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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German Chancellor Scholz tests positive for Covid after Gulf tour

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has tested positive for the coronavirus and is displaying mild symptoms after returning from a tour of the Gulf, his spokesman said Monday.

German Chancellor Scholz tests positive for Covid after Gulf tour

The 64-year-old Social Democrat is isolating in his apartment in the chancellery, and will attend meetings online, spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said.

At the weekend, he visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar on a hunt for new energy sources after Russia cut gas supplies amid tensions over the Ukraine war.

He signed a deal Sunday for the UAE to supply natural gas and diesel to Germany.

READ ALSO: UAE to supply Germany with gas and diesel 

Meanwhile Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, also of the SPD, announced via Twitter on Monday that she had tested positive for Covid.