To the Danish border

Wednesday 9 May 2018. Schleswig
We started the day in Schleswig, exploring the castle area where Ian’s enthusiasm to walk a couple of kilometres to see the baroque gardens of the ducal palace was not matched by mine.

Schloss Gottorf, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

He reluctantly compromised and we spent a pleasant morning revisiting the tiny village of Holm. This consists of a few streets of pretty scandinavian style houses dating from the 1700’ built in red brick with attractively shaped windows and steep red-tiled roofs gathered around the village church set in the centre of the flowering enclosed cemetery at the heart of the community. Outside the village houses plants climbed the facades. Climbing roses grew against the walls and pots of shrubs decorated the old doorways. It was a charming place.

Holm, Cemetery, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

Holm, Harbour, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

Holm, Houses, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

We returned to the centre of the rather scattered town to find the Cathedral whose spire we had noticed across the water from our campsite at Hedeby. It contains a number of remarkable monuments including the Renaissance cenotaph of Friedric I and an altar by Hans Brüggemann. Many of the churches and cathedrals in northern Germany are brick built and in Schleswig's cathedral there are many elaborate examples of the bricklayers skill.

Dom. St Petri, Spire, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

Dom. St Petri, Nave, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

Dom. St Petri, Brickwork, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

Dom. St Petri, Cenotaph. Friedrich I. 1523-1533, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

Dom. St Petri, Altar. Hans Brüggemann. 1514-1521, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

Dom. St Petri, Altar. Hans Brüggemann. 1514-1521, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

But it is also notable for a rather less commendable reason. In the cloisters were a series of medieval murals - but they seemed almost too good to be true, although they had been much admired during the 1930s. Ian noticed the image of a turkey on one of the murals and the penny dropped. He had read many years ago about the restoration of these paintings. In 1937 they had been restored by Professor Ernst Frey whose work was greatly acclaimed as shedding new light on the genius of the Germanic race. The presence of a turkey on the early gothic paintings only enhanced matters, despite the fact that at the time the murals were executed it was only to be found in the Americas. It demonstrated that it was not the degenerate south Europeans that had discovered America but the flaxen-haired Germanic Vikings that were based in Haithabu, just across the water from Schleswig. It was they who had introduced the turkey to Europe centuries before the Spanish. It was not until after the war, in 1952, that the truth was revealed when the same Professor Frey and his gifted assistant Lothar Malskat were accused of repainting rather than restoring the medieval murals of the Marienkirche in Lubeck which had been gutted in the blitz in 1942. It was then realised that the same thing had happened in Schleswig. The aged August Olbers who had repainted the Schleswig murals in 1888 - an age when respect for the original was not so sacrosanct and reinterpretation was more acceptable, came forward to say that it was he who had painted the turkey, not with any fraudulent intent, but simply to fill in a blank space with a creature that looked appropriate. In 1955 they were imprisoned for fraud, the offending murals in Lubeck that had been so admired were removed but those in Schleswig remain.

Dom. St Petri, Cloisters. Murals. Turkey, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

Dom. St Petri, Cloisters, Schleswig, Schleswig-Holstein

It transpired that yesterday was a public holiday which explains why we found all the shops closed. Fortunately we had all we needed. Today though we again found everywhere shut. It seems to be a habit right across Europe and much of the time we have little notion as to why. They don’t have fun on bank holidays though. They are intended for religious contemplation or possibly for youngsters to take their first communion. That seems to have been the case today where there has been considerable bellringing in the little towns we have passed through and youngsters looking smart and self conscious as they gather with their families outside the local churches.

Thursday 10th May 2018, Dagebüll
At last we are back where I have wanted to be, here among the polderlands of northern Germany just a few kilometres from the border with Denmark. Ian has links with the area dating back to his teenage years when he came here and even went to school in Niebüll for a couple of weeks where he assisted the English teacher by helping his classroom companions with their pronunciation. We had learned that the same teacher is still alive and well and living in the area so perhaps tomorrow, if she is willing, we will attempt to call on her to say hello.

