine his invention and launch it on the market. On June 13, 1964, he unveiled his triangle-shaped water wings for the first time at the swimming pool in Ohlsdorf, Hamburg. Under the brand name “BEMA” – from Bernhard Markwitz – 150 million of them have been sold since. In the decades to follow, large quantities were also produced in Taiwan and Thailand. Children still learn to keep their heads above water with their help today.

(Image: famveldman – AdobeStock.com)

Where the water wings were presented for the first time:

Ohlsdorfer Schwimmbad, Im Grünen Grunde 1, 22337 Hamburg