Visitors must dress warmly as they stroll through the frozen backdrop – at the world’s largest ice festival in Harbin, China. Some jump half-naked into the Songhua River, others marry here.
Fire and Ice
The official opening of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival is celebrated with fireworks, usually on January 5. Harbin is located in northeastern China in Manchuria. Thanks to Siberian winds, the temperatures here drop to -10 to -25 degrees Celsius in winter – and below. Ideal conditions for the ice festival, which – depending on the weather – lasts until the end of February.
Candy colors illuminated
There are events and ice structures all over the city. The most spectacular sculptures are on two central exhibition areas, for which visitors have to pay admission. One of the grounds is open at night and the frozen buildings are illuminated from the inside with colorful LED lights. The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival will take place for the 36th time in 2020.
There is nothing that cannot be built from ice – full-size palaces, bridges and cathedrals as well as larger-than-life figures. Some towers are over 50 meters high and are constructed from blocks of ice or bricks. Many buildings have ice slides, like years ago a replica of the Great Wall – fun not only for children.
A train to nowhere
If a railroad seems to be stuck, then it is – frozen and disproportionately frozen. Quite different from the metropolis of Harbin, which is an important center for politics and business, science and culture in northeast China – and a gateway to trade with Russia.
The main attraction of this year’s exhibition is said to be this snow sculpture. Artists from a dozen countries contribute their works to the ice festival, which of course they have to produce on site – and which do not survive the summer. Around 170,000 cubic meters of ice blocks were installed at the festival in Harbin.
Artists and their helpers
To sculpt the blocks of snow and ice, the sculptors work with chisels, ice axes and saws. They cannot do this on their own – over 12,000 workers work here in multi-shift operations for weeks.
Put the last hand on
Not only buildings and monuments are made of ice – every conceivable shape is possible in the competition of ice sculpture designers. Who masters, carves and mills most skillfully? An Indian artist completes his work here.
Where does the raw material for art come from? Above all, farmers who grow maize and soy in summer and whose soils are frozen in winter get the 400 kg ice blocks from the Songhua River. A conveyor belt takes care of the further transport. The farmers earn 2.5 yuan – 32 cents per block. With a 12-hour shift, they get around 64 euros a day.
Just don’t fall into the water …
The ice in the river has to be cut first. The ice farmers do that with swing saws. They cut the frozen surface of the Songhua River into rectangles until it looks like a bar of ice chocolate. You have to be careful not to slip and fall into the freezing water.
… or deliberately jump in
Some visitors to the ice festival, on the other hand, absolutely want to go into the icy water – like these participants in a swimming competition. Simple winter swimming in the Songhua River is also part of the snow and ice festival.
Catch a breath
One can assume that most swimmers want to get out of the water quickly. However, even if the water temperature is barely above zero degrees Celsius, the air above is always colder. Much, much colder.
Don’t tell anyone that the ice-cold elegance is not romantic: Many hard-boiled couples brave the cold to make their bond at the festival. These are queues for a mass ice and snow wedding. Unfortunately, they can’t wear off shoulder wedding dresses.