It was one of the hottest days during a summer replete with hot days when I had the opportunity to speak with Jessica Lee about ice swimming.
In her book “Turning: A Year in the Water”, the Canadian author writes about how she explored her adoptive home Berlin through swimming. She especially likes swimming in winter when she has the lakes all to herself. “It hurts for 15 seconds, and then it’s bliss”, she explained to me. I listened rapt. What she described seemed inconceivable to me, someone who finds washing her face when there’s no warm water to be dreadful. But strangely enough, after talking to her and reading her book, I felt intrigued. Should I maybe try this out?
On the first cool day in September, I felt like a hero when I went swimming in Krumme Lanke. In October, it was already starting to sting. But I was hooked. In November, I went swimming near Mödlich in the Elbe. That earned me a few admiring glances (on the one hand) and headshakes (on the other). But I felt great. Whether it was simply because I had prevailed and done something that just a short time ago had seemed impossible, or because the cold water actually did lead to an increased release of happy hormones, I might never know. Maybe my body was simply just happy to have survived.
In January, I went for a swim in the Ladies Pond in Hampstead Heath in London. No one looked at me oddly there. The English have a high tolerance for all manner of eccentricities. In fact, I even met a group of older women who were seasoned practitioners of my new hobby. They shared with me their wisdom and rule of thumb: “One minute per degree”.
Three weeks ago (with the outdoor temperature and wind chill still merciful), I finally nearly achieved the pinnacle: I dipped into an ice hole. It was a bit difficult to get my clothes back on as my fingers had gone stiff. But it was otherwise great. And the best thing about my new hobby: Berlin is the perfect place for it. There is plenty of water and it certainly stays cold long enough.