This area is such a contrast to the hectic motorways and busy towns where I have developed an avertion to driving. I am dreading the endless drive back to England which we will need to start over the next few days. This is particularly annoying as we have only now reached the area we want to be. Our hopes of actually getting up into Denmark look like being unfulfilled.

Yesterday we spent in Flensburg, probably as near as it is possible to get to Denmark without actually being there. Prices in the town are in both Euros and Kroner.

Grosse Strasse, Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein

We camped near the little town of Leck which we visited the following morning. There was not a great deal to see although the precinct of the church had some interesting things to look at, including coffins recovered from submerged settlements, evidence of the region's continuing struggle with the sea.

Coffins, Recovered from submerged settlements, Leck, Schleswig-Holstein

Church, Romanesque stone doorway, Leck, Schleswig-Holstein

Later this morning we finally reached Niebüll. It, like much of the rest of Germany, seemed deserted. Niebüll seems to have changed a great deal since our last visit. Lots of the little shops in the town have disappeared and been replaced by big, new blocks of offices and shops. They still look smart but lack the charm of the old houses they have replaced.

Ian sought out the house where he used to stay at a teenager visiting Germany on his own for the first time and staying with friends of his mother, who, ninety years ago, was herself a student of German and visted the area. Then we found the school which looked a lovely place.

Hungerfennenweg, Ian's home in Niebüll, Schleswig-Holstein

Friedrich-Paulsen-Schule, Niebüll, Schleswig-Holstein

Stadtpark, Niebüll, Schleswig-Holstein

Stadtpark, Niebüll, Schleswig-Holstein

Stadtpark, Niebüll, Schleswig-Holstein

We were keen though to refind the old campsite out at Dagebüll from where the ferry leaves regularly throughout the day carrying passengers, cars and freight to the nearby islands of Föhr and Amrum. The campsite no longer exists! It now lies beneath an area of tarmac in what is now the rapidly growing ferry terminal! It is another world here now! A new housing complex has sprung up where speculators have bought up newly constructed timber-framed houses as holiday rentals. Now there is a modern campsite attached to the newly built hotel also catering for the holiday makers they hope will be pouring into the quayside area of Dagebüll.

So we are camped here until at least tomorrow. The day has been cool with even a couple of drops of rain. The wind whistles in across the north sea and any cobwebs we may have gathered during our endless driving have been blown completely away. Having parked Modestine we have walked the one street of bars and cafes that have become Dagebüll and then taken a walk behind the dyke that protects the little village cottages from the worst of the wind blasting in from across the sea. It is still a beautiful place but its natural charm has been spoilt. Such is the price of progress. Maybe we will feel differently tomorrow and if the weather is half-decent we may take the ferry out to Föhr for the day.

Dyke repair works, Dagebüll, Schleswig-Holstein

Ferry, Dagebüll, Schleswig-Holstein

Ferry, Dagebüll, Schleswig-Holstein

NEG railway terminal, Dagebüll, Schleswig-Holstein

Ferry, Dagebüll, Schleswig-Holstein

Friday 11th May 2018, Dagebüll, North Friesland
Well today the weather was perfect for a ferry trip. So we got up early and were at the port, a five minute walk up the road, for the 8.30am ferry this morning. An hour later we were on the quayside on the island of Föhr. It lies a few miles offshore and is roughly eight miles by six. From Dagebüll it shows as little more than a dark smudge on the horizon.

Ferry port from sea, Dagebüll, Schleswig-Holstein

Warfte, Langeness, Schleswig-Holstein

From sea, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

From sea, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Ferry port, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Ferry port, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

There are no tall buildings on the island which, as everywhere on these reclaimed polders, is low lying. It is perfect for cycling but since Ian’s accident in France he will not use his bike and we are obliged to walk. The day was hot but with a cool breeze. We set off along the shore intending to walk to one of the island’s villages and after lunch catch a bus back to the port. However, my foot gave out when a couple of the bones in the sole of my foot got twisted. I limped back to Föhr, some three kilometres from the beach. There was plenty to see and do around the little town but it was a pity our walk had been ruined. This evening I am much improved but the bones were awkwardly twisted and my foot is still swollen and rather painful.

