Thursday, June 20, 2024

SYLT: A Tale of Winter

Immerse yourself in the serene tranquility of Sylt, the northernmost island of Germany. Marvel at the captivating beauty of its peaceful mornings and stunning landscapes.

First published on the 4th issue of High Life: Living The Good Life, this article has been repurposed for the digital world – exclusive only on VOICE OF ASIA.

Taking a walk along the Wadden beach in Sylt, one might see foam washed up along the waterline. This is actually algae that has been whipped up into foam by the wind and waves, adding to the natural yet mysterious feel of the sea.

Dare to take a trip to Germany if you’re looking to experience a crisp, refreshing breeze in lieu of the usual warm, equatorial climate. Skip the “classic” Alps and go straight to its northernmost island, Sylt.

Pronounced ‘zylt’, it is classy, popular, and the biggest island of North Frisia at a maximum length of 38km. Offering a magnificent view of both the Northern Sea with its rough surf on the west coast and the Wadden Sea on the east, its widest extension goes up to 13km, and its narrowest, located in Rantum, is just 550m.

German photojournalist Barbara Prinz explores Sylt exclusively for HIGH Life, capturing the festive feel of the winter holidays with great food and spectacular landscapes, and offering a glimpse of calm, peaceful mornings at an enchanting winter wonderland.

Crossing the North Sea

One of three ways to reach Sylt is by ferry from Havneby, Denmark, and you can enjoy a 40-minute trip to the island’s northernmost point, a municipality called List.

Another way is across the Hindenburg carriageway, an 11km-long causeway, exclusively operated for trains. Annually, almost half a million guests use the car train. It is the perfect introduction to the slower, typical North Frisian pace of living which is refreshing, relaxed and straightforward.

On the train, you can enjoy the beauty of the Wadden Sea, which was added to the World Heritage List in 2009. Its diverse climate has given rise to a multitude of habitats and the site is one of the last remaining natural, large-scale, intertidal ecosystems where natural processes continue to function largely undisturbed – thus warranting its unique protected status.

The third and fastest way to reach the island is by plane. Flights are available from all major German airports and, recently, an international non-stop flight service from Zurich, Switzerland was introduced. Staff at the small dollhouse-like airport in Westerland are known for being extremely fast at processing arrivals.

“So what makes this place so special?” one may ask. In the 1920s, artists, intellectuals and the glamorous crowd discovered the island and their presence made it popular and trendy. Author Hermann Hesse and Stefan Zweig, actress Marlene Dietrich, and many painters visited the place and sang its praises.

In the 1960s, fashion-siren Brigitte Bardot and her now former husband bon vivant Gunter Sachs brought back glamour to a paradise that had been quiet and dormant for some time. The small village of Kampen attracted many celebrities and quickly became the St. Tropez of the North.

Nowadays, Kampen stands for luxurious fashion boutiques, food, restaurants and jetset properties. Light hits the island in a way that highlights the incredible beauty of nature.

If you like long walks on the beach, you might go up north to Elbow Beach, or down south to Hörnum, where the beautiful beach is partly protected by concrete tetrapods. The 40km-long distinctive shoreline of Sylt is ideal during low tide for a more comfortable walk on a wider beach. Fast-changing weather, beautiful sunsets, glimpses of resting gray seal pups, all give the feeling of an untouched, well-preserved environment – nature at its best.

The beauty of a sunrise over the Northern Sea is mirrored in its reflection on the beach.
On the first day of the new year, it is tradition for the tough-at-heart to meet up at the Wenningstedt Beach to bathe in the cold ocean while a crowd cheers them on.
A bonfire is lit in front of the Restaurant Wonnemeyer in Wenningstedt, for patrons to celebrate the holidays outdoors by the warmth of the fire.
Early morning seagulls welcome visitors to the beach at Wadden Sea.
A grey seal pup sleeps peacefully on the snow which blankets Hornum beach.
In the cool and calm of a winter morning, swans grace a pond in Wenningstedt.
The early morning fog rolling in to the small harbour in Hornum adds an air of mystery during winter.

Winter On the Beach

BeachUnlike the Wadden Sea which is popular among surfers, the eastern shoreline is more famous for its oyster banks and oyster shacks. Here, early birds can enjoy the fantastic sunrise.

