We are fortunate enough to be within walking distance of a large lake, offering us a pleasant place to  walk every morning. I wrote it up for the blog shortly after we arrived in Hamburg.  This time of year it is usually fairly quiet except on weekends, when the walkers and joggers come out in earnest no matter how cold it gets.

The Alster lake freezes over every decade or so, on average, but the last couple of years have been exceptionally cold.  When the temperature drops to below freezing for a sufficient number of days for the ice to get thick, the city allows commercial vendors to invade the perimeter, setting up booths for the sale of everything from skates to mulled wine, mittens to waffles. The Alster Ice Festival is on!

Then the hordes descend. The estimates vary considerably, but 100,000 Hamburgers were out on the ice on Saturday, and the current guess is that a cool million, over half the population of the city, will have visited the lake by the end of the festivities on Sunday night.  The ice was jammed!


The official festivities started Friday, February 10, and will run through Sunday, the 12th. It’s being billed as Germany’s largest winter party. The lake froze last year, but the last Alster festival was fifteen years ago. Yesterday, there were impromptu ice hockey games, children playing with adults, awkward amateurs with flashy stickmen.

Out on the broad white expanse, people of all descriptions took delight in simply walking on water.  Some skated, others cycled, parents pulled the children on sleds, offering many youngsters a first time experience.  Dogs barked.  Teenagers looked cool, which wasn’t hard to do with the wind chill.


There is even an Alster Golf tournament! No need to worry about your ball landing in the water.  Just be sure to bring a colored golf ball.  It is all very peculiar and interesting. It is the first time I have ever witnessed well-dressed matrons strolling along in fine mink coats and hiking boots.  There were rescue teams, paramedics and helicopters hovering overhead.  The surface is very rough in places, and I saw one poor skater being taken off the ice in a sled.


I am delighted that we happened to be here for this event, but I suspect that global warming will throw a spanner in the works sooner rather than later.  I doubt if my grandchildren will be able to see this even if they put it at the top of the bucket list.

The festival is a little too popular for my taste, but the ambiance has charm, reminiscent of the paintings of Bruegel and other Dutch artists. I am glad to say that the sleds are made of wood and everyone is self-propelled. Some of the fuel may be alcoholic, but by Monday everything will be back to normal.  The Alster will be ours again for another week.  Although the days are getting longer,  our time in Hamburg is running out.

Click on any picture alongside this post to see more action.