“Stop. Stop. Stop.”
In mid-August, my German wife and I boarded a train which took us from Hannover to the North Sea of Germany. We met my wife’s family in Husum and stayed with them on the Nordstrand peninsula — in the tiniest, most 1970s bed and breakfast you’ve ever seen. Outside, we were surrounded by giant wind turbines, rolling green pastures and sheep. Oh God… so many sheep.
Why are we all wearing socks, you ask? Oh, just the rocks and razor-sharp clam shells hidden beneath the mud…
We went for a walk through the Nordstrand mudflats during low tide (Wattwanderung) and visited the Hallig of Nordstrandischmoor. A hallig is an undyked islet, which means it’s basically just a little hill that becomes isolated by the ocean during high tide, and sometimes for several weeks at a time during winter. 27 people live on Nordstrandischmoor, and it is common knowledge that one of them is pregnant. (A real concern, when their only connection to the mainland is a rusty old construction railway.) The very thought of being trapped on this hallig for any length of time had me nervously checking the tide schedules and eyeballing the nearest sheep, wondering about its capacity to serve as a floatation device. “Mother of God, the ocean is closing in! C’mere you little shit…” *BAAA-A-A-AHHHG*
That’s a church AND a school. “Welcome to 1st Grade, sinners!”
We also took a day trip to Denmark and visited the city of Sønderborg. I was super excited about this, as I am whenever I get to cross a border into a different country. It always feels a little naughty, like I’m getting away with something. Like I’m a drug mule with a colon full of heroin balloons, and my puckering anus is the only thing between me and a life sentence. I was disappointed when we didn’t have to stop for customs or border patrol — we didn’t even have to show our visas or anything! Oh European Union… you are awesome, but you are boring.
“Where’s the civilian border patrol? Why is no one shooting at us?”
One the way back from Denmark, we stopped by Flensburg, which is the northernmost town on the German mainland. There, we ran into some kind of festival down by the water, where my brother-in-law and I poured shots of vodka into our Flensburger pilsners and named them “Titty Pils.” (My mother-in-law was not amused.)
“I’m sorry, Schwiegermutter, but I am not the angel you thought I was.”
The next day, the whole family got on a ferry and rode out to another hallig, this one called Gröde. It is the smallest German voting district, with a whopping total of 17 inhabitants. They have a church, a cemetery and an elementary school in which two students are enrolled. Two. You can imagine what prom will be like when they’re older:
“Would you like to dance, Grizelda?”
“I’m sorry, Orbert, but Papa says dancing gives vigor to the Devil’s loins.”
…and then they just sit there, gazing out the window at the tallest hill on the island, at the peak of which are two sheep enjoying the most violent, wool-slapping sheep sex on earth.
Oh yes, those people laying in the grass in boots and full raincoats are “sunbathing.”
I can’t really do justice to all the things we saw at the North Sea and in Denmark, so I’ve put this little video together. It summarizes the whole trip in about 60 seconds:
***WARNING*** Video contains a lot of annoying wind noises and more than a few swear words. *To clarify that last bit, I wanted to take a picture of the ocean, not record a video. You feel me, iPhone 4 users?
And of course, here’s a picture gallery. I took 90% of these pictures, but the ones that aren’t completely awful were taken by my wife. Please click one to begin the slideshow.
Every good trip starts off with a few thousand carbohydrate calories from Back-Factory.
On the train to Husum, the floor was painted to look like the ocean. That seal head cracked me up.
I don’t know why I take pictures of signs like this. I guess as proof we were really there. It’s all about integrity, my friends.
It’s hard to see, but there’s actually a swimming pool somewhere down there. Beyond the wall are little covered sitting chairs. It’s hard to enjoy any of these things when it’s raining every 15 minutes.
Ah yes, a traditional German lunch: Wienerschnitzel and vegetables that have been boiled to death. My wife and I call this, “Grandma Food.”
This little sign was on the toilet in the bathroom. They even added a little weenie and a stream of urine to drive the point home.
The sunsets on Nordstrand were pretty sweet, I have to say. Unfortunately, our smart phones never really captured them, but we kept on trying!
