Public Comment

Commentary: The Importance of Saving Iceland

By Wendy Schlesinger
Friday July 13, 2007

Anything that helps “Save Iceland” and specifically reopen it ASAP, including its landmarking, is on the mark and hopefully neither a day late nor a penny short. 

Everything that Berkeley the town and gown most prides itself on—diversity, love of developing our youth of today into national and international leaders of tomorrow, peace and harmony, physical exercise in a sport and art, getting young people off of the streets, employing them (as staff), walking or briefly driving to a central location... Iceland is all of that. I cannot bear to use the past tense, as the myriad of children I brought there several times a week for many years are still heartbroken, as am I. 

We all loved to skate there, we loved the staff, we loved the disco weekends, we loved the classes and summer camps, we loved the holiday celebrations, all of it. In the many years we skated there, we saw nothing but peace and love. The biggest battle was bragging rights over who skated the best, and Alphonzo, a wonderful early 20-something role model to all the kids, always won hands down. 

We burned hundreds of thousands of calories; the bottom line was really a slender bottom as opposed to the childhood obesity and early preventable chronic disease epidemic we as a nation now face. What the city and university missed “grokking” were the intangibles: How could we have let Iceland close? Is that the freedom of the marketplace, or is it that we merely give lip service to the values we say we hold most dear toward our young people, including UC Berkeley students, who loved late night “curling”—a game played without iceskates and brooms on the ice or something like that—and the UC hockey team so ably led by Cyril, who also voluntarily trained any kid who wanted to learn the fundamentals of ice hockey. 

And let’s not forget the mostly young female staff of instructors, both group and one on one. I saw them take innumerable kids who clung to the side of the rink and couldn’t fathom how they could ever even glide unassisted and turn them into unbelievable graceful whizzes, boys and girls, in less than a year. 

The grown-ups in the St. Moritz skate club would come over to me and offer to teach me tricks, nuances, moves, exercises and more as I made my way around the ice, remembering the self-taught few things I could do from my childhood that were now clumsy and rusty lurchings compared to the kids I saw blossom from their classes and lessons. Marlene had been skating for 16 years and shared all of her knowledge with me as just one person on ice to another. I have seldom met as many gracious and as graceful people as the new friends I made at Iceland. I am sure the constant coterie of parents knitting, reading and clucking their little charges forward to the ice from the cafeteria, at which point the teachers would take charge, still miss each other and the Saturday morning group classes that seemed to stretch on all day as open skate took over. And please don’t forget the birthday parties that took over the cafeteria and still left room for onlookers to be offered homemade refreshments. I have to admit, even a less than healthy Cup of Noodles never tasted as good as at Iceland, after a sweat-inducing one or two hour skate to pop music. 

Bring back Iceland now so we can be true to who we think we are, if there is a civic “we” left. And if you or your family have never been there, ask someone who has, and you will get a feel and flavor of what you are missing. Again, hopefully it is not too late. If we landmark it, we can reopen it. If we reopen it, the staff will come back. If the staff comes back, the old and new skaters will be very happy. How difficult can this be in a town with a university that both pride themselves on a totally can-do attitude? 

Iceland is our Hogwarts; let’s all work to bring it back. 


Wendy Schlesinger is chairman of the Gardens on Wheels Association, dedicated to preventing and reversing childhood obesity.