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bineba List - A travel report by Sabine
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List,  Germany - flag Germany -  Schleswig-Holstein
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bineba's travel reports

Sylt – A Love Affair

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My first encounter with Sylt, nearly 30 years ago, was kind of a ‘blind date’. I fell in love with it and returned several times. But I hadn’t been back for nearly 20 years until I went in October. Would I still love it or would I be disappointed?

Looking across to the Ellenbogen in List
Looking across to the Ellenbogen in List
My first trip to Sylt happened by accident. We had been camping on Rømø, the Danish island just north of it, when our tent sprung a leak during a thunderstorm & we had to make a quick getaway to the mainland & spent the night in a B & B. The next morning the weather had improved and we decided to take the ferry to Sylt from Rømø, just for a day trip. The weather there was great and we got around the island by bus and hitching rides. We had such a great time that we returned with our car and pitched our tent at the camp ground in Wenningstedt.
Sylt is the northernmost island of Germany and part of the North-Frisian islands, its distinctive shape gracing many a German car as a bumper sticker.
Its history is fascinating and stretches back 4000 years. There have been finds from the stone, bronze and iron ages. Over time, Sylt belonged to Germany and Denmark and it also had its share of disasters, like the All Hallows flood of 1436 which destroyed a whole village of Eidum. Over the next centuries Sylt built its wealth on whale hunting, sea faring, oyster breeding and duck hunting. Around the turn of the century it became known as a popular health resort, but in WWII it was declared off limits as the German army expected an invasion by the Allies. That didn’t happen, but in the last few days of the war, the English Army took over the island without any resistance. After the war many refugees from the East settled here and rebuilt the tourist industry, which is now the island’s main source of income. Sylt only has 27,000 inhabitants, but more than 750,000 visitors a year.
Sylt is well known in Germany, not at least through the gossip pages in the 70’s and 80’s, when Sylt was the place to go on a summer holiday if you were a German celebrity or captain of industry. Kampen especially had the reputation of being party central with its many bars and designer boutiques.
But there are many faces to Sylt and you don’t have to be rich or famous to come here.

Favourite spots:
Waddensea near Kampen
Waddensea near Kampen
On the western side the beach stretches for 40 km of fine white sand and on the other side you have the Waddensea, the tidal wetlands, since June 2009 on the UNESCO’s World Heritage list and stretching all the way to Holland.

I like both sides for different reasons. The west coast is quite wild in places, especially in the far North, the Lister Ellenbogen (elbow - that’s how it is shaped), a privately owned piece of land. I like the wild surf and the beautiful sunsets. Perfect for long walks.

The other side is more serene, at high tide you have water gently lapping against the coast or, when the tide is out, glistening mud flats which are home to 100’s of sea birds.

By the way, you have to be quite careful which beach you pick unless you don’t mind. Sylt’s beaches are divided into different stretches: clothed, nudist, people with dogs. If you pick a nudist beach, there are even a couple of them with beach saunas, with the North Sea as a giant dipping pool.

What's really great:
Sylt's lawn mowers
Sylt's lawn mowers
Sylt has one of the highest numbers of sunshine hours in Germany and the air is extremely healthy – perfect for spending time outdoors. And even the temperature is usually a little bit higher than on the mainland, helped by the Gulf stream that passes by.
You are never far from the sea, wherever you are on Sylt. In some places the island is only a few 100 metres wide and even from Westerland to Morsum, the village closest to the mainland it’s only 12km. There are hiking & bicycle paths crossing the island and if you are too tired to pedal back from somewhere, the bus will take your bike, too.
The dunes are nature reserves and you can only walk along designated paths, often on wooden planks. Signs clearly tell you that the dunes are for 4-legged sheep only.
Conservation is very important as every year a little bit of Sylt is lost forever through wind and water erosion and often devastating storm floods. Several houses, built too close to the cliffs, have had to be demolished.

Lighthouse in Kampen
Lighthouse in Kampen
The two museums in Keitum (Altfriesisches Haus and Sylter Heimatmuseum) are well worth visiting, one showing a typical house as it would have been 200 years ago, the other is all about the history of the island and its nature and geology. Whilst in Keitum, just wander around the streets for a bit, here are most of the beautiful Frisian houses located, built by wealthy sea captains in the 1700s and 1800s.
Another interesting place is the Kampener Vogelkoje. Since 1935 it has been a nature reserve, but between 1767 and 1921 its purpose was to trap wild ducks for their meat and feathers. The record year was 1841 when 25,224 wild ducks where lured to their premature ends. Now the ducks have nothing to fear and it’s a lovely place for a walk and there are wonderful views across the Waddensea from the dyke.
There are 5 lighthouses in Sylt, 2 in List, 2 in Kampen and one in Hörnum which featured recently on a German stamp. My favourite is the 38m high black & white one in Kampen.