Lots and lots of bike paths. They seem to go on forever, especially when one of your testicles is being squashed by an unfamiliar bike seat.
Our first real encounter with the Nordstrand sheep. I thought it might be our only encounter. I was so wrong…
More sheep on the dam.
These guys would actually take off if you got too close. I took this picture like the ninja I always knew I was.
At the time, I thought this picture was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. Now I just think, “…dirty sheep butts.”
So many mudflats…
Breakers and mudflats. I guess the water comes up pretty high here.
I took this picture knowing the next day we would actually be walking through that filthy mud.
And here we have the absolute worst painting on earth. Holy shit is that thing ugly. It looks like a trio of those scary deep-sea fish with the giant eyes, coming straight for you.
This was the next morning, as we were about to begin our Wattwanderung (slogging through the mudflats at low tide toward a tiny island.)
Group Leader: “Are we having fun yet?” Me: “NO.” (Seriously, I felt like the only one just trying desperately not to fall down in the mud.)
We were advised to wear socks for the journey, but I had no idea why. I quickly discovered there are rocks beneath the mud, which feel like stepping on Legos. Oh, and there are sharp clam shells too. (Our feet were still cut up and bruised, even with the socks.)
… and these socks would never be white again…
Pretty sweet view of the path we took. The sky was constantly shifting between sun and rain (but the wind was always present… always).
Some kid grabbed a big sea worm and showed it to everyone. I would not have touched that thing even if you paid me €10. (Okay, maybe.)
That’s a marker for where we were not supposed to walk. In just a few hours, the water would almost completely cover it.
Those are our feet. Little did we know the mud jammed under our toenails would remain for weeks, no matter how hard we cleaned them. GOD! Why did we do this again?
This is the road leading up to the main lodge on the Nordstrandischmoor. We were surrounded on all sides by an ocean of stupid sheep.
There’s the lodge. They even had a tiny cafe in there.
Well, there’s one dog that will never be clean again…
They had 10 cleaning stations with water hoses and brushes to clean your feet. That mud was the real deal, and it did not scrub off easily.
My wife was petting a sheep when this other sheep just bashed right into him and kept on walking, carrying him away on his back.
“Stop it, you dick! You DICK.”
Can you see the difference between my wife’s camera and mine? Hers are pretty. Mine are depressing.
I’d say this picture pretty much nails the whole experience on Nordstrandischmoor.
The guide told us these sheep are so stupid, they don’t know to move AWAY from rising water levels during winter. They have to be herded to safety or else they’d drown.
Off in the distance you can see the church/school I was telling you about.
You can really get a feel for how small this hallig is. The dashed line on the right is a miniature railway… the only way to the mainland.
“Hey dummy, when the water comes this year, head for high ground, okay?”
“God, you smell like ass…”
“Hello, Evil Sheep. Curse any children today?”
Here’s a picture of the hallig when the water level is so high it traps everyone on the island.
… and more horror …
That’s the waterline. It is made of dead grass, wool and sheep shit. I’m serious.
Here’s where you can go to learn OR worship.
These are famous high water marks over the years. That one at the top must have been a real nail biter.
At first I thought those diagonal beams — which make it VERY hard to cross the bridge — were just a sign of poor engineering. Then I realized they keep the sheep from crossing. (Guess I’m not much smarter than them after all.)
The folks who live on the island tend to die on the island.
That is a communal gravestone listing each dead person in sequence. See the empty groove wrapping around the rest of the rock? That’s where YOUR name would go, if you lived here.
Our guide was afraid the tide might come in early, so we had to walk along the train tracks to get back to the mainland. It took forever, and this was my view the entire time. Head down, trying not to trip and fall on the rocks.
Seriously, the walk back was like a nightmare that just would not end.
Here’s a look back at where we’d come from. That sign says specifically NOT to walk on the tracks.
Half sunny, half cloudy! It’s like the weather at the North Sea is just TRYING to give you bipolar disorder.
It’s hard to tell, but the tide did, indeed, come in early.
