Carlton Sky Rink #1995

Carlton Sky Rink rink in the nineties in Johannesburg

If you fell on the ice, you had to make fists because some super-jock speed skater would almost certainly skate past you at that exact moment and chop your fingers off. An arm if you were super unlucky. Everybody said so. It happened to people who knew people. No, really.

No matter. We were in.

I wasn’t the only one thinking about bloody, decapitated body parts as we stood at the foot of Carlton Centre looking up-up-up and up at the great monolith that exuded Johannesburg on any given horizon. Concrete for Africa.

I saw my face in the faces of my friends. Like we’d stepped out of a Manga story—moons for eyes, unblinking, quivering, with terror-infused reflective orbs eclipsing both pupil and iris. I tried pull an eyelid closed—just one. I needed the other eye to stay on the lookout. For… But no. Not happening. Probably just as well. This was not the mall, or Boksburg. This was Carlton Sky Rink. Skate or die. Everybody said so.

We looked at one another…

… and allowed the giant to suck us in.

Destiny afoot.

Giggling, holding hands we pushed the button—“sky rink”. There was no turning back.

It was day but it was dark. Ecstatic strobes attacked the ice, which was enveloped by hundreds of blue plastic seats—speechless spectators to stories in the sky. Powder-shaped people floated between the rows. Ghosts of the arena or loose forms against the spray of ice and light, I’ll never know.

Shoes for skates. Like some weird post-apocalyptic exchange programme that would keep us alive in this strange new world. Skates on, we wobbled like babies toward the ice. Alien babies. Blades, digging into the floor leaving tracks. Blunt.

Then, ice.

Smells Like Teen Spirit morphs into No Limit then Ace of Base and that sign.

A warning?

Too late.

Clutching the edge…clutching, clutching, clutching. Braver. Hands let go. Cutting corners. Ramming into the side. It’s fun. So fun. Around and around. Through the middle. Da-nger-ous. Smack. On the ground. The whites of my eyes pulsate in the reflection of the cold ice, only they’re black. Moons eclipsed. Chop chop chop. Blood. Splatter Fists. Fists fists fists. Quick. I’m up.

I’m alive!

We’re alive.

Did you know…

…it’s skate or die at the Carlton Sky Rink. Everybody says so. No, really. We know people.

We’ve been there.


Carlton Centre abandoned Sky Rink in Johannesburg

Photo Credit : Sky Rink – Pinterest, Abandoned Sky Rink – Dirk Chalmers &


Author & Storyteller: Andrea Zanin

Andrea is a writer, wife, mother and dreamer; also the author of this website. She moved to London in 2006 to earn £s, travel, see bands and buy 24-up Dr Martens—which she did, and then ended up staying. Andrea lives in North London with her husband (also a Saffa) and five children. She loves this grand old city but misses her home and wishes her children could say “lekker” (like a South African) and knew what a “khoki” is.


  1. I remember going to the ice rink almost every Friday evening with my nurse colleagues, We were Nursing at the Hillbrow Hospital in the 1970’s. It was 1976 when we used to go to the ice rink. Loved it. Such an awesome vibe and with the pumping. That was the best times ever. What a pity it has been abandoned. Just all the beauty Being destroyed and left by this government. But at least I have very good happy memories.

    1. 1976 – in its heyday! So cool, Tessa! And nursing at Hillbrow Hospital… my mom and dad lived in Hillbrow when they were first married and tell a funny story of their first flat there. It’s somewhere on the site of you dig around, haha.

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