Learning from Wind, Water and Ice

Sometimes as an adult, you can feel quite static. As a kid, you cycle through your day of play and crafts and learning and sports and talking and being silly and just being. As an adult, especially living through a pandemic and the many compounding crisis that strain our days, it is sometimes simply harder to break the monotony and try something new.


The pandemic brought restraint. And those limitations caused me to rethink the city around me and what it has to offer.

Berlin is a city blessed with over 55 lakes. Most of them are swimmable and accessible via public transportation and bicycle. On a hot summer day, the city heads to the lakes. But in the winter, in the pandemic? It wasn’t really appealing.

Then a friend told me about her ice swimming. Pack a bunch of warm layers, a wooly hat, and a thermos of tea and head to the lake. You stand by the shore, maybe hop around for a few minutes to warm up, and then take the plunge.

“The most important part,” she told me, “is to get your clothes on super fast once you’re out.”

We met almost every week from November until March. Each time, we could see the slow change of the seasons. It got colder. Windier. Leaves fell, frost came. One day we had to break through the ice. More friends joined us. We became a crew of wonderful women who celebrated that, amidst the cold, an invincible summer fired inside of us.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

Albert Camus

In the depth of winter, when the pandemic raged on and the days were dark, we had these moments of bliss on the lake. The water is so cold, it takes your breath away. You have to learn to not panic. To breathe. The first seconds are the hardest. Your body is like, “What?! Get me out of here!” Everything tightens up. But stay with it. Breathe. And then you can relax a little bit. Look around. See the ducks swim by. Listen to the breeze. Feel everything relax.

Once you get over the initial shock, you have a few more moments to enjoy the calm. I didn’t last long in the water. My friend was committed to doing 50 stokes. I usually just waded in up to my chest.

But you come out of the water, hurriedly throw on all your layers before your hands cramp up, and then, once you’re all wrapped up, you get the most amazing rush. Wow. We did it. Let’s do it again next week.


Me doing a spiral!

While swimming in the winter, I thought to myself: well, I’m in the icy water. What about skating on it?

A visit to the Christmas Market hooked me on ice skating. With terrible rental skates that cut into my shins, deep grooves and broken patches on a packed rink, it still felt amazing to glide along the ice. My son also loved it and wanted to go again.

We searched for more ice skating rinks. Again, Berlin delivers. There are at least three proper outdoor rinks in the city. We discovered the rink right next to Tempelhofer Feld. Entry cost 3.50EUR, and you can rent skates for 3EUR more. If you came in the morning, just as they opened up, you had the place nearly to yourself. The ice was smooth, the birds would chirp and even if it rained, you could skate. Over time, I began to recognize the regulars with their well rehearsed moves and their kind tips.

I couldn’t get enough of ice skating. I would go every chance I had—early in the morning before work, during my lunch break, after daycare with my son. Slowly, with the help of a lot of Youtube videos and stumbling, I learned to do some of the moves and a whole new language of this sport. 3-turns, inside edge, backwards crossovers, waltz jump, and spirals.

Amid the ice skating season, our family caught COVID. We were stuck in the house, sick as dogs, and tuned into the Winter Olympics for entertainment. How incredible to watch Nathan Chan’s Rocketman, and Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeronthe dance on ice.

Spring came, and the rinks closed for the season. I learned you can get wheels for your skates that replace the blades. Now I twirl and spin on the outdoor basketball courts next to my office and dance at the nearby roller disco.


Now it is summer, and I’m recalling all of these movements I learned about and how I got to experience the water and ice anew.

I heard you can go windsurfing on Wannsee. I booked a class over a weekend and learned how it works. On the first day, there had been a huge storm. Gusts of wind would still blow by. The waves were choppy. But those conditions were the best teacher. I wobbled and fell most of the time. But every so often, you could turn the rig and catch the wind. Then it felt like flying.

By the second day, we were managing to stay on our boards and even do a beach start. Just a 30min train ride away, I felt like I was in another world. Sunshine, wind and water. I realized I never really thought about how the wind worked and how you could harness it to move. After a few hours on the board, you appreciate how fickle the wind can be—and how powerful. Sometimes you can get the angle just right and cruise along. Sometimes a big gust wipes you out. How do we set a course yet adjust to these ever-changing conditions? How do we ride with the wind and not against it?

I’m enjoying the summer weather. Being in the water now, as a heat wave passes Berlin, makes me grateful for all the swimming I did in the winter, which made me feel more connected to the waterways and the weather here. It makes me sad knowing all the life affected by scorching temperatures, by drought and flood and fire. Yet it also makes me care more. I want these beautiful places and activities to be here for my son, for future generations. May he and all children in Berlin enjoy its wintery waters, the icy rinks and the windy summer days for a long time to come.

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