That’s where we first starting walking through the mud. Now, we would have been up to our waists in ocean water.
We took a bike ride along the dam later that evening. I cannot believe I snapped this picture without falling off my bike and rolling down the hill into Sheep Hell.
Cute little house right next to the dam.
This is the next day, in Husum. It alternated rain and sun so frequently I just carried my umbrella the entire time. “Honey, the sun is out…” “I don’t care!”
You’ll find this kind of architecture all over northern Germany. Especially those building facades with the square steps on the sides.
There’s the belltower in downtown Husum. Just a 24-hour party up here…
These boats become beached every single day during low tide. I’d never seen that before.
Love locks in Husum. Aren’t they cute? (Statistically, half of those relationships are now over.)
Here’s the sign telling us we were about to cross the border into Denmark. Worst picture ever!
Aaaaand there’s the border. No security. No checkpoint. Just some nice flags and a warm greeting.
We spent the afternoon in Sonderborg. Here’s our very exciting map.
Downtown Sonderborg. I was surprised to find not everyone was blonde, as I’d been led to believe.
City and country flags. Now I can finally say I know what the Danish flag looks like. (Very useful during the Winter Olympics.)
…on our way down to the bay.
I wish I could tell you something — anything — about this sculpture. It looked pretty important.
There it is again. Yeehaw!
The bay was just lousy with sailboats.
Jellyfish! There were tons of these things in the water, and I bet each one was more poisonous than the last.
Tuborg beer. Made in Denmark.
when I ordered these, I asked for, “Something just Danish as all hell. Gimme the real deal.” (And everyone spoke fluent English, by the way. I guess because no one speaks Danish.)
Here we are driving back into Germany. Another beautiful picture taken at high speed…
We spent a few hours in Flensburg. Here’s the requisite church shot.
There are like 100 pictures in this slideshow. Coming up with something to say for each one is killing me right now.
There’s downtown Flensburg. Really, this could be just about any city in northern Germany.
Does that sign look familiar? Oh yes, this cafe was modeled after the popular 90s sitcom, Friends.
There’s the Flensburger Brewery. Sadly, there was no time for a tour. (You often score free brew doggies on brewery tours.)
Oh good, another church shot. Praise Jesus!
I guess I thought this little corridor looked pretty sweet at the time. All medieval and such. Now it just looks like a place to buy shit you don’t need.
Oh my God, again with the church…
In Flensburg, people hang their shoes from these ropes across the street. Not randomly, like in American ghettos, but as some kind of art or cultural expression that is totally lost on me.
How did all of these people walk home after throwing their shoes up there? Did they bring a second pair? “Hey Klaus, you got your tossin’ shoes with you?”
There was some kind of festival going on down at the bay in Flensburg. Blurring all of these faces was a real pain. Never shoot a picture of a crowd when they’re facing you.
This was the view across the water. Very exciting stuff, right?
Here are our Titty Pils! Just a shot or two of vodka poured into a Flensburger pils and you’ve got yourself an evening!
On our last day at the North Sea, we got onto a ferry so we could see another hallig.
See all those people huddled together for warmth? Faces down to stay out of the wind and splashing ocean water? At the North Sea, this is what happiness looks like.
You can see another tiny island off in the distance. There are TONS of these things.
Here we are leaving the ferry and stepping onto Hallig Grode. Believe it or not, it’s even smaller than Nordstrandischmoor.
There’s the ship we rode on. “Please don’t leave without us!”
Some kind of lodge on the island.
There’s the mandatory island church.
“Sunbathing” on Grode!
Here’s a map of the island. This one doesn’t even have shitty train tracks back to the mainland.
Inside the Grode church.
Here’s another island cemetery. You know, just in case the rising water levels aren’t reminder enough of your impending demise.
Look at that view. Gray, wet, cold and rainy — the perfect weather for contemplating suicide.
The ferry ride ended with these kids rolling down the hill and laughing REALLY hard about it. This is also the last picture I took before my wife and I returned to Hannover. (It’s good to be home.)
Thank you for reading our blog and have a wonderful day!