Munich swimmers take to icy waters in Covid-era challenge

With pools and gyms closed under Covid-19 restrictions, a handful of Munich residents are challenging themselves with a new way to stay active - by swimming in the icy waters of the Eisbach.

Munich swimmers take to icy waters in Covid-era challenge
The ice swimmers Irina Hey and Franz Mayr pose in the water of the canal of the Eisbach river at the English Garden park in Munich on January 16th. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

“The Eisbach is one of the few places where you can still experience something a little crazy,” chuckles Franz Mayr, a 35-year-old therapist who takes a dip every week in the stream through the heart of the Bavarian capital.

His Instagram page “Munich Hot Springs”, which shows bathers keeping fit in ice-cold waters, has racked up 1,700 followers, many in recent months.

“With the swimming pools and sports halls closed, swimming in icy water is a way to set yourself a challenge, even with the pandemic,” Mayr continues.

Swimmers Irina Hey and Franz Mayr go into the water of the canal of the Eisbach river. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

On this blustery, snowy January morning he is not the only one to plunge into the bitterly cold waters of the Eisbach, a tributary of the Isar river, through the city's main park, the resplendent Englischer Garten.

Over the course of the morning, eight swimmers put on their gear, prepare with breathing exercises and then submerge themselves under the 3C (37 Fahrenheit) stream – to the astonishment of passers-by.

“When I enter the water, I feel as if a lot of little needles are piercing my skin,” says Irina Hey, 38, who has come to swim with Mayr.

“Two minutes later the feeling disappears, and you are completely calm,” she confides,  relaxing in the river.

 This morning, the pair spend five minutes in the water.

“Some days more, some days less,” Hey says. “And it's by no means a competition, you can stay as long as you want.”

READ ALSO: 'We are all living the same disaster': How foreign residents are getting through the German lockdown winter

While enthusiasts claim swimming in icy waters improves their health and mood – some even say they have recovered from depression or healed from injuries — but no large-scale scientific studies confirm this.

Even if they're convinced of the health benefits of bathing in ice-cold waters, Mayr calls on newcomers not to throw themselves into a river in the middle of winter without preparation.

“You should start slowly, taking cold showers for a week or two,” he argues.

Or perhaps more cautious Bavarians may decide a swim in the Eisbach can wait until summer, when outdoor temperatures reach an altogether more manageable 20 degrees.

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EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Many Covid restrictions have been dropped in Germany, but some rules remain in place. And as infections increase again, it's important to be aware of what you should do if you get Covid.

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Germany has relaxed or changed many Covid restrictions in recent months. However, with Covid infections rocketing again, people are reminding themselves of what rules remain in place, and what they have to do if they get a positive test.

Here’s a quick roundup of what you should know. 

Face masks

Covid masks have to be worn when travelling on public transport, including planes departing to and from Germany. 

They also have to be worn in places where there are more vulnerable people, such as care homes, hospitals and doctor offices. 

Masks are not mandatory anymore in shops (including supermarkets) and restaurants, but individual businesses can enforce the rule so watch out for signs on the door. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

FFP2 masks have become the standard in Germany, but in some cases other medical masks are sufficient.

There are no longer any entry rules to public venues such as the 3G or 2G rule, meaning that people had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test. 

However, they could return in autumn if the infection protection laws are adapted, and if the Covid situation gets worse.

Mandatory isolation 

The rules on isolation differ from state to state, but there is one general requirement: those who test positive for Covid have to go into isolation at home and avoid all contact with people outside the household. The isolation period lasts at least five days or a maximum of 10 days.

If you get a positive result at home, you should go to a test centre and undergo a rapid antigen test. If it is positive, the quarantine obligation kicks in. If it is negative, you have to get a PCR test.

If you have Covid symptoms, you should contact your doctor, local health authorities or the non-emergency medical on-call service on 116 117. They can advise or whether you should get a PCR test. 

Across German states, the isolation period lasts 10 days, but – as we mentioned above – there are differences on how it can end earlier. 

In Berlin, for instance, it can be shortened from the fifth day with a negative test if you have been symptom free for 48 hours. If this isn’t the case, the isolation is extended until you have been symptom-free for 48 hours and tested negative. But you can leave without a negative test after 10 days. 

A positive Covid test.

A positive Covid test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Anyone who tests positive for Covid using a rapid test at a testing centre can have a free PCR test to confirm whether they have Covid-19. If the PCR test is negative, there is no obligation to go into quarantine.

In Bavaria, the isolation period is five days after the first positive test. For isolation to end on day five you must be symptom free for at least 48 hours. Otherwise, isolation is extended for 48 hours at a time until the maximum of 10 days. 

A test-to-release is not needed to end the isolation, unless the person works in a medical setting. 

READ ALSO: Germany sets out new Covid isolation rules

After isolation, Bavaria recommends that you wear an FFP2 mask in public places indoors and reduce contact for an extra five days. 

The state of Hesse has a similar system to Bavaria where a test is not needed to end the isolation early (unless the person works in a medical setting).

In North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg, residents can end their Covid isolation on the fifth day if they get a negative test (carried out at a testing centre). Otherwise the isolation period continues until the 10th day, or until they get a negative test.

Close contacts of people infected with Covid (including household contacts) no longer have to quarantine in Germany, but they are advised to get tested regularly and monitor for symptoms, as well as reduce contacts for five days. 

As ever, check with your local authority for the detailed rules.


Germany recently provisionally dropped almost all of its Covid travel restrictions, making it much easier to enter the country. 

The changes mean that entry into Germany is now allowed for all travel purposes, including tourism. The move makes travel easier – and cheaper – for people coming from non-EU countries, particularly families who may have needed multiple Covid tests for children. 

People also no longer have to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test against Covid before coming to Germany – the so-called 3G rule. 

However, if a country is classed as a ‘virus variant’ region, tougher rules are brought in. 

It is likely that travel rules could be reinstated again after summer or if the Covid situation gets worse so keep an eye on any developments. 

READ ALSO: Germany drops Covid entry restrictions for non-EU travellers

Vaccine mandate

The mandate making Covid vaccinations compulsory for medical staff remains in place. A vaccine mandate that would have affected more of the population in Germany was rejected by the Bundestag in a vote in April

READ ALSO: Germany’s top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health care workers


Masks are no longer mandatory in workplaces, unless it is in a setting where more risks groups are, such as hospitals or care homes. 

The government no longer requires people to work from home, but employers and employees can reach their own ‘home office’ arrangement.

Tests are also no longer mandatory, but workplaces can offer their employees regular tests.