As often as I can in winter I get out to the outdoor ice rink at Hamburg’s central Planten und Blomen park, which locals say is the largest outdoor slab of artificial ice in Europe. Then again, you can actually see “Hamburg – world’s most beautiful city” splashed on billboards here, so don’t take their word for it.
It’s a great place for kids to learn to skate. Here’s the little-red-haired girl getting pushy with a dwarf out on the ice a few years ago:
We’ve been going skating as a family at that rink for years because it’s a great way to get out and about in the winter months without having to spend a fortune every time at Hamburg’s notoriously expensive swimming pools. If you have your own skates, it’s a deal – about €3.50 per person.
And simply as a sheet of ice, it’s wonderful, often crawling with skaters from morning ’til night through the winter months.
Unfortunately, the rest of it is a pit.
They probably last gave it a coat of barf-n-baby-shit-yellow paint in the mid-1970s, filling in the numbers along some hideous designs straight from some bureaucrat’s bottom drawer. I’m not surprised the city’s ubiquitous graffiti sprayers haven’t bothered to smear the site with their mindless tags, for even they must figure it’s ugly enough as it is.
Many of the bashed-in lockers in the dark and dingy common area don’t close properly, it’s often so crammed with people you can hardly find a place to plant your butt to lace up the skates, the biffies reek like 10-day-old piss, and as for the people working the joint…
Well, let’s just say a few of the employees could use either a personality transplant or start taking happy pills every morning, because some of them are about as friendly as a bill collector with hemorrhoids.
It’s pretty common to have a bored, indifferent face serving you in Germany, but maybe now they’re especially pissed at the the fact they might soon be out of a job?
During a break in a recent skate I signed a petition asking Hamburg city hall to keep the ice rink open.
Apparently the city has plans to “develop” the site, but what form the new ice rink will take, whether its vast surface will be maintained, whether it will have a puffy, air-filled roof or not, whether it will come stacked with cinema, bowling alley, revolving restaurant, water slide, diving tower and wave pool and permanent three-ring circus with ice skating an afterthought or gone completely remains to be seen.
(That last link’s in German, sorry.)
If I could only divert the attention of the powers-that-be down at Hamburg City Hall from that horribly expensive cost-overrun extravaganza called the Elbe Philharmonic opera house, a project we can’t afford and which will benefit only the super-rich, here’s what I’d tell them:
Given that ice skating is probably the last affordable sporting activity left in this city, keep the ice open! Spend a few bucks to give the arena the facelift it needs, but don’t mess with it. Compared to the rinky-dink patches of fake ice Canadians are used to rattling around on like hamsters on a wheel, a skating rink that size and shape is unique. It’s HUGE.
We don’t need any fancy-dance crap tacked on. People come from miles around to skate there from morning to night every day, and they’ll still come if you just fix it up a little bit. Even on the most crowded days there is usually enough ice so that everyone can find a patch to skate on.
When you stop you can enjoy the wide view of the park and surrounding buildings. Even the city’s iconic St. Michaelis bell tower can be spied through the winter’s bare branches.
Don’t muck it up with anything that takes away from what’s already there: a perfect spot to enjoy winter in the middle of Germany’s most beautiful city.