Right on the beach, and sometimes among the dunes, there are restaurants where fancy food is offered and a relaxed atmosphere guaranteed. The combination of activity al fresco and a warming shelter inspires the taste buds, and the cozy, friendly atmosphere is typically Frisian and hard to find elsewhere in the world.

Adjacent to List harbour is a happening waterfront where the “Gosch Story” began. Starting out in a small shack in 1972 selling fish rolls, the Gosch Empire now offers fresh seafood in all varieties, and has become a popular brand all over Germany, its various restaurants found everywhere on the island and beyond.

Probably the most iconic beach restaurant is Sansibar in Rantum that started as a little shack in 1978. Run by Herbert Seckler, a self-made restaurateur, its legendary cellar beneath the dunes holds more than 30,000 bottles of exquisite wine. A Sansibar restaurant is also found on board the best-rated cruise ship in the world, the MS Europa, and the Sea Cloud tender moored at the beach offers passengers special visits to the shore-bound wine cellar. Seckler and his crew cater more than 3,000 meals a day during peak times, and yet retain their personal touch.

Wonnemeyer in Wenningstedt offers a Café del Mar feel for those looking for that ambience. Christmas is celebrated with open fireplaces on the beach to draw people out of the shack. Wonnemeyer is known for playing original music, and for offering a preview on their webcam, available on their website (wonnemeyer.de/webcam) 24/7 all year long.

Up the beach to the north, a lone Jeep takes you to Buhne 16, a nice, casual shack where a warm mulled-wine punch called Glühwein is served during the Christmas season.

Winegrower Balthasar Rees from the Rhine River is a small, exquisite vineyard that started harvesting in 2012. It lies just next to the St. Severin church in Keitum. The redbrick stone church tower is a good landmark and is seen from far away.

The bitter cold doesn’t affect the mood of this Sylt resident, who has wrapped up warm to combat the winter conditions.
Thatch-roofed cottages covered in snow welcome the first rays of the winter sun.
A boat is tied up for the holidays in this view of the harbour basin in Rantum on a peaceful winter afternoon.
A Frisian girl sits on a hill of ice by the sea, unfazed by the cold. Frisians are known for embracing the deep winter.
Visitors can take refuge from the cold winds in these hut-like seating cubicles which dot the outdoor restaurants and seaside areas.
The blacksmith’s shop is a hive of an industry even during the winter months.

‘Tis the Season

On Christmas Eve at St. Severin, a local brass ensemble plays well-known Christmas songs, the slightly cracked wooden church benches are filled, and the Evangelical-Lutheran priestess guides you vibrantly through the service. Parts of the Christmas story are sometimes told in Söl’ring, the indigenous dialect of Sylt, a unique dialect with elements of German, Danish and English. Upon leaving the church, most people walk home through Keitum, also known as ‘the old captain’s village’.

Christmas is celebrated by the residents and homeowners somewhat quietly, in the way that islanders do. However, New Year’s Eve is a little more celebratory, with fireworks on the beach and visitors from nearby Hamburg.

Further north, people running across the beach and then jumping right into the cold surge of waves is a common sight. They do this to bring their body temperature down to a freezing sea temperature after coming from the steaming sauna right on the beach. One of these beach saunas is adjacent to La Grande Plage (French for ‘The Great Beach’), a restaurant well-known for its excellent food and great view of the sunset.

Here, size doesn’t seem to matter whereas price does. Sylt belongs to a list of the most expensive property locales in Germany, with a small, typical, thatched-roof captain’s cottage easily fetching millions of Euros. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most expensive house in the world was offered for sale here – a 30-square-metre house sold for 6.3 million Euros.

For some pampering, book yourself (way in advance during peak seasons!) into one of the 5-star resorts on the island and try the various treatments in their exquisite spas.

Seasonal decor at the popular Sansibar restaurant in Rantum is festive, lively, and totally enchanting.

Sylt is like a precious jewel – well-protected and worthy of admiration, and just like a jewel, tilted different ways and hit by light, there are many beautiful things to be discovered, hidden beneath the dunes of sand and snow. Skip the happening summer season and experience the raw diamond of a winter vacation.

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