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Good Morning

Platt is the country and Platt is the name of the language in the sea-wrapped Schleswig-Holstein, which is stingy with conspicuous charms. But only at first glance.

Michael Schroder


A couple of black and colored cows are standing next to me in the rain, staring curiously with their big, round eyes. Sheep bleat here and there, while I am in wet motorcycle boots and with an altimeter on my wrist strolling across muddy meadows and looking for the geographical highlight of the flat Wilstermarsch under a gloomy sky, namely the lowest point in Germany and thus the counterpart to the Zugspitze. Americans would certainly have set up signposts, takeaways and certainly a rain canopy in such a place. The taciturn residents of Neuendorf simply don’t care about such frills. Collective shaking of my head when I asked for directions in the Dorfkrug, there is really nothing to see there in this weather. Well, I definitely didn’t expect a big black hole. But meadows three and a half meters below sea level, which for a direct comparison splashes against the dike only a few kilometers away, are not found everywhere. I give up, slowly drive on through the Wilstermarsch. On dead straight country roads, all at right angles to each other. Countless canals and small rivers run through this lush green and damp meadow landscape. Around the clock the water is pumped from the pastures into the Elbe and into the sturgeon with electric pumps, otherwise cows, sheep and people would not only sink into the mud, but eventually also into the floods. The strong wind tastes and smells already here pleasant after the salty air of the not far away North Sea and lets the heavy Yamaha rock back and forth quite nicely in the few long curves. Out of the gray veil that hangs over this landscape, mighty farmhouses with trimmed half-timbering and beautiful thatched roofs appear regularly to the right and left of the road. They usually stand in colorful gardens the size of a football field and, as a city dweller, almost burst with envy. The Kiel Canal was opened exactly 100 years ago after more than 9,000 workers had excavated over 80 million cubic meters of soil with their shovels for eight years. Today, the almost 100 kilometer long canal between Brunsbuttel on the North Sea and the Baltic Sea port of Kiel is the busiest waterway in the world, with around 60,000 ships crossing Schleswig-Holstein every year. Dithmarschen begins over on the other bank. The road leads via Marne to Melldorf, two small towns that each had a real harbor over 200 years ago because they were right on the sea at the time. But the captains had made the calculation without the Frisian farmers, who had been exclusively concerned with land reclamation for over 1200 years. They laboriously pushed the North Sea back meter by meter, stubbornly built dikes, which were often washed away by huge storm surges, and slowly converted the diked mud flats into fertile marshland. On the new meadows and pastures, the so-called Kogen, they finally founded new villages, which sometimes only consist of a large estate and are called Kaiser-Wilhelm-Koog, Kaiserin-Aguste-Victoria-Koog or Kronprinzen-Koog. should definitely master a basic vocabulary in Plattdutsch, which here “bi de Dorpsluud”, the villagers, is spoken almost without exception. Most important vocabulary: Moin, moin – that means something like good morning, good day, good evening and good night, but also meal and goodbye. Also important: Kom un Beer, that is, grain and beer and is always drunk in this order. Second rule: Don’t spread hectic, because that is just as undesirable here as a harvassed oil tanker in the mudflats. The fight against the “Blanken Hans”, as the often stormy North Sea is called here, which has been going on for hundreds of years, has shaped the people in Dithmarschen’s Koog landscape and perhaps created something like a marching mentality: You wait, you stay “shy sutsche”, namely nice and calm and let things come to you first. Then there is still time to act. In front of me is what is probably the steepest stretch of road in Schleswig-Holstein. With a total length of seven meters, the daring route leads to the three-meter high dike. The view from above is overwhelming. I see to the horizon – and am still disappointed. Ebb again. No water, no North Sea, just muddy mud flats. Just like yesterday when I was standing in Friedrichskooger Hafen. No trace of the sea. But it doesn’t matter, because the extensive beach of St. Peter Ording, which now stretches in front of me, is Germany’s counterpart to America’s beach mile of Daytona Beach. Here you can still do what environmentalists elsewhere, namely drive a vehicle over the sand and through the mudflats. At least a few hundred meters. Right behind the dike, the Yamaha plows through puddles of salty water, then the two wide slippers lurch over the slippery, gray silt that it is a real pleasure. Up to the imposing pile dwellings, in which many meters above the mudflats on weather- and salt-water-tanned wooden stilts, rustic coffee houses wait for guests who drive and don’t shy away from salt on their bodies. The view from the high viewing terrace is fabulous despite the low tide. Or maybe because of that. As flat as a mirror, the mud flats stretch out to the horizon, above it a cloudy sky. Only now and then does the sun flash through the rapidly moving wisps of cloud and in these brief moments it provides surprising light effects when the rays are reflected in the isolated puddles of water. Only the wind can be heard, whistling loudly when sudden gusts pull through the beams. After a while, the lips and hands taste like salt. Luminous points move far out in the mud – strollers in Ostfriesennerzen, the yellow raincoats that are obligatory in this area. With every step my feet sink down to the ankles in the silt – and in a habitat whose biodiversity is difficult to understand. In other words: life is raging between my toes. Up to 120,000 watt snails live in one square meter of mud flats alongside countless mussels, crabs and worms. A unique ecosystem. In terms of complexity and importance, the tidal flats can be compared to the rainforest in the tropics. Unfortunately, at the moment the weather stands up to any comparison with the rainfalls in the tropics. Brazil is much closer than you think. But more about that later. Left the dike, right eternally wide pasture land, straight ahead the asphalt. I almost overlooked the sharp bend to the left of the road which, just after Husum, leads over a three-kilometer-long dam to the island of Nordstrand. On the other hand, not to be overlooked: beach chairs. Everywhere behind the dike, made of easy-care plastic, set up according to a rigorous classification system, brightly painted, numbered and standardized – sixty-five high, twenty-five wide, eighty-two centimeters deep. Or the classics on the neighboring island of Pellworm. Not standardized, but made of woven willow cane with a colorful awning, comfortable footrests and a lockable interior that only opens for sun-hungry visitors if they have paid the spa administration for it. I should have known beforehand, because the authority lives many kilometers away at the other end of Pellworm. As if in mockery, a laughing gull screeches just above my head. Back on the mainland, further north. Matt green to the right and left of the road. Isolated tall, strong trees. To Dagebullhafen. Then an abrupt change of direction to the west. Another 50 kilometers to Flensburg on the Baltic Sea. When you drive through this vast country, it seems as if time passes barely noticeably. Past thatched cottages, past stone churches, past wind turbines whose meter-long rotor blades flash with every revolution in the bright midday sun. A wonderful serenity sets in, because hours of wandering around in a country that is constantly dominated by an overpowering sky distracts from the reluctance of the present. Suddenly everything is different. Violent gusts of wind no longer pull the helmet, no dikes protect against a dreaded attack by the sea, no ebb, no high tide, no mudflats. But turquoise shimmering, gently undulating water, which babbles on almost white sand and pebble beaches. When the weather is good, the Baltic coast between Glucksburg and Gelting is as friendly as the gray, stormy North Sea rarely manages. Probably for this reason I am stuck in an endless traffic jam. In front of me are mobile homes with long boat trailers, station wagons with overloaded roof racks, off-road vehicles with wide tires, draped with colorful surfboards. Merciless leisure stress that doesn’t really fit into this contemplative country and certainly doesn’t want to fit in with the cozy crowd that lives here. But the residents of the quaint fishing village of Maasholm at the mouth of the Schlei near Kappeln take it easy – because they earn well in summer. Spa guests and weekend visitors push their way close together through the narrow streets, past the beautifully spruced-up captain’s houses and into the small harbor, marveling at an armada of sparkling clean sailing yachts, the number of which have long since surpassed the colorful fishing trawlers. Only a handful of fish catchers start long before sunrise today, completely unnoticed by the stream of tourists: Akeby, Brodersby, Haddeby. Danish village names along the Schlei, a fjord that extends to Schleswig. Brazil and California. North and South American names on the Bay of Kiel – two tiny places with simple beaches, unspectacular, contemplative, cozy. Forgotten here is the bitter force of the salty wind on the North Sea coast, no trace of the elemental force of the sea in the west of the country between Brunsbuttel to Dagebullhafen. That’s what I’m missing, it goes through my head on a stroll on the beach between Brazil and California. But something else would also lure me back to the North Sea coast: Yesterday a biker told me that the lowest point in Germany was a meadow owned by farmer Karstens, and there should actually be a sign there.