Typical Frisian house in Morsum
Typical Frisian house in Morsum
In high season it might be difficult to find accommodation unless you book ahead, but the rest of the year it shouldn’t be too difficult. There are several camping grounds as well as 3 youth hostels on the island, and countless B&B’s, hotels and self-catering apartments in all price brackets.
We stayed in a studio apartment in List. The flat was small, but had everything we needed, even a dish-washer and WIFI (60 Euros per night).
On Sylt you also have to pay a daily ‘Kurtaxe’ (spa tax) ( is usually between 1,50 to 3,50 Euros, depending on season and where you are staying). You’ll get a card which allows you access to the beaches and places like the promenade in Westerland, you’ll also get discounts at museums and so on. The card is usually issued by your landlord or you can also pay at a booth when you get to the beach. The money raised this way is used to keep the beaches pristine, employ life guards and provide free entertainment, like concerts, for tourists.

Sunset in Kampen
Sunset in Kampen
I’m not much of a night owl, I’m afraid, so I’m not speaking from personal experience here. There are several trendy (and possibly expensive) bars on Kampen’s legendary Whisky Mile. Gogärtchen, Pony, Greta’s Rauchfang and Club Rotes Cliff are the places to be seen.

In the summer head for the legendary beach parties at Buhne 16 in Kampen or Sansibar in Kampen.

Otherwise head for Westerland where you find a whole array of pubs, clubs, bars and bistros, all very central.

Or try your luck in the casino in Westerland’s town hall.

It’s also worth checking out the events calendars for the individual towns and villages on Sylt, there is always something going on: concerts, theatre, cinema, festivals, talks, etc.

There are over 13,000 of these beach baskets on Sylt
There are over 13,000 of these beach baskets on Sylt
For me the perfect hangout is a café where I can sit unbothered and watch the world go by and there are many of those on Sylt, but probably the best place is anywhere on the Friedrichstraße in Westerland. Here is the highest concentration of shops, eateries and drinking spots.

The promenade in Westerland is also a great place to people watch or listen to one of the free afternoon concerts at the concert shell (it is pot luck as to what music you’ll get, I’m afraid). And when the sun goes down, grab one of the empty beach baskets (there’re great when it’s windy and cold! Careful, the ones on the beach you have to pay for – you can hire them for the day). We got ourselves a grog (hot water with sugar and rum) - and the barman certainly lived up to the old Frisian motto of what has to be in a grog: Rum has to, sugar can, water doesn’t need to be – and watched a beautiful sunset. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Have you gosch'ed today?
Have you gosch'ed today?
A foodie’s paradise, Sylt is home of Germany’s only oyster farm and since recently, Germany’s northernmost vineyard.
You won’t be able to avoid the various Gosch restaurants around the island, not necessarily a bad thing, as the food is delicious. Jürgen Gosch opened Germany’s northernmost fish stall in List in 1972 and the rest is history.
Another institution is the Kupferkanne (Copper Pot) in Kampen. A soldier & artist, released from the army after WWII, was given one of the underground bunkers to live in and soon his friends came round to hang out, drink coffee and tea. The bunker was extended, a house built on top and the Kupferkanne was born. You can either enjoy the delicious cakes in the warren-like building or sit in the beautiful garden with views of the sea.
Another favourite is Voigt’s Alte Backstube in List, yummy pancakes and massive Windbeutel, a giant profitorole filled with whipped cream and Rote Grütze - a fruit compote made with different berries, rhubarb & spices.

Other recommendations:
Stormy day on Kampen beach
Stormy day on Kampen beach
To get to Sylt, there are several options. You can fly with AirBerlin directly from some German airports to Westerland. You can take the train via Hamburg and Niebüll or if you want to take your car the SyltShuttle, a car train leaving from Niebüll every 30-60 minutes. Your last option is to drive to Rømø in Denmark and take the ferry.

We took the SyltShuttle which takes about ¾ hour and travels along the 11 km long Hindenburg Damm (built in 1927). The return ticket was 84 Euros. Not cheap. I have read somewhere that the Deutsche Bundesbahn, the national rail company, doesn’t want a road built next to the railway lines, as it is the most profitable line in the country. I’m not surprised!

And? Am I still in love with Sylt? You bet I am!

There have been many changes, but I could still recognize the place I fell in love with so many years ago.

And I have promised myself that I won’t wait another 20 years until I return.

Published on Saturday November 21th, 2009

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Fri, Dec 18 2009 - 05:35 AM rating by jorgesanchez

A very good report written with much love. Thank you.

Mon, Dec 07 2009 - 03:16 PM rating by krisek

Very informative and personal report. Thanks Sabine for sharing! Nudist beaches huh? Sounds very interesting. Great photos, too.

Mon, Nov 23 2009 - 07:54 AM rating by louis

I loved this report, so many interesting things and personal feelings. Great read for me

Sun, Nov 22 2009 - 02:40 PM rating by mistybleu

A great sentimental report. Thanks for sharing

Sat, Nov 21 2009 - 10:35 PM rating by pesu

Superb report, Sabine! Very well written, with absolutely beautiful pictures - I loved to read it.

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