Which myths about Denmark disturb you

Vacation island: A myth silted up

Sylt is the largest island in North Frisia and the fourth largest in Germany. Almost 40 km long and sometimes only 300 meters wide, seemingly endless sandy beaches beckon to the west. To the east, to the German mainland, it is around ten kilometers, since 1935 almost everything has been part of the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park.

Sometimes you can even wade over through the mudflats. Because the Wadden Sea falls largely dry at low tide, apart from a few tidal creeks - and a few deepened routes for the Adler ferries, which deliver thousands of sun seekers to Sylt and its neighboring islands on weekends. There are quicker ways to Sylt than trudging through the silt, but not a single road. The car train connections via the Hindenburg-Damm, the ferry to Remo (Denmark) and the private jets for young wannabes remain.

There are plenty of highlights, besides the Uwe dune, at 52 meters the highest point on the North Frisian archipelago. Most visitors don't stay for months as they did when Westerland - the main town on the island - declared itself a seaside resort in 1855 and insisted on the healing effects of the windy, stimulating climate. Around 1900, tens of thousands of the upper class and the nobility took a bath here, pushing themselves into the Atlantic surf in bathing carts and only then let their cloaks fall. Probably only for a short time, because the water temperature rarely exceeds 17 degrees.

Sixty years later, the idyll of thatched-roof Frisian houses and Wilhelmine bathing villas slowly crumbled when 15-story apartment complexes made of concrete gradually gave Westerland a new, noisy face, soon also with the windsurfing world cup and kitesurfing trophy, Oktoberfest and techno parties and similar amusements.

An oasis of calm for celebrities

It has mostly stayed that way. Because everywhere else it still seems quite quiet, with mudflat hiking and beach walking and beach riding at the tip of your elbow, kite flying in Hörnum and nature trails in the Braderuper Heide. If you are looking for solitude, you will find it too. Or you can dress up for galleries and cabaret. Or both, one after the other. There are also four golf courses, right in the middle of the blooming dunes of the tree-poor island, where small guesthouses crouch and it is nowhere far to the sea. Reinhard Mey has a house here. Theodor Storm and Emil Nolde loved the island. And Otto Waalkes exhibits his pictures in the old Kurhaus.

"The charms of this island are chaste and sparse and draw the mind to grog," wrote Thomas Mann in 1927 about his holiday home in the Kampener Heide, which in 1990 stood on the edge of the North Sea and is now owned by Deutsche Bank. Because the sea eats its way inland at a steadily increasing speed.

The island of Sylt has actually only existed for 400 years, even if it was named that way after 1100 - but at that time you came to the mainland with dry feet at low tide, which has changed in the following centuries. The creeping loss of land, especially on the southern and northern tip of the elongated island, has long been a cause for concern: the dunes migrating eastward threatened settlements and cultivated land as early as the "Little Ice Age" of the 18th century, so that dune grass ("Strandhafer ") was grown.

Since 1870, with the appearance of the first records of annual coastal degradation, the decline in land mass can no longer be denied: the North Sea ate around 50 cm a year until 1951, and since then it has been almost a meter a year, not to mention large storm surges . In 1962, Sylt threatened to break up when the southern tip near Hörnum was briefly completely cut off from the rest of the island. And that can happen again every autumn, when the "Blanke Hans" - that's the name of the North Sea storm, which can pile waves of up to eight meters - is in shape.

The first protective measure was groynes, which had been built at right angles into the sea for over a hundred years - earlier from wood, later from reinforced concrete - to prevent erosion from cross currents, but without any measurable success, which is why most of them have been removed again today. Tetrapods, four-legged concrete elements weighing tons, followed in the 1960s, but too heavy for the Sylt sand and also not very visually conducive to tourism, so that in many cases they were also largely dismantled.

So-called "hopper dredgers" have been in use since the 1970s, ships that pick up sand from zones far from the coast and wash a water-sand mixture through special pipelines onto the beach, which is then distributed by bulldozers. The aim is to replace the eroded sand stock in order to preserve the coastline: Almost 40 million cubic meters of sand in 42 years have been refilled and redistributed in this way.

Expensive maintenance

The annual requirement of around ten million euros is covered by German and EU funds, which are intended to help preserve living space in structurally weak areas. Sylt's location is probably peripheral, a number of settlements on the west side have long been blown away and abandoned by sand drift, but the financial outlay remains controversial. "If Sylt did not have the image of an attractive holiday island, the coastal protection would certainly not exist in its existing form", the study "Climate Impacts for Humans and Coasts Using the Example of the North Sea Island Sylt" left no doubt in 1995 about the general skepticism towards temporary construction sites - Truck loads of pipes, pump noise and beach excavators are also not conducive to holidays.