Sunday 29th April 2012, Husum, North Friesland Continued
We left Schleswig, making our way along deserted roads across the peninsula to Husum, on the North Sea coast. It was just as windy here as back on the Baltic! However, the day has been dry and, in the main, sunny. We’ve really enjoyed ourselves here. When we came six years ago we were captivated with the town but it was so hot that moving around was an effort. Definitely not so today! We shivered as we reached the wide, open market place where stalls were being erected for a mediaeval fair, all the stall holders wearing fancy dress.
We returned later to find people hurling spears and axes at a huge bear drawn onto a split tree trunk. People were also selling fish rolls filled with raw herrings and other north-sea fish while a mediaeval baker in scarlet hose was baking onion bread in a wood-fired oven on the square. We bought one still hot which we carried around with us for the rest of the morning, causing us slight embarrassment as we later carried the aroma of onions all around the castle, built in the style of the Dutch Renaissance between 1577 and 1582.
We were hungry after our early start so made our way to the harbour at the centre of this lovely little town of 23,000 inhabitants. There are enough cafes, coffee shops, eel and fish vendors and ice-cream sellers around the harbour to keep them all happy. And most people were sitting outside, wrapped up in thick rugs supplied by the cafes, sheltering behind glass screens as they tucked into chocolate gateau and coffee or licked happily at their ice creams! They are hardy folk up here in Friesland – or should that be Freezland? Our lunch of fish rolls with salad and mugs of coffee was really nice, after which we felt able to do justice to the rest of the town.
During the afternoon we visited the Nordsee Museum. This had been closed on our previous visit. Now it is housed in the Nissen House, constructed in a sort of brutalist Art Deco style in the 1930s. Ludwig Nissen was born in Husum but went to America where he made good. He later paid for the construction of the powerfully impressive building which houses both the museum and the public library, including his own art collection.
Currently there is a special exhibition about the floods of 1962 in this area, which is totally exposed to the sea. Dykes have been constructed all along the coast here to hold out the sea with inner dykes as a second line of defence. Several times throughout history the dykes have been breached. Indeed, it was because of floods in the 14th century that Husum found itself on the coast. Previously it had been an insubstantial little town set back inland! The exhibition explained the construction of the dykes and how they have been enlarged and repaired over the years. It also explained about the many tiny islands, known as Halligen, lying out on the offshore mud. The tide along this stretch of the coast goes out for up to 34 kilometres, leaving the sea bed exposed for much of the day. The Halligen are only islands at high tide and they are farmed by perhaps one family with a few sheep. The farmhouse is usually built up on an artificial mound. At high tide the house is sometimes all that shows above the sea! During the storm of 1962 many dykes were breached and whole islands inundated.
These mud flats form the largest national park in Europe and are environmentally protected, being listed by Unesco as a world heritage site. They are of vital importance for sea birds including those on the migration routes from Russia and Scandinavia down to Africa.
The museum also contained paintings by local artists, including of course Hans Peter Feddersen (1848-1941). He lived north of here at a farmhouse out on the polders near Niebüll. Ian has connections with the descendants of this renowned artist through his mother who came here to work in her youth. (Details of this and our re-acquaintance with the family in 2006 can be read at the link below.)
Husum claims to be a town of many languages and there was an intriguing section in the museum on the sound shifts and changes between the different languages spoken here – low and high German, Friesian, Danish and South Jutish. Seeing the same text in each of these languages it becomes apparent that they are all very similar, almost different dialects rather than languages. It was also interesting to see how certain words in each of the languages were recognisably similar in English.
In the basement of the museum we discovered stuffed seals, commonly found along the coast here, sea birds ranging from dunlins, redshanks and oystercatchers to the gigantic sea eagle, the largest bird in Northern Europe.
By the time we left the museum and returned to watch fire eating and juggling at the mediaeval fair it was too late and too windy to drive further. We discovered an overnight parking place for camper vans on the edge of the town. As it has electricity and toilets we decided to try it out. Unfortunately Modestine isn’t geared to this sort of place. Water costs a euro to fill the tank of a huge camper van. We simply want to refill our one litre bottle but it still costs a euro! Nor is there anywhere to wash dishes and naturally there is no hope of wifi. Not one of our wisest moves really.
Wednesday 2nd May 2012, Dagebüll, North Friesland
Over the past couple of days we’ve been staying on an excellent campsite just north of Husum out on the peninsula of Nordstrand. It has been incredibly windy but sunny. It has given us the opportunity to do our laundry and wallow under hot showers emerging pink and clean. It has also given us a chance to catch up on blogging and emails. Here at Dagebüll we have returned to a campsite we discovered when we last passed his way. It is quiet and peaceful, right near the ferry out to the island of Föhr.
