Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Dyke

The island of Sylt is a prosperous holiday destination. The gardens are immaculate; the businesses thriving. I cycled though a small town and there was a tourist information office which was open, well-staffed and helpful. It was a novel experience. I cycled on to the town of Westerland. This was a very busy seaside town with bustling streets and hundreds of shops.




Before setting out on my journey I had obtained a credit card which had no fees for international transactions, and which also allowed me to take out cash from ATMs without a fee. In Norway, Sweden and Denmark I used my card all the time. In Germany, things were different.

I found a bookshop and tried to buy a German dictionary, but when I went to pay they saw my credit card and frowned. Finally, because I had no cash, the manager allowed the assistant to take my payment, but this became a pattern in Germany and, later, in the Netherlands. In general, and surprisingly to me, foreign credit and debit cards are not widely accepted in these countries. I found an ATM with difficulty and took out plenty of cash before taking the train back to the mainland.


Nothing quite prepares you for the extent of the dyke. I first encountered it at Dagebüjl, after a pleasant ride through flat fields from Niebüll. A bank of grass the height of a small house snakes off into the distance. Most of the time a track or road runs along the landward side at the foot of the dyke, and another between the dyke and the sea. In Germany, the grassy slopes are usually grazed by sheep, and the tracks are plastered with their shit. Cycling beside the dyke is a smelly and sometimes messy business. On many stretches there are frequent gates, which all require dismounting. Out at sea, islands float in the mud. There is an awful lot of mud in the Waddenzee!



At a certain point in the afternoon the dyke headed straight into the middle of a huge expanse of water. According to my map-free GPS I was cycling through the middle of the sea. There were certainly plenty of birds: waders, marsh harriers, buzzards.


I reached a National Park visitor centre where a large group of young people were hosing mud off themselves under a tap. This was my first meeting with ‘wadlopers’. I think it means mud-walkers. Messing around in the mud is a major holiday activity in the Waddenzee. Mostly, it takes the place of swimming, as the sea is too shallow to do anything more than wallow. Occasionally at a seaside resort I found an artificial beach, but more of that another time. Today I carried on until I reached the island of Nordstrand, where I camped in my first German campsite of the trip. It was run by two burly men who shook their heads and laughed when I said ‘Guten abend’. ‘Moing,’ they said. I thought they were saying ‘morning’, but they explained to me in broken English that in Schleswig-Holstein ‘Moing’ is the greeting, whatever time of day it is.


The campsite was small and there were notices everywhere. I especially liked the ones in the gents telling you how to pee. These, I found, were not uncommon in Germany. They were always witty and humorous.



The next day I cycled around the small island of Nordstrand, behind the dyke all the way. There were several hotels behind the dyke which had bridges from their second stories across the road and onto the top of the dyke. I left the island and passed through the old, cobbled town of Husum, where I had the best coffee of the trip so far in a café by the harbour. Then I followed the NSCR along paved tracks through farmland to St Peter-Ording. Luckily, just before I got there I deviated from the route (short-cut) and entered the town by the back door. This was where Lidl was located. I’d never have found it otherwise. On the way, I passed this signpost.



It was here that I had my second, and final, puncture of the trip, but it wasn’t a bad place to have to fix it. I then took a quick look at St Peter-Ording and realized it wasn’t for me. It was full of holiday-makers and it was all a little bit too nice. I left town and immediately found myself behind the dyke again. Sheep, gates, birds, then small, dilapidated campsite which I passed by. I finally arrived at a place called Wesselburenerkoog, just to the south of a large sluice called the Eidersperrwerk. Sluices like the dyke itself are a bit of a tourist attraction in this part of the world. If you build a massive wall to keep the sea out, you have to let the rivers escape somehow. It was a small, friendly campsite and the weather had perked up. In fact, it was quite warm and there was a lovely sunset. But there was no toilet paper. And they didn’t take credit cards, or any other kind of card either.



In the morning I was up early, along with a large number of burly grey-haired men. As soon as I’d entered Germany I’d started to notice the overweight citizens. I couldn’t help making a connection between this and the greatly increased number of cake shops I encountered selling large, heavy-looking cakes.

Maps are here: SyltNordstrand; Wesselburenerkoog 
  

Tips:
   You may find you need your own toilet paper on German campsites.
  Trying to use non-German credit and debit cards will get you funny looks. You need to carry cash. You will not usually find ATMs on the street. They seem to be in places called Sparkasse. 












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