Hamburg put on ice as Alster freezes

The deep freeze hitting Germany this winter has frozen Hamburg’s Alster Lake for the first time in over a decade. Jeff Kavanagh laces up his skates to go for a spin.

Hamburg put on ice as Alster freezes
Photo: Jeff Kavanagh

It’s not every day you see a man with a bike in the middle of a canal in the northern port city of Hamburg – particularly one on his hands and knees, taking a large hammer to the ice separating him from the freezing cold water below.

“Just checking it’s thick enough to keep cycling,” he calls out to concerned passers-by.

A middle-aged woman clad in a substantial amount of fur grumbles that it is too dangerous to walk on the canals, that warm water beneath the ice is thinning it out. Paying her no attention and having satisfied himself that it is indeed thick enough, the ice-cyclist clambers back on his bike and pedals off. Shaking her head, the woman announces that she’s off to the Alster, Hamburg’s picturesque inner-city lake.

“I walked on it yesterday,” she says proudly.

A hundred metres or so down the road, groups of Hamburgers are happily sliding, skating and cycling across its wide, frozen expanse. Ten-year-old Jörn Bahnsen has come down with his grandparents to try out a pair of skates he got for Christmas.

“Our grandson is to blame for us being here today,” laughs his grandfather. “It’s very exciting for him because this is his first experience of the Alster being frozen. We were here back in 1997.”

A once-in-a-decade phenomenon, the freezing of the Alster is something reverentially discussed in living rooms, offices and bars around Hamburg each winter. In 1997, the ice was thick enough for the city to hold a giant party on the lake, complete with Glühwein and sausage stands.

Click here for Jeff Kavanagh’s photo gallery of the frozen Alster antics.

This year, northern Europe’s bitter cold winter has formed an 18-centimetre-thick skin of ice across the lake. That’s enough for the city’s environmental authorities to give the green-light for the public to walk on the lake, but not the magical 20 centimetres needed to allow tens of thousands of people to gather for an official party.

“We first stepped on the Alster on Monday,” says Julia Hüppe, skating across the lake with ten-year-old son, Sebastian, who’s riding his BMX bike. “We were a bit scared at first, but it was fine.” The only peril facing either of them this sunny afternoon is slipping over in the slush that has developed on the surface after a slightly warmer morning in the city.

Further along sitting on a pier, packing up their skates for the day are Kathrin Hübner, and her teenage son, Max. They have been to the lake every day this week and neither had worries about venturing out on the ice. “If it had been seven or eight centimetres, then maybe,” says Kathrin. “But when it gets to 18, you know it’s totally safe.”

Drawn to the novelty of the experience she says she also loves “how you get a different view of the city and how there is so much space all of a sudden.”

Out on the ice a young woman pushing a pram casually wanders along while a father pulls his children on their sled. Judging by the smiles on their young faces, it’s fair to assume they’ve joined a whole new generation of Hamburgers with their own big freeze to reminisce about.

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Tornado in western Germany injures dozens

Almost 40 people were injured, several seriously, on Friday in a suspected tornado which hit the western German city of Paderborn, the police and fire brigade said.

Tornado in western Germany injures dozens

A police spokesman said the tornado also caused significant damage in the city in the North Rhine-Westphalia state, following abnormally high temperatures for the time of year.

The city’s fire department said on Twitter that “38 injured people, including some gravely” had been taken to hospital. The police said one person was fighting for their life.

Paderborn, fire service added, “Please do not drive to Paderborn on your own without prior agreement of help. If necessary, further units of the fire brigade will be alerted and called in.”

In neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate state, a 38-year-old man died after he was electrocuted when he entered his flooded basement and fell on his head, the police in the city of Koblenz said.

Railway travel was disrupted in the west of the country, as police called on people to remain indoors.

In Paderborn, police estimated the damage caused by the tornado at “several million” euros.

The spokesman reported “roofs torn off, windows shattered and numerous trees uprooted throughout the city”.

View of destroyed cars on a street. A tornado caused massive damage in Paderborn and Lippstadt on Friday 20th May 2022.

View of destroyed cars on a street after a tornado caused massive damage in Paderborn and Lippstadt on Friday 20th May 2022. Photo: Picture Alliance/Dpa/Friso Gentsch

Images posted on social media showed the tornado column progressing towards homes, sweeping away trees and building sections. Other pictures from the wider region showed cars that had been upturned.

The town of Lippstadt, about 30 kilometres away (18 miles), was also probably hit by a tornado, a fire department spokesperson said, though no injuries had been recorded. The steeple of the church in Lippstadt had been destroyed by the high winds.

People stand in front of the St. Clemens Catholic Church in Hellinghausen near Lippstadt, the top of which was destroyed. A suspected tornado caused massive damage in Lippstadt on Friday 21st May 2022. Photo: Picture alliance/DPA/Friso Gentsch

German meteorological services had put out a storm warning for Friday and predicted gales of up to 130 km/h (80 miles/h) in some places.

The bad weather first hit the west of the country and was set to travel eastwards.