Koogs and Halligen

Wednesday 2nd May 2012, Dagebüll, North Friesland. Continued
After exploring the peninsula of Nordstrand we returned to the mainland to the excellent campsite at Schobüll, (büll on the end of place-names means a settlement.) Yesterday we gave ourselves a rest. It’s the first one we’ve had since we left Caen and we needed an admin day to catch up on many things. In reality most of the morning was spent giving guided tours of Modestine. People actually formed a queue to see inside once the first person asked. They were all so very friendly and as Ian chatted with the men, I became quite adept at explaining Modestine’s assets in German to the ladies. Each time I did it I learnt lots of new words and once everyone had gone I felt exhausted but elated. I know my grammar is wrong but people seem to understand. I’m delighted with how much I learn every day with Ian to help me.

After that we had another trickle of German campers at the door returning items of washing that had blown off the line while we’d been talking and were now scattered across the campsite!

Remoska, our dearly loved cooking pot, suddenly exploded with a bang as she tried to cook us a risotto for lunch. The cable was burned right through! Fortunately the trip-switch worked but it left us with no lunch and no way to cook hot meals for the rest of our travels. Because she normally does everything so well we’ve not really any other cooking pots and anyway, we haven’t got the space for them. We do have one small pan, gas and an electric kettle so I’m sure we will survive. This is the land of fish. It comes smoked, pickled, raw and tinned. Matjes Brötchen is a raw herring fillet in a roll with gherkins, salad and mayonnaise. It will make a substantial lunch.

Unable to cook we walked up to the cafe at the top of the road where we ordered Bratwurst with Fritten and Mayonnaise and a couple of beers. This was really living!

Pretty village church, Schobüll

Corner of the church yard, Schobüll

Interior of the village church, Schobüll

Doing nothing is exhausting. I went back to Modestine and slept for much of the afternoon while Ian did nurdy map sort of things on his computer. Later we walked down to the landing jetty and the beach. Nobody could possibly land a boat or play on the beach. It was nothing but reeds and mud. The jetty went far out into the mud but the sea was still invisible beyond the horizon. The mud was smothered with the footprints of wading birds and the area was divided into sections by low breakwaters made from hurdles and filled with brushwood. This encourages the mud to collect forming low groins to impede the flow of incoming high tides.

Marking the height of the flooding at different times, Schobüll

Guided barefoot walk across the mud, Schobüll

Sea defences and land reclamation, Schobüll

And so to today. This morning we left Schobüll and drove to Niebüll, the last little town before the Danish border. It is also the place where cars are loaded on to railway waggons and taken across the Hindenburg Dam to the long, hook-shaped offshore island of Sylt. Ian used to come here alone for the holidays when he stayed with friends his mother made here during her youth. He was able to go to school with the children of the family - who were apparently completely uninhibited by their surname of Scheifarth! I have written previously about this delightful area and especially about Ian’s family links here. Please refer back to those accounts for the full picture.

School building, Niebüll

In Niebüll we discovered the butcher’s shop on the high street was serving a cheap dish of the day at high tables standing amidst customers purchasing some of the dozens of different varieties of sausages produced in Germany. (Incidentally, we read that the average German eats 35 kilos of sausages a year!) Local businessmen in smart suits were crowded together at these tiny tables eating meatballs with gravy, fried potatoes and pumpkin. They looked strangely incongruous so smartly dressed squashed together in such a setting. They are called Stehcafes and they really are not very comfortable.

Having explored the town and joined the businessmen for lunch we set off to find Margret’s farmhouse out on the Koog. She used to teach English in the school when Ian was here and she asked him to help in her lessons. Neither of them could ever have foreseen that their paths were to cross again so many years later! She married into the Feddersen family and is now the widow of one of Ian’s mother’s friends from so long ago. We met her when we were here in 2006. We have tried several times to make contact again but there has been no response. So we did not know whether she had perhaps gone into nursing care or possibly died. Our last attempt to make contact was to send a postcard from France with our email address but we received no response.

After some wandering about along the dykes we eventually found the right farmhouse on the Koog. An elderly dog came to greet us. She seemed to remember us as she was undoubtedly friendly. Her bark brought a young woman from the house who told us in French that she came from Belgium and worked for Margret who was expecting us! We were shown into the farmhouse and greeted warmly by a very much frailer lady than we’d seen on our last visit six years ago. She told us she’d been very ill in hospital for three months with a broken vertebra in her neck following a fall and was lucky to be alive. That was why we’d received no answer to our attempts to make contact. However, she had received our postcard and we’d said we would call at the end of April or beginning of May. So she’d got home from hospital just a week ago and had been waiting for us! We were touched and amazed to find a coffee pot and a tray already prepared for our arrival. She told us it had been waiting for three days so as to be quickly made when we turned up!

