The Seenotrettungskreuzer (sea rescue service boat) "Hermann Helms" is stationed in the ferry port at Grimmershörn Bay, always ready to set out to sea in case of emergency: a ship in distress, missing people... The inscription "SAR" means "Search And Rescue". This is a special ship which copes with any kind of weather, even with force 12 gales when no helicopter would fly. The "cannons" on the top deck are firefighting water cannons.
There are around 60 of these boats stationed all along the North Sea and Baltic Sea coast. They are not a state institution, though. They are operated by a private association (Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger) and entirely financed by donations. More about them: http://www.seenotretter.de/english.html
Hermann Helms, after whom the Cuxhaven boat was named, was, by the way, the president of DGzRS from 1943 to 1980.
The former castle has been turned into a cultural centre with exhibitions of fine arts, chamber concerts etc., and civil weddings take place in its festive rooms. The interior and parts of the furniture, mostly from the era around 1800, is preserved, so you get an idea of the lifestyle of Cuxhaven’s “upper 10.000”, or rather upper 10, in those times. In the main hall of the ground floor there is a video presentation about the palace and its history.
On the top floor they have temporary exhibitions of modern art – currently there was a presentation of works by a Japanese artist who lives in Cuxhaven. His favourite material is paper, he does installations that combine paper sculptures with text, mostly poetry. Other works use photos of the sea and tidelands.
The castle can be seen in half an hour if you take a time. Not worth large detours, but if you pass by anyway it’s nice to have a look inside. The entrance fee is 3 € for adults.
Built as the seat of a local noble family who administered the place on behalf of the Dukes of Sachsen-Lauenburg, Ritzebüttel was conquered by the city of Hamburg in the late 14th century. It became the seat of the bailiff who ruled over the district of Ritzebüttel, which included most of the present city of Cuxhaven and the islands of Neuwerk and Scharhörn. Until 1937 it remained part of Hamburg, then it was given to Prussia in exchange for Altona and some other suburbs on the edge of Hamburg.
The medieval castle is a tower, entirely built from bricks and surrounded by high ramparts and a moat. In the 18th century the baroque front wing was added in order to obtain a more ‘modern’ look and more comfort. The castle hosts a restaurant in the basement, rooms for exhibitions of contemporary art, and a room for civil weddings. The interior can be visited (see separate tip).
The castle grounds are now a public park, a pleasant spot to walk and rest under old trees. Along the side street towards the nearby church there are a couple of pretty half-timbered houses.
Every year for one weekend in May/June there is a pottery market in the park around the castle. It assembles many artisans from all over the region who sell all kinds of pottery and glass works of high quality. Worth visiting.
The most popular and most attracive day trip destination from Cuxhaven is the island of Helgoland, some 60-70 kms out in the North Sea. Helgoland is famous for its red sandstone cliffs and its high sea climate, the sea birds nesting on the rocks, World War II history, and duty-free shopping. Please consult my Helgoland page for more.
There are two options to get there. The fastest is the katamaran “Halunder Jet” which takes you there in 1 h 15. The ferry “Atlantis” takes about twice as long but gives you the chance to enjoy the sea cruise on deck. With either you have about 3 hours to play with on the island. Both ships are operated by Helgoline. In high season both run daily, in shoulder season the katamaran runs only on certain days, and in winter even the ferry connections are notably thinned out – check the website.
The katamaran departs from Alte Liebe quay, the “Atlantis” from the ferry port. As on the katamaran everyone has an assigned seat, tickets can sell out. Prebooking a couple of days in advance is advisable. Tickets for the “Atlantis” are easier to obtain, the ship is bigger and has no assigned seating.
The katamaran lands in the Southern port so you disembark right on the island. The Atlantis, like all other Helgoland ferries from other destinations, has to anchor outside the port and passengers are transferred to small open boats which bring them to shore. In rough weather this can be exciting...
The Semaphor is a technical monument in the port next to Alte Liebe. Like an optical telegraph it delivers data about the wind situation, which can be read with a looking-glass from passing ships. Knowing what weather conditions to expect out in the North Sea was important to outgoing ships. A first semaphor was erected already in the 1880s but destroyed in a gale in 1903. The present one, originally preserved, dates from 1904. In times of radar, satellites and digital media it is not needed any more but kept in operation by a private association.
How does it work? The mystic thing provides data about the wind around Borkum ("B", left side) and Helgoland ("H", right side). The arrows in the large circles point in the direction of the wind. The strength of the wind is indicated by the "arms" or "signals" at the top of the mast. Each arm means two wind powers, so here we have force 4 winds at both islands.
Wind and sunlight and clouds put on a show for free over the tidelands. The sky looks always different, often dramatic. The photos here are just random examples. Carry your camera whenever you are walking to the seashore...
Three or four different companies do boat tours in the port and out on the Elbe. All of them depart from the quays next to Alte Liebe. The tours and the fares are all more or less alike, so it does not matter which boat you pick. Check the schedules and take the one that departs next, or at the time most convenient for you.
The tours take you through most basins of the port, including the fishing port behind the huge flood gate, and the America port where the emigrants’ ships used to depart. The second half of the tour depends on the tides. At low tides they do a short ride across the Elbe to a sandbank where you get to see seals resting. If you want this, look for tours that include something about “Seehundsbänke” (see separate tip in here). At high tide they go further out into the Elbe mouth for some ship watching.
