Archive for the 'Skating' Category


So I skate onto the ice and fall on my face…

…35 years ago…and that’s why I have to go in for an operation this week.

There’s blood everywhere, bright red on the hard, flat, cold surface, but I don’t notice it because my only thought is to stand up as best I can, turn around and make it back to the bench without falling a second time.

Canada Germany hockey game Hamburg 2012“Hey buddy,” a guy says, “your nose is really bleeding.”

And so began – and ended – this Canadian’s ice hockey career at 17.  I’d always loved playing street hockey, played it for hours and hours after school and weekends like any kid growing up in Canada, squeezing in an extra 20 minutes’ floor hockey over high school lunch break.  But it never gets cold long enough on Canada’s southwest coast to freeze the local lakes thick enough to skate on, and our town didn’t have an ice arena, so I never learned how to skate until I was about 30 and moved to Quebec.

But the fact I didn’t know how to skate didn’t bother Kenny, who convinced me to borrow some skates and hockey gear and go down with him and a bunch of other guys one night for their weekly pick-up game in North Vancouver.

“You can ski like crazy, man, so you can skate for sure!” he said, and I was dumb enough to believe him.  I fell to the ice within 10 seconds of stepping off the bench during the warm-up, and watched the rest of them play the rest of the night as I made sure the bleeding stopped.

The bruising spread across my face and stayed there like disappearing berry stain for three weeks, but after that, I never gave it much thought.  As anyone who’s really active in- or outdoors will tell you, you take cuts and bruises as part of the game, and this I figured was in that category.

Several years later at 24 while at a routine medical exam before taking a job with the railway the company doctor looks up horse schnozzmy nose and tells me that I have a deviated septum.

“What’s a deviated septum?” I ask him.

He angles a mirror around so I can look up my nose at the blockage up one nostril, asking if I’ve ever been whacked on the head or had trouble breathing.

“Well, sure,” I tell him. “But I never really thought about it that much.”

I knew I should get it fixed, but took another four years to get around to it.

By some dumb luck I managed to land an Austrian Ear, Nose and Throat specialist who’d emigrated to Vancouver after the war.

Once we agreed to go ahead with it and the first x-rays were done he explained in detail how my nose would look once the operation was completed and I could breathe easier again.

But he never once told me HOW he’d go about straightening it, so it was only a couple of weeks later while lying on the operating table that I learned just what it meant to re-straighten a broken nose.

Because after he’d squeezed at least three needles up there to make sure the entire area was frozen so well I’d never feel a thing, he started to go to work on my face.

If you’re queasy about such things, you can click away now.

As he inserted his scalpel and started digging away I felt nothing, but he made a scraping sound through the skull to my ears I’ll never forget.  I know all this because I was also dumb enough to let him convince me to have it done under local, not general anaesthetic.

I really wish I’d never been awake to see this, but what saved me was Demerol, a wonderful, legal drug when introduced directly into your veins makes you feel in an instant like you’re floating in mid-air.

hammer and chiselSo I felt good and relaxed until he pulled a silver hammer and what looked like a chisel off the tray and held it over my head.

“What are you going to do with that?” I ask him.

“You von’t feel a sing,” he says, “but if you vant, you can haff some more Demerol to relax you some more.”

The extra Demerol boost felt like what I’ve heard a heroin rush feels like.

After he was sure I wasn’t going to object anymore, he aimed the chisel up my nose, raised up the silver hammer, and started hammering.  He hammered and hammered and hammered and all I could think of was, they can do what they want with me, I could be trussed up and hung by the ankles from the theater lights and I wouldn’t care, just let it be over.

When he’d finished re-arranging my nose, he packed it with cotton and I was wheeled out to recover.  Three weeks later, I still had a bit of bruising, but at least I could breathe easier once the cotton packing was removed.

It’s now been 25 years, and I thought I’d never have to think of it again, but somehow, it’s crooked again.  Or maybe the operation wasn’t all that successful, or maybe the falls and hits playing sports since then injured it again and I once again didn’t care.

But I’ve been to three ENT specialists over the past two years in Hamburg, trying to get help for another problem: phantom smells.  It started about two years ago with a powerful smell of metal all the time.  Copper, mostly.  That went away, but now it’s other stuff.  I smell soap, burned wood mixed with soap, weird chemicals wafting through my head.  It comes and goes in five-day cycles.  They’ve given me an MRI and ruled out brain tumour, but I’m slowly coming to realise this is like tinnitus for the nose.   Like hearing sounds in your head that aren’t there, the nose smells things that aren’t there either.

But at every visit to ask about the smell thing, the new ENT took one look up my nose and said I should look at getting it fixed.  I’d tell the story I’ve just told you, and they all looked horrified and said that things have improved in the ENT branch since 1988, that fixing a nose is not so brutal anymore, and in any case, they’d give me a general whatever they had to do.

But I wasn’t going for it.

