Frosty Baleen Whale in Liège

Frosty Baleen Whale in Liège

04 Feb 2013 | Leonard Loonen

Travellers crossing Liège en route might have the impression that it is a down-and-out city studded with closed and half ruined factories, damaged pavings, dirty houses. Behind the gloomy curtains they might hear the lamentation about exuberant unemployment figures among the local people. And even when it's not raining, a biting wind howls alongside the Meuse river's quays. On second thoughts, however, the contrary can be observed.


Travelling by train, for instance, you'll notice the new, futuristic Liège-Guillemins High-Speed Train station, with its amazing transparency and its wide arches. Shoppers, for sure, will have discovered the large Médiacité shopping centre on the Meuse river side that opened in 2009. And adjacently the brand new ice rink "Patinoire de Liège" opened its doors in December 2012.

For sure, Liège tries to re-establish its glory of the past.

Actually, it's because the former Liège ice rink, La patinoire de Coronmeuse, wasn't quite serviceable any more; it's also because Liège eagerly want to be recognized as Belgium's first sport city, additionally it's because the Municipality of Liège wants to invest in sport education for the youth, and to provide its citizens with the finest sport facilities. It's rumoured that all the recent construction activities were motivated, too, in order to drastically cut down the high rate of unemployment in Liège (about 20% of the working population, outnumbering the average of 15% in all the Walloon provinces of Belgium). Indeed, Médiacité shopping mall generated 1,200 new jobs, apart from the spin off in tourism and local shopkeepers. But as far as the Patinoire is concerned, those rumours are not confirmed by the PR-official of the ice rink.

The construction of the considerably insulated Patinoire, built between 2010 and 2012, cost over 11 million Euros, raised by the city of Liège and the Walloon federal government (surely not by "Brussels", i.e. the European Union, the Patinoire spokesman told me). On the outside the building is whale-shaped, "une baleine" in French, its jaws being the entrance of a large three level subterranean car park; eventually a well designed vast parking  venue one can drive through without risking to bump against the walls every now and then. The exterior is tiled with frosty-looking grey aluminium slabs, emphasizing the hibernal purpose of the interior.

They call it an "Olympic Ice Rink", which means that it disposes of a 60x30 metres ice surface, the second one in Belgium (Gand had already another rink of that size). It serves to ice hockey obviously, but there's more. It's called a "ice garden" for the whole family and especially for the youngest, providing them with special teaching practices; it has a recreational function for ice dancing, so-called Funny Ice and free ice hockey; it is the only ice rink in Belgium fully equipped with the facilities of sledge hockey for the disabled.

As to ice hockey: although it's an Olympic ice rink, the venue is not yet IIHF-proof. Quite soon IIHF-representatives will test all facilities to check whether this Patinoire is fit for IIHF World Championships. Pascal Nuchelmans, president of the Belgian Ice Hockey Federation, hinted that at least two more dressing rooms will be added on, because of the fact that the present accommodation is too limited. By saying that he implicitly acknowledged that Belgium aims at hosting a World Championship in the near future.

What does Liège have that Gand doesn't? Nuchelmans' reply was loud and clear: "Gand has no stands, so for the IIHF it is no option." The Patinoire de Liège, however, is equipped with over 1,250 seats, easily accessible stands, wide corridors and exits, sufficient buffets, the lighting meets the necessary standards and it is within easy reach, both for those travelling by car and by train or other means of public transport.
To my opinion one improvement would be advisable: the quality of the audio system is below standard. Due to the many smooth surfaces the hall resounds enormously, making the speaker's information hardly audible.

Well, if that's all, Liège, the Sport City of Belgium, can safely stand for hosting a great Ice Hockey Tournament in the near future.

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