We are just so very glad we did call despite having received no response to our messages. She was in no condition to do so and is still very fragile with her neck supported in a collar. We explained we were on our way to Dagebüll but wanted to check all was well and arrange a time to visit. So we are invited back for tomorrow afternoon. She explained that the Belgian lady, Patrice, was looking after her and had cared for the farm and the animals, including a family of peacocks, while she was in hospital. Despite living for years in Germany Patrice has not succeeded in learning German. Fortunately Margret speaks French as well as English.

Peacock in the garden

Farmhouse with thatched roof out on the polder land

Leaving the picturesque farmhouse out on the Koog we drove to the sea at Dagebüll where Modestine is camped on pretty much the same patch of grass as last time. From here we can hear the blast of the ferry’s horn as it leaves the quayside to weave its way through the shallow muddy sea along the dredged channel that will take passengers out to the little island of Föhr. The journey takes fifty minutes. We did it on our last trip taking our folding bikes Hinge and Bracket with us for a cycle ride around the island. I wish we had them with us now. This flat landscape is perfect for easy cycling.

Ferry leaving for Föhr, Dagebüll

It stays daylight very late here. We took an evening stroll up onto the dyke and along to the dilapidated work-sheds of the sail railway that has linked the Halligen of Oland and Langeness to the mainland since 1928. In the past it was sail driven, the wind carrying the carts out along iron rails bringing essential supplies and transport to the islanders. Now, although the rolling stock is the same rusted uncomfortable trucks as before with a place for the sail, diesel engines have been fitted and sail is rarely if ever used. As we pottered amongst the bits of iron debris, broken carriages and empty oil drums a couple of men arrived, loaded up an old iron truck with essential supplies of beer, pushed the truck a few yards down the track so they could switch the points by hand, started the engine and trundled off into the sunset! It looked a magical experience as they crossed the dyke and made their way along the rails out across the grey mud flats towards the distant horizon where only a slight bump indicated the island of Oland. With all that beer and the wind dropping it looked like a good night to be out there! Unfortunately the line exists only for the islanders. They do not appear to take passengers.

Dyke with dandelions and beach huts, Dagebüll

Marshalling yard of the track to Oland, Dagebüll

Diesel train setting off to Oland, Dagebüll

Off into the sunset! Dagebüll

We followed the track out for a while, jumping from sleeper to sleeper as the only way of remaining dry shod. It is apparently possible to take a muddy, barefoot walk with a guide across this oozing seabed where the ecosystem and the birdlife would be explained. We contented ourselves with watching the oystercatchers and the wheeling black headed gulls while listening to the sound of the wind and the endless crying of countless sea birds. The tranquillity wrapped around us, alone on the mud. Eventually though we turned around and jumped our way back along the track to the dyke.

Walking the line, Dagebüll

Map of the railway line from Dagebüll to Oland and Langeness

With no cooking pot to occupy us, we sat outside Modestine with glasses of wine watching the sun slowly sink from sight. The air turned suddenly chilly and we were grateful to end the day inside in the warm.

Thursday 3rd May 2012, Dagebüll, North Friesland Continued
During the night Ian wandered off to the loo, disturbing my slumbers and making me realise I too needed to trot off. By the time I returned Ian was already back beneath the duvet having locked the door and not noticed I wasn’t there! I watched the dawn rising as I hammered on the door to wake him. He meanwhile still didn’t miss me and wondered who it was banging away at 4am. In his sleepy state he was completely confused to find me outside. The trouble was, we were then laughing so much we couldn’t get back to sleep for ages, hence it was nearly 10am before we eventually woke up.

After a late coffee we drove in to Niebüll for lunch and to buy some flowers for our hostess. We have spent a delightful afternoon with her in her lounge, surrounded by paintings of local scenes - landscapes, isolated farmsteads, farmers in frozen fields or winter skaters on icy canals. There were also several paintings of family members including a little girl who later became Ethe’s mother and employed Ian’s mum to help care for her. Margret made us wonderfully welcome and spoke, mainly in English, for the next three hours, catching us up to date with family events since we last met. Her active brain is in contrast to her present frail condition but hopefully she will gradually improve.

Ian and Margret

Back at the campsite we got into conversation with a very friendly Dutch couple in a mini camper van. Like us they are making their way up into Denmark and across to Copenhagen. They have given us details of what they assure us is an excellent campsite there.

This evening we took a walk beneath the dyke near the brightly coloured seaside huts watching fishermen digging in the mud for bait.
Digging for bait, Dagebüll

Beach huts, Dagebüll

We were planning to take the ferry to Föhr tomorrow, hire bikes and pedal to a museum of fine art. However, tonight the weather forecast is not good, the electricity on the campsite will be temporarily shut off so we cannot make tea for breakfast and the museum has recently had a fire, destroying some of the priceless paintings on loan from the Netherlands so half the galleries are closed. As we’ve already visited the island anyway we will probably press on up into Denmark instead.

I have deliberately not mentioned in detail events covered in our 2006 blog. Please read that in conjunction with this for a fuller picture of this delightful corner of Germany.

Related links from our previous blogs
North Friesland
Sylt and Flensburg