Oh joy! Berlin’s ice skating rinks have opened for the winter season. As autumn leaves drift through the crisp air, Berlin is lacing up its Nikes, CCMs and Bauer Vapor Speeds to skate away across acres of new, smooth, sheer ice.
Top pick for me is Charlottenburg’s Horst Dohm Eisstadion, a breathless glide away from the Hohenzollerndamm S-Bahn station. Every day from now until the end of February, Berliners will sail, stumble and sprawl across its generous 30 x 60 metre rink, as well as around the heart-pumping 400 metre ‘Ring’ track which surrounds it.
On weekends leggy, bare-headed teenage girls in mini-shorts and tights swoop around children in helmets and elbow pads. Fit young men shoot past them, describing circles, tracing snaking patterns, skating backwards with easy grace. Most males sport t-shirts, hoodies or bomber jackets with baseball caps and low-crotch jeans. Young women prefer off-the-shoulder tops (until the weather turns). This year’s fashion victims are going for fluorescent laces, with many girls choosing pink for their left skate and green on the right. At times the Eisstadion can resemble a vast, brightly-lit dance floor, or an animated H&M teen fashion parade. Apple iPod earphones or oversized white headphones are de rigueur of course.
On weekdays during term time, Berlin’s rinks are taken over by retired men, who sally forth with upright elegance, as well as busy bands of trainee figure skaters, pivoting, spinning, circling and jumping across the ice.
Come December, when the Havel and Spree freeze over, many Berliners forsake the city’s artificial rinks. But as stimulating as it is to sail across an icy lake, surrounded by pines and mulled wine vendors, I prefer the Horst Dohm Eisstadion, not least because I’ve conceived much of my new book at it.
When I wrote my first book Stalin’s Nose, I needed no greater stimulant than mugs of steaming rosehip tea. A few years later – and older -- I felt the need to drink ‘English’ tea for my mid-afternoon kick. Come book no. 4, which was set on Crete, I had to have a shot of a highly-sugared Greek coffee to get going in the morning. When I started my history of Berlin (book no. 9) I found that I needed a whole six-espresso-cup cafetiere to blast myself into caffeinated productivity. Then I discovered skating.
Twice every week over the past four winters, at the end of the day’s writing, I’ve gone skating, with my notebook in hand. As I sail around the rink, I watch the sky, try to describe the light and the trees, let my subconscious find solutions to questions -- and note down the thoughts and observations. I haven’t given up on the coffee but, on the ice, I find myself feeling incredibly alive.
In so many places – and so many unexpected ways – Berlin stimulates the imagination. The Horst Dohm Eisstadion – which rents skates by the hour -- is one of those places.