Following our night in the parking area for motorhomes, on Monday morning we left Modestine looking comically small beside all the other vehicles and walked back along the harbour into the town. Amongst past worthies of Husum was the writer Theodor Storm. Ian read his short stories when a student, and we visited his home, a museum, on our last visit to Husum. Ian wanted to follow a town trail that took in various houses that figured in his novels or were once the homes of either Theodore Storm himself or his many friends and relations. Luckily the town is delightful and I was happy enough to tag along with him, admiring façades of buildings overlooking the port or respectfully paying homage at the family tomb in the churchyard. I did point out that last night we’d camped where we could because of the awful weather, the motorhome parking area being a port in a storm. Next morning was spent seeking a Storm in a port!
On the way to the churchyard we took in the almshouses of the Gasthof St. Jurgen set in its pretty gardens. Entry was only by invitation but seeing us at the gate the lady trimming the immaculate hedges invited us inside. Continuing our walk I discovered a house for sale that I found particularly attractive, until Ian informed me it was the former residence of the hangman of Husum!
As our walk continued we discovered the Danish Centre. Husum is only a short distance south of the Danish Border. We were curious and went in to investigate the library, complete with Danish librarian and a fully functioning library of Danish books and journals. We asked if we could explore the material and asked whether there were sufficient numbers of Danes in Husum to justify a separate library and what happened to the other minority groups in the town. We were told the town library catered for speakers of Frisian but the Danish community, which is considerable, has its own social and cultural centre. Many of the families have continued to live here since this area became part of Germany in the 1860s. We discovered that there are Danish schools in most towns around here and the one in Husum has over 300 pupils. Despite living in Germany, Danish children follow the Danish national curriculum. The situation across the border is similar for the German population there.
On one of the tables there were coffee cups and a flask of hot coffee. We were invited to help ourselves as we chatted and explored the collection. We’d forgotten this very pleasant Danish custom. A lady at one of the tables heard us talking and began a conversation with us in halting English. It turned out to be very enlightening but we both felt she was in need of psychiatric counselling. She told us she lived in Husum because she was homesick for Denmark but couldn’t go back to live there because of painful memories from childhood. She’d lived in southern Germany for 30 years but had moved north hoping to make friends with other Danes living in Germany as there was no way she could ever cross the border back into Denmark again. Her problem stemmed from the fact that she was the first born child of a Danish mother and a German father. Her parents had met and married just after the war. Her father had served with the German army on the Eastern Front and had been traumatised by it while her mother came to suffer from the national sense of guilt in Denmark that they did nothing against the Nazi invasion of their country during the war. Her parents ended up hating each other and blaming her for their problems so that she fled to Germany to escape the atmosphere at home. It was all a lot more complex than that but the gist of her conversation was that although things may appear fine on the surface between the Germans and the Danes, there are hidden tensions here that time cannot eradicate. Younger generations are fortunately not afflicted and mix happily together but many Danes who lived through the war carry very deep psychological scars and a huge burden of guilt for denying the holocaust that is still afflicting them today. (This is the opinion of the lady we spoke to. We do not know how widespread this view may be.) She also told us that the perception of recent history taught in the Danish schools in Germany would not be the same as that taught in the German schools. This of course is not surprising but difficult if the two communities are to forget the past and integrate.
We have heard before that Danish people are very open about themselves but the intensity of feeling expressed made us feel uncomfortable. We finished our coffee and left as soon as we politely could. We hope the lady appreciated her free therapy session and English conversation lesson.
During the afternoon we explored the peninsula of Nordstrand, much of which has been reclaimed from the sea and is now heavily defended by dykes and drainage sluices. It was dry and sunny but the wind howled in across the polder land causing the triple arms of the giant turbines scattered thickly across the landscape to gyrate in their hundreds. Every two years Husum hosts an international conference on wind energy and markets itself as the wind capital of Europe. We can see why!
Nordstrand, surrounded by mud, is about as undulating as a pancake and is the gateway to the offshore island of Pellworm. Most of the tiny roads serving hamlets scattered amidst the polders run along the top of dykes. The hamlets also tend to be built along the dykes to protect them from flooding.
The reclaimed land - cut across by drainage ditches and used for grazing sheep, are called koogs. We diverted to visit a polder called England koog. After that we got lost and spent ages driving along dykes looking for a turning or a way down. Eventually we reached the tip of the peninsula and parked to watch the small car ferry making its way along a channel of deep water amidst the oozing mud stretching to the horizon as it made its way back from Pellworm. On the quayside excited family groups with suitcases and push chairs, the children clutching kites and seaside buckets, waited to board for the return trip. It’s the school holidays here but what will they find to do on a muddy Hallig with a gale-force wind for a week?
Related links from our previous blogs
Sylt and Flensburg