HALLIG HOOGE – Life on a North Sea Island
Posted on August 10, 2014
A last walk along the dike,
a last look at the countryside which is protected by this dike,
a little fun,
and we are off to our first Hallig.
The offshore islands in the Wadden Sea are comprised of a few islands with towns and year-round inhabitants, as well as hordes of summer people, and of ten Halligen, five of them inhabited, and five not. A Hallig is a smaller island somewhat protected by a dike that is not very high and just takes care of “normal” tides. The island tends to get flooded a few times a year when huge storms come through. A long time ago, people figured out that if they built mounds and put their houses on top, they’d be protected against those floods.
Now, during a wild storm and raging waters all around, their houses on the mounds (called Warften) stick out like islands. Extremely severe storms are called Sturmfluten (storm floods), and this was one of the first words that Suzi learned about this region. I have to admit that both of us secretly hoped for such a storm while we were there!
We arrived by ferry on Hallig Hooge, our home for the next five days. Even though we were picked up by our landlady who drove our luggage to our room in her vacation house, Suzi and I opted to walk the short distance to our Warft. Only the Hallig people have cars here.
There was so much to see right off: we were immediately taken by the horse-drawn coaches, “taxis”, or “buses”, as they were called, taking day tourists as well as vacationers who were going to stay a while to their destination Warft.
Hooge, the second largest of the Halligen, has 10 Warften and about 120 year-round inhabitants. It didn’t take long before we had become acquainted with all 10 Warften. Ours was the closest to the ferry terminal and sported about a dozen buildings.
Each one seemed to have its own character. Hanswarft, about a 15-minute walk away, was the center of the community: the only grocery store was located here, a “movie theater” where they showed videos about floods and violent Sturmfluten, a museum in a former sea captain’s house, several restaurants and eateries, a farm where one can buy fresh eggs and vegetables, a tourist information office, several vacation rentals, and a few neat little houses with white fences and lots of flowers, brick walkways, an ice cream shop here, a lawn with benches there … It’s a small village unto itself.
My favorite Warft became the most remote one, called the Westerwarft. Four picturesque buildings, thatched roofs of course, flowers everywhere, make up this Warft. Several vacation rentals come with fabulous views of the water or the endless grasslands. (Thinking of next time perhaps?)
Daily the various ferries spew out the day tourists, who get driven around in the horse-drawn “buses”, eat lunch at one of the restaurants, often rent a bicycle for a few hours, then leave again in the late afternoon. But somehow it was never crowded, there was room for everybody.
In the spring and fall, thousands and thousands of migratory birds come to this area for a bit of R&R and a good feed before taking off again on their journeys. It was not the right season for this spectacle, but we enjoyed the resident oystercatchers who were colorful, active and interesting birds.
However, it was the right time for the lovely purple Halligflieder, a wild plant found all over the marsh lands. It was in full bloom.
Each walk along the coast was different: we looked at the islands and Halligen offshore and learned their names; sometimes the water was as smooth as glass, sometimes rather choppy. A light drizzle one morning didn’t deter us and we set off to a rocky beach near us where people usually swam. There were a number of young people who had done exactly that in sunshine and relatively warm water the night before. But this morning the waves seemed angry, and little did we know that the drizzle would develop into a real storm.
We walked along the dike anyway, hoping it would pass through, as we had observed that it never rained for long. Well, it did this time, we soon were drenched, and our umbrellas didn’t do us any good in the wind. We finally made it to the Hanswarft and sought refuge under huge umbrellas that normally shaded diners from the sun. One solution to warm up: a Frisian specialty, tea punch, which is hot tea with a good dose of rum. By the way, this was our only serious rain, and even it was gone by the afternoon.
The farm animals were so much fun to watch. Here we truly found free range chickens and pastured cows.
An unusual kind of cattle held our attention for a long time. What fun to watch these wooly cows starting the day with a good scratch.
One morning we left our house in order to take a walk when we came upon a “stampede”. A bunch of cows and their calves were herded to a different field and came running down our road. Our cameras were in our room, of course, but we retrieved them in time to get some great shots and videos.
The horses were the animals that really intrigued us. Most of them were used to pull the wagons, and we heard that they usually worked one day, then got a day off, free to feed and roam the pastures – or socialize.
The stables were next door to our house, and each morning we heard the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves as they were led out to be harnessed and start their work day.
The really fascinating ones were the huge draft horses:
Soon after we arrived on the Hallig and familiarized ourselves with the lay of the land, we decided to walk the 11 km (about 6.8 miles) around the entire island. We didn’t make it in one day — there were just too many things to see and learn on the way. Generally we walked along the stone dike, but long stretches led across grassy paths.
Of course, we got hungry at some point and found a beautiful restaurant, complete with Strandkorb and view out to sea. That was more important than to complete the walk!
Two days later we were ready to walk in the opposite direction and finish the section we had left out before. On the morning of our departure, we walked a short path which then completed every road, trail and path hiked on the island.
Saying good-bye to this Hallig was hard. Neither Suzi nor I will ever forget this time of peace
and total Rest and Relaxation.