The fare for my tour, port and seals, was 12 €. Tickets can be obtained from the ticket booths on the quay or right at boarding.
The stretch of sea shore between Duhnen and Sahlenburg has no beach but salt meadows. At high tide they are partly flooded, at low tide they fall dry. The plants that grow here are specialists for salty water and ground. They are a favourite nesting area for many sea birds and a protected nature reserve. In spring and summer, during nesting season, they are totally closed off with fence and gate to have a quiet zone for the birds and their chicks. The paved bike trail that leads through them is not accessible then, you have to take a detour behind the dyke.
Do not try to approach this area from the tidelands either. While the sea bottom outside both Duhnen and Sahlenburg is solid sand, in this area you have pure Schlick, , deep soft mud, which is really dangerous. Keep out of the mudflats here.
The playground by the beach promenade next to Strandhaus Döse has this huge pirate ship. Two wooden figures represent the town maskots Jan Cux and Cuxi dressed up as pirates. The ship must be fun to play on for kids, and it makes a nice subject for photos.
The Strandhaus is a popular spot on the beach in Döse. The upper floor hosts an upscale restaurant with large panorama windows. The ground floor has a souvenir shop and snack bar, and on the meadow in front they have a large self-service beer garden. Part of the outdoor seating is inside a tent with heaters. From Wednesday to Sunday they have live music on the concert stage outside – the quality of the bands and musicians varies. Some are quite good, the two guys who did the “Kölsche Abend” one night, however, deserve a “Warnings and Dangers” tip... Their sound can be heard in half of Döse, so it is hard to escape them.
Anyway, if you want to enjoy a beer with beach view, this is the place to go. Prepare for prices higher than average, though.
The Strandhaus was built in the 1950s. The architecture of the building and the stage shell are typical for that era, unspoilt, and will raise the spirits of every 1950s fan.
Some harbour cruises visit, in addition to touring the port, a sandbank where seals are resting. This can only be done at low tide because these sandbanks fall dry for two or three hours, hence it is not included in all cruises. Check the tide calendar for the hours of low tide, and watch out for signs that mention something about “Sehundsbänke”. There are three different companies and boats which do the trip, it does not matter which one you take.
The Seehund is the most popular and more or less emblematic animal of the North Sea. Seal souvenirs of all varieties are available in any souvenir shops. They are probably the cutest of all seal specieses with their big dark eyes and spotted fur. Unfortunately thy are critically endangered. Seeing live wild ones requires knowing where, and caution not to scare them. At low tide they rest on certain remote sandbanks far out in the Wattenmeer. The cruise boats take you past such a sandbank out in the Elbe, approaching to about 20 metres which is the closest the boat can get without scaring the seals. As the boat goes against the current, find a place on the left side of the boat.
Important: Instructions are given how to behave while the boat is close to the seals, but these instructions are in German only, so I am repeating them here. Observing them is important, otherwise the animals will disappear in the water in an instant, be stressed and perhaps even hurt themselves.
No sudden moves. No screaming or loud talking – talk in whispers only. No smoking or perfumes because they smell it. Take as many photos as you want but strictly no flash. These are wild animals and easily frightened, if anything looks dangerous to them they will panic and flee into the water, maybe even injure themselves, so plase take these rules seriously. The boat captains know exactly how far they can go without disturbing the animals in their well-needed rest.
More photos in this travelogue
A low-tide beach entertainment that looks like big fun for kids of any height and age... You need a flat board that looks like a small surfboard; these are on sale in all the souvenir shops along the beach. You throw the board into a muddy puddle in front of you, run a few step and jump onto the board. Then you “surf” on the mud – how far, depends on your speed and your balance. (Splash! But no worries, there are showers along the beach.)
The view from the shore, given clear conditions, often reveals a strange “box” far out at sea on the horizon which does not move. This is an oil-drilling platform on the so-called Mittelplate, a sea area where the water is rather shallow. The platform brings up oil from a depth of about 2000 metres. The oil is then delivered through a pipeline to the port of Brunsbüttel.
100 years ago wooden sailboats like this one did most of the cargo transport in the coastal areas of the North Sea. Technology advanced and they were abandoned. “Hermine” is a rare example of such a Schoner preserved. She was built in 1904 for captain Hinrich Bodenhagen who named the ship, as it was common in those times, after his wife. A few years later, however, he sold the ship to a new owner who renamed her “Emma” (guess what his wife’s name was). The vessel did her job as cargo transporter on the Elbe for some years until she was sold to Sweden in 1934. There she sailed among the isles until 1962. She ended up in miserable shape in some Swedish port whre she was rediscovered in the late 1970s. Then she was transferred to Hamburg in order to b restored for the museum port in Övelgönne. Her shape was too bad to ever see her on the seas again. In winter 1982 she sank in the ice. The wreck was rescued and finally brought to Cuxhaven. A project for long-term unemployed craftsmen restored the ship and she found a safe place on dry ground by the old fishing port basin in Cuxhaven’s centre.
The main beaches of Döse, Duhnen and Sahlenburg face northwest. The beach promenade and the stone dams are the perfect balcony to enjoy the sunset show over the mudflats. The colours and reflections are amazing.
Bring a camera.