Then I visited a fourth specialist who said there’s still a problem, but such a drastic measure as re-straightening the septum isn’t necessary.  What he is going to do this week is clear out the scarring left over from the first operation, and perform a minor procedure to widen the passages so I can breathe easier.  I did a test a month ago at the clinic that showed I’m just not getting enough air.

I don’t usually yammer on about my operations, but since this is only the second one I’ve ever had if you don’t count the routine tonsil yank-out they did when I was 8, it’s a big deal for me.

I just hope one day I can play some hockey again.

This winter in Canada, for sure.



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:


Hamburg rarity: Off to go skating on the Alster

This morning I’m as excited as the little kids I saw yesterday afternoon jumping up and down before they opened up the ice at Planten und Blomen, Hamburg’s huge outdoor skating rink.

That’s where I finally picked up a new pair of skates to replace the ones that broke before Christmas.

Today, I’m going to give them a good breaking in.

I’ve been living here nearly 13 years and never once set foot on the Alster, the huge lake in the centre of Hamburg.  Sitting like a fat, crooked thumb sectioned at the nail by the Kennedy Bridge, the Alster is a focal point for Hamburg life winter and summer.  Been sailing and canoeing on it, rowed in an 8-man racing shell, rollerbladed around it and had a few picnics on its grassy banks, but not once in all the time I’ve lived here has it been cold enough to get out there and scrape a few turns.

Today’s the day!

Out yesterday on the bike  – first to take a ferry ride through the ice pans clogging the Elbe – I swung by the Alster and was astounded to see two skaters in the foreground, a few others in the distance.

Can’t wait can’t wait can’t wait!

It’s minus 15, the day is breaking clear and blue and I’ve got the whole day off. 🙂


Hamburg winter looks a lot like Montreal

Excerpt from a letter to a friend who has recently moved to the Canary Islands.

You must have the world’s best timing, because you’ve chosen as your first long winter stretch away from Hamburg the coldest, snowiest winter in the dozen years we’ve been here.  Heavy gusts from the latest storm are hammering the windows right now, though it hasn’t dumped on as much as they said it would.  It’s been wintry for nearly a month and there is talk of the Alster lakes freezing over in a couple of weeks if it keeps up.  Did you go out onto the ice the last time it happened – in 1996?

While out on a walk with K. the other day I repeated for the umpteenth time since it turned cold how much the urban layer of snow, mud, slush and grit has snapped me back nearly 20 years to Montreal, when winter would take hold in early November and hang on to the middle of March, sometimes longer.  Friday we both had a day off, so after finally getting out of bed we headed down to the Elbe for a riverside walk.  I’ve said it before, but I really appreciate shift work for the chance it gives to have the city to yourself.  The park was nearly deserted as was the promenade along the Elbe.  We enjoyed the crunch of cold hard snow under our boots, the glitter of sun on the frost, even the wind blowing billows of stinging ice in our faces.

Stopping for hot chocolate at Teufelsbrück we stood watching the ice flow, getting mesmerised as it whispered under our feet.

About a week ago I started to get lots of hits and queries about skating in Holland from my blog post a year ago, so I went over to the natural ice section of the Dutch Skating Union site and found that nothing’s open yet, but this winter looks like it’s going to be a long one!   I’d love to go again, but I don’t know if I’m going to get the chance this year.  I broke my skates playing hockey a week or so before Christmas and haven’t been able to find a replacement pair yet.  The sporting goods stores in Hamburg either have poorly made crap for the masses – really over-priced, too – or gold-plated blades for professionals.  There’s nothing in between.  I wouldn’t mind shelling out for a really good pair, but there’s no value for money here.  It galls me that the price for the same or even a better model of skate in Canadian dollars online is less than if you’re paying here in Euros that are worth 50% more.

09 front page fun

Go on, admit it.  If you’re a sluggo blogger like me trundling along with a few hundred hits a day, it’s fun to see your stats suddenly rocket skyward, if only for a little while.

The new front page at featured a photo from and link to a recent post about breaking my skates while playing hockey, and the view count went a bit nuts.

It lasted about 24 hours and brought in about three times as many visits this humble spot usually gets over a single day.  A few of the newcomers even left comments, which are always welcome.

What’s weird is, I’m not sure why the editors at picked that particular post.  Was it just dumb luck?  Nothing else better out there? Because I can point to dozens of others I’ve churned out over the last couple of years which are more deserving.   Better writing, punchier photos, more interesting content…to me, at least. 🙂   But they never made it to the front page.

I’m not complaining!  But if anyone at is reading this, can you let me know how you choose posts for your front page?  Does anyone else have a clue?


Ice skating in Hamburg: enjoy the best spot now while you can

The skating in Holland seems like a dream that happened ages ago, but just because it warmed up and melted all that lovely ice doesn’t mean there’s no place closer to home to lace on the blades.

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. hamburg-ice-skating-planten-blomen-wallanlage-crappy

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.

hamburg-ice-skating-planten-blomen-wallanlage-lockersMany 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.

hamburg-ice-skating-planten-blomen-wallanlage-penguinApparently 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.

hamburg-ice-skating-planten-blomen-wallanlagen-girlsWe 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.


The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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