ZURICH – For the past two weeks most parts of Europe have experienced an unusual cold spell, one that created some natural ice rinks and recalled old memories of frozen lakes.
While the temperatures below freezing point might not make everybody happy in central and eastern Europe and is causing chaos in the south-east of Europe, the frosty climate also has positive side-effects in some countries where kids and ice sport lovers find themselves before newly created ice areas just in front of their doorsteps.
Playing on frozen ponds is not uncommon in some countries. In Canada pond hockey is played in many communities same as in parts of the United States. In the German Alps, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the German Ice Hockey Association organized an annual pond hockey event this past weekend and in Northern Europe it’s common to play hockey on frozen ponds, and across lakes with skates or skiers. An event with tournaments around Stockholm is planned at the end of the month.
This year’s cold spell though, colder and longer than usual, brings it to another level even in urban areas of central European areas where lakes normally don’t freeze.
In Switzerland for instance about 20 lakes are currently frozen and many of them have been approved for skating. It’s not the big lakes where local authorities gave green light for skating, but smaller once like Pfäffikersee not far away from Zurich, or the Lac de Joux about 30-40 kilometres away from Geneva and Lausanne, apart from the lakes in the Alpine areas that are frozen every year.
The Rapperswil-Jona Lakers, one of the 12 clubs in the top Swiss league, even decided spontaneously to move practice from the cosy arena to the nearby harbour to live up to their name at the place where people would usually see ships. Although the event became known only the night before, 250 fans came to watch the practice.
“The last time Rapperswil’s inner harbour was approved for ice skating was 24 years ago, so it was a unique experience for everybody,” the Lakers’ media manager René Schmid told IIHF.com.
It was fun for the players and fans, some of whom equipped with skates as well. The practice was also a good PR event, as the Lakers are currently on thin ice in the standings, being ranked on bottom of the league, and could use some vocal support in the battle against relegation.
Even in places with no frozen lakes or ponds nearby, communities find ways to create additional ice space. Like in the picture below of a schoolyard near Basel, Switzerland, a place not spoiled with too many ice sheets. A great opportunity for kids to skate on the ice, with or even without skates.
A natural ice rink was built at a schoolyard in Aesch near the city of Basle. Photo: Martin Merk
Also many ponds, lakes and dredging lakes in other central European countries such as Germany and Austria are currently populated by people playing hockey or just skating on the ice.
One of the biggest ice celebrations happened last weekend in Hamburg at the dammed Alster river. The Alstereisvergnügen (literally: Alster ice enjoyment) is a folk festival that takes place once in a winter if the ice is safe and usually at least 20 centimetres thick. Last weekend the authority gave green light for the first time in 15 years.
More than a million people came to cross the ice and visit the many food and fun booths around the Outer Alster Lake. Among them was the city’s team from the top league DEL, the Hamburg Freezers, who held a practice on the artificial lake. Whether there will be a second Alstereisvergnügen next weekend or not has not been determined yet.
Impressions from this year’s Alstereisvergnügen in Hamburg. Photo: An-d / Wikipedia
If you plan to visit a frozen lake, or if you want to create a natural ice rink in your community during the cold spell you might need to hurry up. Temperatures might climb above freezing point in central Europe in the upcoming days.
But be sure to never skate on thin ice on lakes or ponds. Walking onto ice areas that were not approved for skating can cause accidents and have already caused casualties in Europe during this cold snap. Search for information from the communal authorities or visit a regular ice rink if you want to be on the safe side.