Riding waves in the middle of the city? A river in Munich's English Garden has hosted surfers and curious spectators alike for 30 years. Although long forbidden, experienced surfers can now ride the waves legally.
It's a sight Munich residents know well: Up to 100 surfers daily hit the waves on a man-made river in the city's English Garden. There, the icy water flows at a rate of 20 tons per second, and the temperature never gets above 15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit).
Up until this summer, surfing in the English Garden was forbidden - at least officially.
"There were times when we really had problems with the police," said 42-year-old veteran surfer Carsten Kurmis. "We lost the joy of surfing because we'd have to keep one eye on the wave and one eye on the street in case an officer came."
Calls to better enforce the surfing ban increased in 2007 after an Australian student drowned while swimming in the river. Swimming is technically still forbidden, but Munich's mayor Christian Ude personally intervened to make sure qualified surfers could still ride the waves.
Now around 200 experienced river riders have registered for access to the city's so-called Eisbach, or "icy brook."
Munich's Environment Secretary Joachim Lorenz explained just why the city intervened to make the Eisbach available to surfers.
"It adds to the image of the city. We're a cosmopolitan city that loves sports, and we're proud to have what is probably the world's largest urban surfing spot," Lorenz said.
Carsten Kurmis sees the issue more personally. He began surfing on a cold November day 24 years ago. Since then, he has surfed nearly every day and sometimes at night - even in winter, when the water temperature drops to around 4 degrees Celsius.
"It's partly the sports aspect, but it's also a way to shut out the everyday. For an hour, you can say: I'm in another world," Kurmis explained. "You're only 10 meters (33 feet) away from a major freeway, but you're in nature and in this completely different setting."
The waves of the future
Kurmis isn't the only one who was glad about the city's move. A group called Surfing in Munich spent three years trying to prevent surfers from being blocked from the Eisbach. The group raised awareness about plans to better enforce the surfing ban and collected signatures against it.
But with increased interest comes increased responsibility, as the 2007 drowning showed. Munich's river surfers look out for each other and prevent the inexperienced from getting in over their heads.
"For beginners, it's simply too dangerous, so the surfers keep anyone who doesn't have much practice out of the water," Offermanns said.
Her group is also trying to get authorization for two other surfing spots in the city - one for beginners and one for experts - especially now that more and more people are heading to the Eisbach in hopes of trying out the waves.
"It used to be that you could surf alone at night, but now there are people there day and night. When there are 25 to 30 people waiting to surf on both sides, it takes so long to get in the water that it's not fun," said Offermanns.
Until then, surfers will have to endure long lines in Munich, but onlookers can look forward to a steady stream of talent.
Author: Anja Seiler (gsw)
Editor: Kate Bowen