Every week our sports explorers try out a new activity so you know exactly what to expect. This week we journeyed to the suburbs of Berlin to find out all there is to know about ice skating…
It’s a wintery morning in Lankwitz, a quiet suburb in the South West of Berlin. The air is as clear as it is cold and my walk from the S-Bahn to Eisbahn Lankwitz is brisk and pleasant. The streets are totally silent save for the shrill birdsong and as I cross over a beautiful little bridge I pause to take a photo; the leafless trees against the rose-gold sky could be printed on a postcard.
I’m here to ice skate – something I have not done properly since I was a young girl. My mum used to take me to a rink in South London that, quite frankly, scared the hell out of me. It was indoors with unforgiving, fluorescent lighting and it always smelled like vinegar. The ice skates hurt my ankles and they’d rub as I flailed around on the ice, terrified of moving and of falling in equal measure. It always shocked me how slippery it was on the rink – and we’d always go in winter holidays when it would be packed with children. They’d swoosh past me as I clung to the barrier, eyes wide and totally mute with fear.
I remember I’d be scared for about five minutes and then my mum would encourage me to get moving. After a little while I’d slowly get a feel for it, finally able to let go of the barrier and slide inelegantly in one big circle around the rink. I’d do that for about 45 minutes, waving at my mum nervously every time I passed her, until I was quietly gliding around. And, just when I’d got the hang of it, it would be time to go and we’d repeat the entire process exactly a year later.
Part of me is hoping that’s what happens today – that I’ll get that same feel for it almost instantly and be whizzing around the rink like I’m a lead role in Swan Lake. And as I approach, I can see it’s significantly less busy than the rink in South London.
Eisbahn Lankwitz is a true ice skating institution in Berlin – it opened its doors 18 years ago and has been the setting for many events, birthdays, competitions, races and fun days out ever since. I enter through the spacious changing area and walk up to the receptionist, check-in with my Urban Sports Club membership and am quickly handed my ice skates boots and a locker key. A very straightforward process. I put my boots on, and hobble outside to the rink.
There’s something inherently refreshing about an outdoor ice-rink. The rink looks expansive against the light grey sky and the white ice is bright and cheering – a reminder that winter isn’t all that bad. I eye-up a coffee stall next to the rink, promising to treat myself once the ice skating is over. Because although the place is beautiful, I am super nervous. I do not have the same fearlessness as my 11 year old self and although there are fewer kids, there are still a notable amount. I am terrified they’ll push me over.
I step on the ice and am shocked once again by how slippery it is. I cling to the side, just as I used to, and Liz the photographer shouts encouragement – kind of like how my mum did. I move one foot in front of the other, slowly, trying to ignore the pack of screaming kids behind me and I begin to move at a snail’s pace. But, just like old times, I get used to the feeling of ice under my feet and start to speed up slightly. I make my way around the ice rink, just keeping a few steps in front of a gang of kids who are just as petrified as I am, but after a few minutes I’m able to let go of the barrier and kind of walk/glide a little further. I stop for breath next to an interesting scene – a miniature ice rink where a group of adults are taking part in a game of curling.
If you’ve never heard of it, curling is like boules – players slide stones across the ice with the aim of hitting a square target. It’s a fantastic winter sport and a great way to socialise with friends, and Eisbahn Lankwitz have a strong curling community and even offer lessons. I’m pretty engrossed in the game that’s unfolding in front of me but I must move on because the group of small children is approaching and I am terrified they’ll knock me over.
That morning I become more and more confident on the ice – I can go slightly faster and with a little less fear every time I do a lap. But then Liz suggests I go out in the middle so we can take pictures – without a barrier for safety. I find that a bit too much so Liz gets me a seal to help me out. By the time I finished my session I feel fresh-faced and way too warm for my jacket – it feels like I’ve done a proper workout.
Later that day I catch up with a friend of mine, Ai Ling, who adores ice-skating. “I find the feeling of gliding on ice is like riding a bike, like the same freedom, but I think a lot of people don’t find enjoyment it because of the way they learn.” Ai Ling thinks that’s because most people’s first experience of ice skating is just like mine – in a busy rink with boots that don’t fit – they get put off. But Ai Ling had different experiences with the ice as a child. “I had private lessons when was a kid and I had the rink to myself,” she says. “When I was a kid I was way more fearless and was just roaming all over the place doing tricks. I still get that feeling when I’m on ice, even if I’m around loads of people. But I think beginners need to experience having that space to learn so they can feel confident.”
That explains why I’m such a flailing mess on the ice rink – but I feel confident that with a few more ice sessions I’ll be gliding around just like Ai Ling. And even though I’ve enjoyed myself, my favourite part of ice skating is the hot, creamy coffee I drink afterwards.