"Die Natur am Frillensee lässt mich Demut und Dankbarkeit spüren"
... Anni Friesinger

We met the three-time Olympic champion in speed skating for a decelerated winter hike around the icy Frillensee Lake. Text: Florian Kinast, Photos: Thomas Linkel

Reading time: 12 minutes

Anni, the speed skating legend

It’s a late winter morning at Frillensee Lake. The pale sun, which had just peeled its way out from behind the Hochstaufen mountain, is already disappearing again behind the mighty rock face of the Zwiesel. Powerless, dull and completely resigned. These days, it still lacks height, and only in two to three weeks will it scrape the peaks of the mountain massif at midday and send down a whiff of early spring. Until then, it will remain shady, chilly and icy cold here.

Now thickly wrapped in a down coat, Anni Friesinger takes in the last weak rays of the morning, sat on a bench situated on the north shore of the lake. On her bench. Anni Friesinger looks across the icy lake to the peaks and begins to share.

This was one of the most special places in her life, a place of great significance since childhood. “A place,” she says, “where I have always found my way to myself. A place full of great nature where I feel humility and gratitude.” Where she always found peace and the way to her inner being, even during her great career as a top athlete.

Olympiasiegerin Anni Friesinger auf der Frillensee-Runde

Frillensee: A dream for skaters

Frillensee Lake, roughly five kilometres east of the village centre of Inzell, is not only a special place for Anni Friesinger, but also for the development of speed skating in Germany. In 1959, the German Ice Sports Association (Deutscher Eissportverband) was in search of suitable conditions for a nationwide training centre.

“Halensee” in Berlin? “Riessersee” in Garmisch? “Thunsee” near Bad Reichenhall? None of them proved to be any good. Then they discovered Frillensee, one of the coldest lakes in all of Central Europe because of its location at an altitude of almost 1,000 metres and the few hours of sunshine in the winter months. The dimensions were also right: 340 metres long, 130 wide, the ice surface 20 centimetres thick and more – the best conditions for the skaters.

On the tree forest adventure trail

As a child, she used to listen to the old stories, Anni Friesinger tells us, as we make our way along a gently ascending path along the Frillensee stream. To the left and right, information boards keep popping up at the individual stations of the tree forest adventure trail, which have been lovingly created for summer excursionists with children – complete with a barefoot bed and a long jump pit – as well as resting places by the stream. Today, everything is hidden under a thick blanket of snow.

“Thousands of people made a pilgrimage here on foot”

As early as January 1960, the German Championships took place at Frillensee, Anni Friesinger says on a narrow bridge over the stream, and that it wasn’t as lonely then as it is now.

Thousands of people made the pilgrimage here on foot, many marching in from Inzell to be there as Munich’s Josef Biebl qualified for the Olympic Games in Squaw Valley as title holder in the multi-discipline championship.

When the lake became a myth

Word got around about the perfect conditions in the eternal winter shade of the Zwiesel and, over the years, stars from Austria and Switzerland came to train, as well as from Holland and Finland.

Even though they built a stadium down in the village in 1963 – the lake remained anchored in the name of the DEC Inzell-Frillensee Ice Skating Club. It became a myth and the place where little Anni Friesinger completed her first laps, as she recounts, as the lake shore gradually comes into view through the rows of trees.

Der Frillensee ist einer der kältesten Seen in ganz Mitteleuropa
Die hohen Felswände halten im Winter die Sonne ab

From the first steps ...

She was born Anna Christine Friesinger in 1977, over behind the Hochstaufen in Bad Reichenhall. It went without saying that she would soon be standing on skates, given her parents: mother Janina, an Olympic participant for Poland at the 1976 Innsbruck Games under her maiden name Korowicka, and father Georg, also a successful skater. He once came fifth in a German championship. The two met in 1973 at a competition in Berlin.

Anni Friesinger took part in her first competitions as a schoolgirl. “During the week, I usually trained at the stadium after school,” she says, now warmly wrapped on her bench, “but especially at the weekend, we were often here at the lake.” People came from all over the area to skate, do curling and play ice hockey.

... all the way to Olympic gold

At the age of nine, Anni celebrated the first of many German championships; year after year, more were added and, at 18, she was junior world champion. In Nagano in 1998, winning bronze in the 3000 metres was her first Olympic medal, in the same year, the first of 16 World Championship titles, 2002 in Salt Lake City Olympic gold in the 1500 metres.

The 2006 Winter Games in Turin were supposed to be the big highlight and ended disappointingly for the favourite to win multiple golds. More than one bronze medal over 1000 metres was just not possible. And the Olympic victory for the team – little consolation.

The 2006 Winter Games in Turin were supposed to be the big highlight and ended disappointingly for the favourite to win multiple golds. More than one bronze medal over 1000 metres was just not possible. And the Olympic victory for the team – little consolation.

Der Frillensee ist für Anni bis heute ein Ort zum Energietanken

A place full of positive energy to recharge your batteries

During that time, she came to Frillensee Lake time and again. “Especially in phases when I wasn’t doing so well,” she says, “I came to my inner self here and found peace in me. Frillensee Lake is still a place of positive energy for me to recharge my batteries.” A place where she also thought a lot about her father. Georg Friesinger, who died at the age of 43, of a stroke. When Anni was 19.

“Sometimes,” she says, “it still seems surreal to me, like a bad movie. But instead, I also have very fond memories here of our many hours and days.” Like the summers when they visited grandma and grandpa, who had a farm a few kilometres east of Frillensee Lake in the town of Anger.

Memories of how they worked with wood together, of going for a walk to the cross that her grandfather had set up along the path, of hikes to the Zwiesel and the Hochstaufen.

 

"Forsthaus Adlgaß": Ausgangspunkt für Wanderungen zum Frillensee
Anni Friesinger bei unserem Interview im "Forsthaus Adlgaß"

After about an hour, the temperature drops – time to leave. Via a wooden footbridge, the circular trail leads along the shore for a while, then gently downhill towards Adlgaß. On the final stretch, oncoming traffic appears, children pull their wooden sledges behind them to the start of the toboggan run. On weekends, it gets really busy here in winter, and the toboggan run is a popular destination.

Anni sits in the warmth, in “Adlgaß” – the forester’s house. She is often here with her daughters, Josephine, born in 2011, and Elisabeth, three years younger. They come for walks, ice skating on the lake and tobogganing... And for a chat with Christl, their old school friend and tenant of the inn.

A beautiful dream...

Many years ago, Anni once told me about a dream. That she would get a visit from her father and from Jim Morrison, the singer of her favourite band, “The Doors”. Her sister, brother and mum are there, also her long-dead grandparents, there are candles and white tulips on the dining table, The Doors can be heard from the stereo and grandma is making her famous strawberry mousse.

A beautiful dream that could go on like this: After dinner, they go for a walk and then move closer together, mum and siblings, grandma, grandpa and Jim. Anni and her dad. On her bench at Frillensee Lake.

Der Frillensee war früher Schauplatz von Eissport-Wettkämpfen

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