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Ice bathing in Berlin: How to swim like a Viking this winter

From cold showers to your first icy dip, let us be your guides to one of the city’s favourite winter pastimes. All you need is a towel, warm clothes and a freezing-cold lake.

Image for Ice bathing in Berlin: How to swim like a Viking this winter

From cold showers to your first icy dip, let us be your guides to one of the city’s favourite winter pastimes. All you need is a towel, warm clothes and a freezing-cold lake. Photo: Imago Images/Fotostand

There might be less ice and snow in Berlin than, say, Norway, but Eisbaden (ice bathing) – diving into freezing waters in mind-numbing winter temperatures – is perennially popular here. So if you’re seeking an adrenaline hit to replace last winter’s dance floor thrills, it might just be the perfect new hobby.

We compiled everything you need to know about ice bathing in Berlin.

Ice bathing: Wellness for hardy Berliners

We’ve all seen those intrepid souls striding out for an icy lake swim as the rest of us huddle on the shore. Some do it as a one off – to raise money for charity, to demonstrate physical prowess – while others count it an essential part of their winter routine.

There’s logic behind the apparent madness. Ice bathing certainly puts you in a good mood, stimulates circulation, blood flow and wakes you the hell up. It sharpens your focus and trains the skin and body to deal with cold. This all requires some preparation and experienced supervision: the physical shock of the cold can quickly become overwhelming or even dangerous for the uninitiated.

Exercise, energise and make friends

In Berlin there are two groups dedicated to ice bathing: The Berliner Seehunde (Berlin Seals) and the Ice Dippers. The Seehunde have existed since 1980, meet weekly at the Orankesee open-air swimming pool and organise an annual ‘ice carnival’ – where they also swim in costume. The Ice Dippers are more loosely organised, but they also meet once a week at Plötzensee, Weißensee or Treptower Park when the temperatures are low.

But due to contact restrictions, ice bathing has become more difficult during the pandemic. The Seals won’t accept new members until further notice and have cancelled all dates for their winter bathing season. The Ice Dippers are also refraining from swimming en masse, but will still meet in small groups. Beginners and the curious can join via their website on Facebook.

Image for Ice bathing in Berlin: How to swim like a Viking this winter

Ice bathing is also said to prevent or shorten illnesses – although this remains clinically unproven. Photo: Imago Images/Forum

Take it slow: Ice bathing requires preparation

If you’re interested in trying an icy dip, start building up your tolerance by alternating hot and cold showers at home – one to two minutes each. A cold bath is also recommended. This may only be ice bathing lite, but you’ll immediately feel the invigorating effect. It’s also advisable to begin lake swimming in autumnal temperatures and slowly get used to the cold.

If you dare to take a full icy plunge, it’s important to come equipped: a padded seat, a towel, warm clothes. A thermos flask with a warming drink is also important. Before entering the water, breathing exercises help increase blood oxygen levels and prepare your body.

Ice bathing itself is a shock at first, as though there’s the weight of an adult sitting on your chest. Experienced ice swimmers say that this is only mental, and often remain stoically in the water for many minutes, which they say helps them build a certain resilience for everyday life – or inner calm. 

Short-term pain, long-term gain: Ice bathing as a health boost?

Ice bathing is also said to prevent or shorten illnesses – although this remains clinically unproven. This, too, is might be all in the mind.

But what all ice bathing aficionados have in common is the art of overcoming, or endurance. Some, like the Ice Dippers, don’t just do it for themselves. At their gatherings they collect donations for Kältehilfe – they freeze for the freezing.

Ice dip tips:

  • Build up tolerance slowly – alternate hot and cold showers at home, start bathing in autumn temperatures
  • Never go alone
  • Find experienced companions – the Ice Dippers, for example
  • Prepare: towel, padded seat, warm clothes, hot drink
  • Immediately before: breathing exercises
  • Keep it short – beginners should stay in the water only briefly
  • Afterwards: dry off quickly and get dressed; warm up with a hot drink.
  • Be aware: those who are ill or who suffer from cardiovascular disease should refrain from ice bathing