A colony of plush toy penguins occupies an icy hilltop while a bear family made of snow huddles in a nearby cave. Icicles of all sizes are everywhere, glistening in the soft light. A giant castle--also made of ice gives the scene an aura of fairytale magic. It is the Eispalaste, located near Schwarzsee in Canton Fribourg.
The man behind the icy spectacle is 73-year-old Karl Neuhaus, a retired shoemaker. Every year, he turns a large portion of his property into a glittering landscape of palaces, grottoes and whimsical figures.
Love's labour, frost
The process typically starts in November. In addition to his imagination, Neuhaus relies on three key ingredients: iron scaffolding, a sprinkler system and a visit from Jack Frost.
"I have to work with the weather. There needs to be a really cold week at the beginning," says Neuhaus, who's been doing this since 1981. In fact, there were a couple of years when it was too warm to create the sculpture park. For that reason, 2010 marks the 25th birthday of the Eispalaste extravaganza.
Even as a boy, Neuhaus experimented with ice sculpture by breaking off icicles and setting them into the snow--pointy ends up. He then took advantage of fresh water and freezing temperatures to lock his creations into place. It's a technique that he still uses today, along with many more he's dreamed up over the years. For example, he makes "palm trees" by using sliced up umbrellas that he sprays with water over the course of two nights. Ordinary garden chairs get the same treatment; the layer of ice transforms them into magnificent thrones.
"There are always things you try that might not really work, but I keep the good methods," says Neuhaus. He recently figured out a way to create a sturdy, stand-alone igloo using removable wooden frames and plastic sheeting. There's also a pirate ship with an impressive sail. Meanwhile, the highlight of the exhibition is the turreted 15-metre castle. Visitors can climb its stairway to enjoy a birds' eye view of the neighbouring structures--all bathed in pastel lights.
"January is normally the most beautiful," says Neuhaus, adding that every day is a bit different--especially when it snows. While the snow is attractive, too much of it covers up the shiny ice sculptures. When that happens, Neuhaus and his helpers have to brush it away promptly. A flesh spritz of water helps restore the icy varnish.
A family affair
Besides Jack Frost, Neuhaus has a number of...