Even if the fun on bends is neglected in the north, the North and Baltic Sea coasts are attractive travel destinations.

How to get there: Those coming from the south or west drive either via the A1 or A7 to Hamburg, Kiel or Lubeck. The A24 leads from the new federal states to Hamburg. Accommodation: There is a large selection of hotels, guest houses, farms with guest rooms and campsites in all price ranges. In summer, reservations should be made in advance on the coast. The Schleswig-Holstein Tourist Association provides information on accommodation, telephone 04 31/56 00 100, fax 56 00 140. The tip for motorcyclists: The cozy Hotel Moven-Kieker in the North Sea resort of Friedrichskoog-Spitze is right behind the dike and the boss, Stefan Ott, is locked the good bike personally in his garage. Double rooms are available from 98 marks. Information: Hotel Moven-Kieker, Strandweg 6, 25718 Friedrichskoog-Spitze, phone 0 48 54/2 86, fax 16 89. Activities: In addition to a mudflat hike and an excursion to the islands off the North Sea, a sailing tour is one of the highlights in Schleswig -Holstein. From May to October the old, but superbly restored cargo ship »S.S. Solvang «for a day through the Bay of Kiel or several days via traditional Baltic Sea routes to Helsinki, St. Petersburg or Oslo. The passengers have to lend a hand: hoist the sails, keep watch at the helm, and do kitchen duty in the galley. Info: Yacht Kontor Solvang, Am Bahnhof 4a, 24999 Wees, Telephone 04 63 1/42 62, Fax 43 66. Literature: Good information about the country and its people as well as numerous addresses of all regional tourist offices are in the Merian edition »Schleswig-Holstein «For 14.80 marks. The “GEO Special North Sea” provides information about the entire North Sea coast for 14.80 marks. Map: Schleswig-Holstein von Ravenstein on a scale of 1: 250,000.

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