Visit Heligoland while it lasts!

January 8, 2007 at 8:49 pm | Posted in German, Global Warming | 6 Comments
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This thought came to my mind today when walking home and once more pondering the issue of global warming. Heligoland is an island in the North Sea. In the ancient days, it was controlled by Frisian, Danish, and British rulers until in 1890, Britain traded it with Germany for Zanzibar. The German name for the island is Helgoland, but the vernacular language spoken is Halunder, which is a kind of Frisian. Today, Heligoland’s highest point rises 61m above sealevel – if the sealevels rose, I suppose quite a big chunk would be torn out of the island’s flesh. It consists of the main island, Helgoland, and the uninhabitaed Düne (dune).

Heligoland is two sailing hours away from the German mainland. It enjoys tax-exempt status, which is the reason why Heligoland is also a popular destination of the so-called Butterfahrten (German, literally: butter trip). A Butterfahrt is a trip with a ship to buy duty-free goods. As soon as such a Butterschiff (butter boat; boat used for such a trip) reaches the duty-free zone, the sale may begin. On the ship. Butterfahrt tourists do not usually disembark the ship at their destination.

Over the centuries, the inhabitable area of Heligoland has been severly reduced, partly due to the hunger of the sea and partly due to the hunger of war:

There was a large allied air raid on the island on 15 October 1944, destroying many of the buildings of the Unterland; then, on 18 April 1945 over a thousand Allied bombers attacked the islands leaving nothing standing.[…] The islands were evacuated the following night.

From 1945 to 1952 the uninhabited islands were used as a bombing range. On 18 April 1947, the Royal Navy detonated 6,800 tonnes of explosives in a concerted attempt to destroy the island (“Big Bang” or “British Bang”); while aiming at the fortifications, the island’s total destruction would have been accepted. The blow shook the main island several miles down to its base, changing its shape: the Mittelland was created.

In 1952 the islands were restored to the German authorities, who had to clear a huge amount of undetonated ammunition, landscape the main island, and rebuild the houses before it could be reinhabited. Wikipedia

Btw, the 18th of April, which has twice been an unholy day for Helgoland, is also the date of my birthday.

Surprisingly, Google Earth hasn’t put Heligoland on the map yet, literally. They are retrieving the data from the sightseeing attractions’ database correctly – but no picture of the island itself is attainable:


This is truly a pity, as Heligoland is probably one of the most scenic natural landscapes of Europe. Have a look at some of the pictures a stefanlb (via Panoramio) took from the Island:


And before I forget: One of my favourite authors from my childhood days was born on Helgoland: James Krüss. And the one book which I’ve probably read a half dozen of times is set on the island: Mein Urgroßvater und ich (My greatgrandfather and me). It’s the story of a boy and a greatgrandfather who spend their days writing poems and stories on the back of the raw planks that are supposed to be made into a boat. Here is an excerpt from the book. Do you notice anything special about this poem?

Zanthens Yacht Xanthippe
war völlig unberechenbar,
trieb stets regelwidrig quer,
prosperierte oft nicht mehr,
landete kreuz-jammerbar
im Haitihafen gar,
fuhr entgegenkreuzend dann
Cubas Blumenküste an.

The next time I go home to my mother’s I should probably take the book with me to read it another time.
P.S.: If you’re clueless, read the comments!


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  1. The initial letters of the poem’s words use all the letters of the Roman alphabet – but each only once and in reverse alphabetical order.

  2. wenn du nicht langsam aufhörst, so’n penetrant korrektes english zu schreiben, geh ich zur FAZ.

  3. hihi, aber ick kann doch dette nich auf deutsch schreibm! und authentisch fehler machen kann ick ooch nich. außerdem ne jute übung für mir selbs, wa?

  4. […] [Thanks to !anaj ,em s’taht.] […]

  5. […] here’s the answer to that […]

  6. Hello from Texas-
    My g-g-grandparents were from this island.

    Throughout my life I have had an image of being on an island that rose from the sea.

    I was searching for photos that might explain this bit of genetic memory and found your site.

    Thank you and best wishes from Texas

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