Magical Helgoland Island in the North Sea, seals, birds, alles wunderschön! This is the recommendation from new German acquaintances. You have to go there, you will love it, they say.
Andreas’ brother and sister-in-law visited from Dietz and suggested that we explore Helgoland. We planned to suggest the same idea to them. Good company made this a fun day. Helgoland, as we might say in America is a ‘trip’, unique, strange, and a little overwhelming.
We drove from Bremerhaven north to Cuxhaven on the Elbe Estuary, our first time in a car since the taxi ride back in Iceland two months ago. My first time on the Autobahn, oh boy! In Cuxhaven we boarded a ship for Helgoland. Andreas and I were happy to be on a ship again.
After a two-hour passage we approached Helgoland and I spied upon it with my long camera lens looking for seals on the beaches. No seals, just people. We docked in the harbor with a few other ships like ours, disembarked and walked with the other tourists towards town. Actually, we had no idea where we were going, we just followed the herd. At one point some of the tourists broke off and started up a hill. We followed this unending, string of humanity to a well-maintained, brick path winding its way along the top of the hill, ‘mountain’ with an incredible view of the sea.
There were so many people on this path on this tiny island in October. Lucky for me a woman in the throng was traveling with an English-speaking boyfriend and was explaining the historical placards along the way. What really struck me along this path; the total lack of garbage. No trash in the weeds, no cigarette butts, no doggie bombs anywhere to be stepped on. This would be a different scene in America.
The path ended in a tiny town with a noticeable lack of cars and bicycles. What?! Germans love both. They are not allowed here. The only vehicles were tiny electric city trucks (the firetruck and ambulance are gas powered) and what I call Amish scooters. Adult size scooters with small bicycle wheels. Andreas read somewhere that children under the age of 16 can use a bike after 5:00 pm between October and March. The town doesn’t want to add street signs.
The island has been inhabited since 697, but the first and second world wars messed that up. Helgoland was bombed heavily during the second world war and then the British used it as a bombing range after the war ended. In 1947 the Royal Navy detonated 6,700 tons of explosives creating the biggest single non-nuclear detonations in history. (The island was evacuated during these times.) The explosion shook the main island down to its base, changing its shape.
Today there is a small population living year-round. It enjoys value added tax-exempt status if you’re looking for cigarettes, booze or perfume. You can also buy rocks. We chose coffee and pastries.
At the end of the day we joined the tourist march back to the ships. A great white migration of tired families. The voyage back was subdued as the travelers sought sunny spots on deck out of the wind or sheltered their families inside. The sunset was magnificent and unusual.
Andreas’ co-worker recommends experiencing the island for a few days staying over night after the migration departs. Maybe you can see seals and birds then.