The ice rinks at the Christmas Market in Cologne, Germany, are now being dismantled, but just after New Years, a glycol leak had the operations team searching for days before they found it. My pal Kai Michael Festerling sent me the pictures and told me the story, and I thought you might like to hear about the ice, the game that is played there, and how they found and fixed the leak.

The Christmas Market has a lot of ice. There are skating corridors that take skaters around the plaza like this one, where a statue of a King on a Horse dominates the view.

The square at the Christmas Market in Cologne
The square at the Christmas Market in Cologne

And the main square, with a merry-go-round to amuse the youngsters, is completely covered. The ice looks lovely and white, but no ice paint is used. The whiteness is due to the construction of the mobile rink itself: the lines of glycol, running under the ice, are white.

Eisstockschiessen – a game not unlike curling

The Germans have their own special kind of curling, and the Christmas Market has dedicated lanes for that. It’s called Eisstockschiessen (translated as Ice Stock) and also referred to as “German Curling” or “Bavarian Curling”. This game is similar to curling, and this mobile rink is using LED lights under the ice to light up the scoring ring in blue and the button target in red. Kai tells me they knew the glycol leak was out there, somewhere, but with 10 cm (4 inches) of ice covering the glycol lines, finding the needle in the haystack wasn’t easy.

After searching for a few days, a slight indentation was discovered near the button target of one of the Eisstockschiessen lanes.

The outdoor rink at the Christmas market in Cologne, Germany
The outdoor rink at the Christmas market in Cologne, Germany

Using an ice pick and then a router, they were able to remove the ice and find the errant line. It was fixed by inserting a new plastic inlet in the broken pipe. They used a shop vac to vacuum up the glycol — and then the fun part began. Bring out the fire extinguishers! They used the CO2 from the fire extinguishers to finish the repair. Take a look!

Using CO2 to freeze the ice and complete the repair

Kai also sent through a behind-the-scenes ice plant. This mobile ice rink is supplied by AST Ice Rinks from Austria. I first wrote about them, and saw one of their installations first hand, when I attended the Red Bull Crashed Ice event in Boston a few years back.

A behind-the-scenes look at the operations.

This mobile ice rink has been used for the ice rink at the Cologne Christmas Market for the past 8 years. The glycol leak, Kai tells me, was a very unusual event.