Drawing Rhymes with Rowing

The cover of “Dans le même bateau”. Copyright ÉDITIONS FUTUROPOLIS/Dans le même bateau, Zelba 2019.

19 November 2019

By Hélène Rémond

Hélène Rémond has found a new graphic novel on rowing in the reunited Germany.

Germany marked the 30-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November. A few days earlier, on 6 November, Zelba had a new book published by Éditions Futuropolis.

Readers can immerse themselves in Wiebke Petersen’s new graphic novel Dans le même bateau (“In the same boat”), written and drawn under her pen name “Zelba”. In her new book, the author – a German writer and cartoonist born in 1973 who has lived in France since 1998 – shares her own experience of Germany’s reunification.  She has lived it through rowing even though it was not her choice. “I foolishly followed in my older sister’s footsteps to the rowing club,” says Wiebke. “I found out there were tall, strong and handsome guys. I threw myself body and soul into rowing.”

Wiebke Petersen

In November 1989, 16-year-old Wiebke became a high-level rower. In 1991, she became Germany’s Junior Champion in the coxless pair with her rowing partner Kati Namyslo. The same year, they won a gold medal in the same category at the World Rowing Junior Championships in Banyoles, Spain – 13 crews of this first reunited German national team won medals in the 14 boat classes. “Winning medals was secondary, but I admit it was not unpleasant. I was lucky to be part of the few female rowers from West Germany selected in the very first junior rowing national crew of the reunified Germany.  Today, I have no connection with rowing anymore but deep gratitude for the virtues acquired thanks to this endurance sport, of determination and excelling oneself! It’s useful every day!”, she adds.

This genuine and sensitive book epitomizes the German epic through Wiebke’s eyes. The autobiographical story offers a funny and touching perspective on history. It is a gripping work filled with sports sisterhood without dismissing jokes as if to play down the significance of what the country has been through and recalling the reluctance to put on the jersey bearing the German eagle, what Wiebke called the vulture, echoing the dark past of Nazi Germany. Thus, the upheaval of youth and history are strongly intertwined all through details of daily life, when Wiebke has to overcome mutual prejudices and misgivings. She was scared stiff about the rowers from the East who underwent indoctrination in sports boarding schools called KJS (Kinder- und Jugendsportschule). But the way of rowing in West Germany was required of the East Germans – the left hand comes over the right hand.

For the readers who are not rowing experts, specific words are explained, like the French words plumer (plucking) and ramer en pointe (sweep rowing) through very detailed and pedagogical drawings in colour, which also explain the rowing motion, as well as the equipment needed and the sport’s world. These pages alter with black and white pages which tell the story.

Wiebke Petersen was kind enough to make a special selection of double pages for HTBS.

Copyright ÉDITIONS FUTUROPOLIS/Dans le même bateau, Zelba 2019.

Some of the pages are available as a flipbook.

There is also a promotion video on YouTube:

Zelba was invited onto a French Radio program dedicated to sport on France Inter, L’Œil du Tigre:

Dans le même bateau, Zelba
Éditions Futuropolis
160 pages
20 cm x 27,3 cm
ISBN : 978-2-7548-2852-9
Price : 21€


  1. Dear Robert,
    I ordered it at my local bookshop 😉
    If you type “dans le même bateau zelba” in your favourite search engine, there is online shopping available. Thank your for your interest!

  2. Dear Bob, I have see copies of this book on Amazon in different countries. Though some are only offering a Kindle edition, not a printed version. Maybe the easiest thing is to order it from Amazon France (www.amazon.fr). Good luck!

    • Yup. That’s what I did immediately after I read Hélène’s post and saw Zelba’s excellent graphic shown above. I ordered from amazon.fr on Monday and received the book in Germnay on Friday. But I suppose, you might as well support your local bookseller. The ISBN is 978-2-7548-2852-9. Having read half the book, I can only say the story is brilliant too. An excellent coming of age graphic novel. Definitely worth reading, not just for rowers. Très, très sympa!

  3. Das neue Buch von Wiebke Petersen erscheint am 4. August 2020 mit dem Titel “Im selben Boot” als Buch bei Schreiber & Leser !

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