The island exchanged for Zanzibar
I had some days of holidays and decided to travel to some German jewels sites that I could not visit in past trips to this country. I started with Helgoland, an island that attracted my interest a few years ago when I was in Zanzibar and learnt that the Germans exchanged some African territories that they possessed, including Zanzibar Island, that is, many thousands of square kilometres, for an islet of the Frisian archipelago, at about 70 kilometres north of Germany, in the North Sea, with a surface of 160 hectares!
I arrived to Cuxhaven, took a ship called “Wappen von Hamburg” and after two hours I arrived to Helgoland waters. Then a small motor boat transferred us in turns to the harbour.
All the tourists were excited and the first thing that they did upon disembarking was to buy in the shops around the port lots of products at tax free prices because Helgoland, as well as Busingen, a German enclave located within Switzerland, is a Tax Exemption Territory.
Everybody spoke exclusively German and all the tourist brochures were only written in this language. When I addressed in English to the locals they understood me but their reply was invariably in German, what I appreciated because a traveller has to try to speak the language of the country that he visits if he wants to understand it. For me that was “kein problem” since I had studied German in the past and could manage in German language, natürlich!
Helgoland is composed by three parts:
UBERLAND is the high part, where live the majority of the local people. You can get up there by lift or walking up the steps.
The perimeter of UBERLAND is marked on the floor every 500 metres, and it takes you about one and a half hours to walk it through. The views are magnificent! There are multitudes of seagulls and other birds over flying the island and taking refugee in the holes formed by the cliffs (about 15.000 birds stop annually in Helgoland, where there is a Bird Protection Station). There are also some cows and the Lighthouse. The symbol of Helgoland is LANGE ANNA, or a rock tower with a characteristic form. From the Uberland you can see DUNE, an adjacent islet where is located the airport of Helgoland.
In Uberland I visited the St. Nicolai Church, erected in 1685 but destroyed in 1945 by the allies. Today, a part of it is devoted as a memorial to the Germans fallen during the First and the Second World Wars.
MITTELLAND. Helgoland is considered the healthiest place in Germany because is very poor in pollens, what helps the asthmatics and allergic people, who go to the private clinic situated in Mittelland as to a health resort. Just by breathing they get better. Helgoland is pure nature. There are less dust particles in Helgoland than in the Zugspitze, the highest German peak, in the Bavarian Alps (2962 metres). Because of the Gulf Stream the island enjoys a very pleasant weather with more sunny days than the rest of Germany.
There are no cars in the island except the ambulance of the clinic and some small trucks for distributing the goods to the shops, hotels and restaurants. Everybody must walk.
In UNTERLAND there is the port, shops, hotels and restaurants. When you arrive to the island you will be offered a ride in the touristy electric train called Inselbahn.
Besides the harbour for the catamaran, there is a sign indicating the distances in kilometres from Helgoland to the following places: Zanzibar 7335, Tasmania 17166, Robinson Crusoe 12900, Pitcairn 16060, etc.
Sometimes you may see sea lions (“seehunde”) lying in the beach, but I did not see any during the two days that I spent in the Island.
Just in the harbour there is a bust devoted to August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, who several times spent his holidays in Helgoland, where he wrote in 1841 “Deutschlandlied”, whose third strophe became in 1922 the text of the song of the Germans, their national anthem.
Some other remarkable visitors to Helgoland were the Kaiser Wilhelm II, in 1890, and also the Czech writer Franz Kafka and the German poet Heinrich Heine. Goethe wrote a poem about Helgoland.
"HISTORY OF HELGOLAND"
Thanks to the pyramidal advertisings along the path in the UBERLAND, I learnt that the island belonged from 1402 to 1714 to Holstein, then to Denmark until 1807, when the English took it and officially incorporated it into their overseas dominions in 1814. In 1890, during the “Scramble for Africa” period, Germany (well, then was Prussia) offered Zanzibar and other territories in today’s Tanzania for Helgoland, and the English agreed. Being such a strategically point in the mouth of the River Elba, the Germans fortified the island, including bunkers with heavy artillery and shelters for submarines. According to the Treaty of Versailles after the WWI, in 1919, the fortifications were dismantled. Some years later the German Government reconstructed the island and was converted in one of the main bases for submarines. After the German defeat in the WWII, the English occupied the island and destroyed part of it and the underground tunnels with the massive launching in their RAF airplanes of more than 6700 tons of bombs, what is known as the BIG BANG, aiming to sink it, but Helgoland survived again like the Phoenix from the ashes. Since 1952 the Island forms part of the Lander Schleswig-Holstein.
While in Helgoland you should try the Helgoland lobster (if you can afford it; I could not), the “Kniepers” or the scissors of the crab, the smoked local fish, and specially the herrings (in German are called Sprotten) which are delicious and have to be eaten in the German way: you take off the head and eat the rest except the tail, including bones. Herrings together with one beer Beck’s (or two!) constitute a perfect appetizer.
In the port of Cuxhaven there is a kiosk where they sell sprotten at only 12 euro the kilogram. I used to go there during two days for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner, and finished up making friendship with the owners.
In the rest of Germany you have many varieties of Wursts, or typical German sausages, with mustard or curry sauce. Every Lander has its own Wurst speciality. And since in Germany live so many thousands of Turkish, you can find cheap donner kebaps in any corner. There are also Chinese restaurants offering for 6 euro the formula “Eat as much as you want”.
In the railway stations you might find kiosks selling cheap Russian dishes, such as pelmenie, borsch, several pirozhkis, varieniki, blinis “i tak dale”. In Germany there live many Russians (over 1 million) descendants of the Germans who migrated to Russia in the times of Catherine II (she was born in the German town of Stettin, today’s Szczecin, in Poland), and now, owing to the present poor economical conditions in Russia, they are returning to Germany where they benefit of the German Government generosity.
There is a youth hostel in the UNTERLAND. In the rest of Germany you will be able to find cheap hotels around the railway stations. You can also buy a cheap train ticket with unlimited journeys valid for several days (that was what I did) and then sleep in the trains at night. In this way you save time and money. In the easyinternetcafe’s, usually in front of the railway stations, they offer cheap accommodations and also breakfast for less than 2 euro (coffee plus a croissant).
In Frankfurt/Hohn airport, the best is sleeping on the floor anywhere, on the ground floor or in the first floor. There are some brochures offering you rooms at 2 kilometres from the airport at 35 euro for a double room, including transport.
Today, Helgoland has a population of about 1600 inhabitants. There is a very nice museum (cost only 2 euro), football, tennis and golf grounds, swimming pools, cinemas, public library, concerts, a cultural centre, and almost all the advantages of the civilization, but not the inconveniences. They even have an own flag formed by the colours green on the top, red in the middle and white on the bottom.