Just inland there are cool cycle paths through the woods and families were out cycling to more distant villages. It is so very frustrating being here without our bikes. However, back in the town we bought shrimp-filled baguettes for lunch, then followed them up with baked fish baguettes with a couple of beers. Sea air makes us really hungry. All in all a very enjoyable day with perfect weather. Ian looked round the town museum dealing with the fishing industry, agriculture and whaling. I slept on the grass outside in the sunshine, not being up to limping round the lovely thatched farmhouse hosting the museum.

It has to be said that we have been rather lazy, spending the day sampling all the nice foods this area has to offer. Just before returning to the ferry this evening Ian insisted he needed to treat himself to coffee and kirschtorte (cherry cake). We nearly missed the ferry as a result.

Beach chairs, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Flood monument, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Tower, Monument to German acquisition. 1864, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Insel Bote newspaper offices, Andersen plaque, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Insel Bote newspaper offices, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Friesisches Museum, Emigration advertisement, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Friesisches Museum, Whale's jawbone, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Friesisches Museum, Farmhouse, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Friesisches Museum, Windmill from Langeness. 1920, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Friesisches Museum, Bronze age burial, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Friesisches Museum, Barn, Wyk auf Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Visibility had improved on our return journey and the Halligen were clearly seen on the horizon. These are slight rises in the land where subsistance farms were built in the past. The Haligen were formed by storms and high tides washing over the low lying land leaving a few areas of higher ground that show up as islands on the horizon at high tide but at other times it is possible to cross between them. There used once to be a sail-driven train that ran on a track linking the halligen when the tide was low. This may still exist. When we were last here we watched as the sail train preservation society, consisting of three or four locals and a large crate of beer, loaded up the battered “train,” raised its sail and disappeared off into the sunset bringing emergency supplies of beer to the residents of the halligen along the way. Now the area where the train was once housed has also been swallowed up by the development of the ferry port, just like our old campsite. So many happy memories are lost by the march of progress.

The boat trip was really interesting in both directions. We were intrigued to see what looked like birch trees growing directly out of the sea and marking the route of the dredged channel out to Föhr. On the way back the tide was at its lowest and the sea had many large sandbanks between which the ferry needed to navigate its way. The birch trees marked the edge of the sandbanks while on one of the bare areas of exposed sand a seal lay wallowing alone, enjoying the warmth on its body. They apparently need the sunshine to absorb vitamins which helps their hair to grow, thus protecting their bodies from the harmful rays of the sunlight!?

The journey back took much longer as the ferry was obliged to weave its way laboriously around and between the sandbanks. Its keel churning up sand as it made its way slowly back to the mainland. Presumably the route is regularly dredged but we were astonished just how shallow this part of the North Sea actually is. At low tide many of the haligen would be above sea level and probably would only become islands at times of particularly high tides.

Living on these islands must be weird. The houses there are very nice and are well built. The only town on Föhr, Wyk, relies on tourism for its income. It is far larger than Dagebüll on the mainland and exists by providing holiday accommodation and tourism. The early morning boat arriving on the mainland this morning was crowded with people returning from holiday but also with regular commuters who presumable had found employment in Niebüll.

One ferry left just before us this morning carrying tanker lorries taking fuel out for use by the islanders. There must be garages out there somewhere but we saw nothing in Wyke.

Warfte, Langeness, Schleswig-Holstein

Mudflats at low tide, Föhr, Schleswig-Holstein

Tree as channel marker, Dagebüll, Schleswig-Holstein

All said we had a delightful and restful day. This evening when we returned to Modestine we phoned the English teacher Ian knew here when he was a teenager. We have arranged to call on her tomorrow before we move on from here. A quick check on google maps to locate her house showed she lives just six minutes from where we are camping! It would have been regrettable if we did not manage to see someone whom Ian has known, however slightly, for nearly sixty years!

