Notes on skating on the Alster, Hamburg

It was great to be out on natural ice again, feel sun on the face for the first time in weeks, hear the rhythmic scrape of the blades  and send a few slapshots skidding across to untracked terrain.

The whole Alster is frozen over, deep enough to hold the dozen or so strollers and skaters already there when I was lacing up at 9:30 in the morning, and the more than 1,000 who must have been crawling over the surface by the time I left about five hours later.

But as you can already tell from the photo at left, the ice is lousy.   It’s been cold for six weeks, but in the meantime we’ve had snow and rain.  The first layer before Christmas got covered in snow, and then after a bit more cold it warmed up and rained for about a day before the lastest plunge to -15 Celcius the last few nights.

So although the deep cold has made the ice safe enough to skate on except under the bridges at either end of the lake, the surface is mottled.   White and frothy as frozen cappuccino in some places, chunky in others, you have to skate and skate and skate before you find a spot that’s shiny enough to tell you the surface is smooth, and the skating a little less effort.  I finally found the sweet spot right in the middle after a couple of hours’ searching.  It was the size of a normal hockey arena, so I dropped my bag and just stayed there, circling around as you normally do when you’re penned up on rink.

I was watching the local news last night and they said an 11-year-old boy broke through and was taken to hospital suffering from hypothermia.  He must have ventured too close to those bridges, because the ice there isn’t just thin, it peters out to open water!

That’s why a dozen or so members of Hamburg’s finest were out setting up barriers to keep the riff-raff away from the danger zones. By the time these fellows got to work setting up a wide perimeter around the north- and south-side bridges, I was ready to head home and leave the ice to the strollers, the ladies skating along with baby carriages, the over-dressed shoppers diverted from the stores of Mönckebergstrasse, the golfers.

The golfers?  FWT?

Don’t ask me.  Last time I heard of golfing in winter it was 1978 and I was pissing myself laughing with a friend to a scratchy vinyl album of Canadian humourist Nestor Pistor Live at the Prince George World Championship Snow Golf.

But there they were, getting their photos taken teeing off.

As Deutschland über Elvis points out so well, if this is Germany, the signage should be in English, right?

I hate to compare, but if only it were as good as the canals of Holland were a year ago, if only it had frozen as one uniform sheet of ice to a rich, thick, black surface, I’d be back out there this morning adding to the aches and pains I worked up yesterday.

And finally: if you’re anywhere near Hamburg, they just might open up the Alster to Alstereisvergnügnen – Ice Enjoyment??   All it will take is a couple more centimetres of ice – pure, bubble-free ice – and they’ll open it up to an outdoor festival on the ice.  The last time it froze thick enough to do that was January, 1997, when a million people thronged the surface for a three-day party.  I saw some archive aerial footage at work – can’t find it on youtube unfortunately – but it was awe-inspiring.  This one gives you an idea though:

14 Responses to “Notes on skating on the Alster, Hamburg”

  1. January 27, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Great pictures and post! I can’t wait to make my way to the ice. Although I’m more the type to slip and slide along with a Gluehwein in hand.🙂

  2. January 27, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    You might have to bring that Gluehwein in a thermos, Mandi. The city has just announced that the ice party will be postponed at least until past this coming weekend. But it still really worth getting out there, if only for a stroll across the middle of the lake. How often do you get to do that? It’s really quiet too. From the centre point you can barely hear the traffic noise.

  3. January 27, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    That looks beautiful. You’re so lucky you got out there. Yeah, we also heard on the news tonight that the ice wasn’t good enough for them to go ahead with the festival, but if the temperatures keep going down as they have been, who knows?

    • January 27, 2010 at 8:13 pm

      I think they’re just covering their butts. Twenty centimetres is a really thick piece of ice, but the problem is, the crust on top isn’t pure ice, it’s full of snow and bubbles and not as stable. They want 20cm of pure, frozen, bubble-free water in their core sample. It can get pretty technical, but I guess when you’re talking of hundreds of thousands out there at once, plus horse-drawn sleighs (watch the video!)🙂
      and all the booths slinging Wurst and Beer… they want to be safe or face lawsuits.
      It’s snowing like a bugger right now…

  4. January 28, 2010 at 8:54 am

    It’ll probably all be gone by the time we get there. (sigh) Thanks for the photos.

    • January 28, 2010 at 9:06 am

      Hi Jennifer,
      Depends on when you get here. Though it warmed up last night and even rained a bit after dumping some more snow, they say it’s going to get really cold again over the next few days. The ice should hold out until it’s above freezing for a few days at least.

  5. January 28, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Great images Ian, especially the second one

  6. February 2, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Wow, awesome photos. Pity they couldn’t have the festival (nice clip) but the ice still looks amazing from my perspective.

  7. March 24, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Soon now. According to Accuweather (an oxymoron, I’m sure) during our short visit we may be seeing snow for the first time in years.

  8. March 25, 2010 at 7:43 am

    You’re kidding me, right? The ice is gone, the sun is warm on the face, pussy willows and crocuses are springing out all over. What snow???🙂

  9. March 27, 2010 at 8:08 am

    I wish I *were* kidding! Flurries expected by Easter Sunday and onwards. Where’re my longjohns!?

    • March 27, 2010 at 10:36 am

      Can a long-range forecast like that really be that accurate? Easter Sunday is in 8 days! On some days around here, it goes like this: if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes and it’ll change.

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