Saturday 12th May 2018, Husum, North Friesland
Well this morning passed very well. With time to spare we took a drive out through some of the isolated farmsteads lying alone on the polders. We discovered the tiny hamlet of Neugalmsbüll with a stunning church. Dating from the 1890s it is a perfect example of all that was right about the Art and Crafts movement. It was also interesting to realise how international the movement was. No expense had been spared to produce the very best craftsmanship, both inside and outside the building. The church and its lovely cemetery has been laid out to perfection with exactly the right amount of space around the church and within the surrounding cemetery. There were colourful shrubs surrounding the pristine graves. The village was silent and deserted. It seemed so strange to find such a stunning architectural building silently standing out on the polders.

St Gallus-Kirche, Interior, Neugalmsbüll, Schleswig-Holstein

St Gallus-Kirche, Interior, Neugalmsbüll, Schleswig-Holstein

St Gallus-Kirche, Font. 12/13 century. From sunken Rickelsbüll, Neugalmsbüll, Schleswig-Holstein

St Gallus-Kirche, Exterior, Neugalmsbüll, Schleswig-Holstein

So delighted were we with this unexpected sight we missed our turning and became lost amidst the polders. Stopping for guidance at a farmhouse we were redirected across the polders to a parallel road where we found Margret’s house, recognisable by the whale’s jawbone at the front of the huge farmhouse. Our understanding is that a member of the family had once worked with a whaling fleet and somehow brought the massive jawbone home as a souvenir!

We chanced on a very favourable day to call. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day in Germany and both Margret’s sons were visiting for the weekend. We had never met them, and indeed it is several years since we were last in North Friesland and last visited Margret. Since then she has been ill but is determined to continue living her independent life helped by friends. She now rents out her land to neighbouring farmers and no longer has her animals, except for her one-eyed cat. Gone are her peacocks, her large dog, her hens and other animals.

Her sons were charming and highly sociable. We sat with our coffee around the kitchen table and the time sped by. Both sons speak excellent English and the conversation was conducted almost entirely in English. Margaret of course was an English teacher. It was a courtesy for my sake but I think they enjoyed using the language in earnest. Thank you all of you for a delightful morning.

Leaving our hosts waving goodbye as we drove along the die-straight road across the polder we found ourselves in the tiny town of Lindholm. It boasted nothing but a bread shop and an Aldi supermarket. The two things we needed just then were a bread shop and a supermarket! Perfect. Breadshops here tend to have little cafés attached. So we relaxed with coffee and salad rolls before restocking our supplies cupboard in Modestine and continuing southwards to Husum where we are camped this evening. We spent the afternoon down in the town with its attractive houses, its quayside, many museums, castle and surrounding wildlife nature reserve. The writer Theodore Storm came from here and is greatly honoured and respected by the town. This is evidenced in the street names, the name of the main hotel and the plaque and statue on the town’s main square.

Harbour, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein

Harbour, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein

Wattensee, Aerial photograph, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein

Stormhaus, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein

Stormhaus, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein

Storm's parents' house, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein

Marktplatz.Gabled house. 16th century, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein

Schloss, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein

Schloss gateway, 1620s, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein

Schloss gateway, 1620s, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein

Schloss, Husum, Schleswig-Holstein

This evening we are camped with a view of the mudflats where the sea and the land meet. Gradually land is being reclaimed from the sea. Hurdles are set up on the mud and when there is a high tide water washes over the hurdles bringing mud that catches behind and gradually builds up on the landward side which is then planted with marram grass or similar to stabilise the ground. It is only a matter of time though. Every year the tides are higher and there have been numerous floods here during recent decades, each seemingly greater than the previous ones. After supper this evening we walked down to the seashore and out along a raised wooden jetty so that the mud lay beneath and all around us. The sunset suffused the mud and reeds with a bright orange glow while the wind carried the strange, melancholic sound of the sea birds searching the mud for worms. Out on the low horizon were the inevitable haligs set in a flat grey sea, temporarily aflame with the sunset.

Land reclamation, Hurdles, Schobüll, Schleswig-Holstein

Wattenwanderung, Schobüll, Schleswig-Holstein

Storm flood marker, Schobüll, Schleswig-Holstein