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High-sea climate and archaic rituals on Borkum, Thalasso and a touch of high society on Norderney, pure nature on the " Töwerland" Juist - the three islands in the west off the coast of East Frisia present themselves differently. What unites them is the magnificent dune landscape, seemingly endless sandy beaches, fresh sea air and the exposed location in the middle of the Wadden Sea.

Reading sample from the DuMont Pictorial Atlas East Frisia

This article comes from the DuMont Pictorial Atlas East Frisia from DuMont Reiseverlag. On 122 pages, you will find numerous active tips and recommendations tested by the author for every taste: sledding in the mud, watching plovers and the like, visiting the "Lange Anna" on Helgoland or discovering East Frisia's popular sports. In addition, there are background reports and specials, for example on the fight of the cutter captains, the wonder world of the Wadden Sea or the East Frisian tea ceremony.

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On 364 days a year, Borkum is a completely normal North Sea island, the Borkumers are completely normal islanders. Normal, that should not be misunderstood, after all, the island offers a fantastic climate, a beautiful dune landscape, great beaches and warm hosts. One day a year, however, they go crazy, the Borkumers. On the night of December 6, the legendary Klaasohm is celebrated here.

In the process, six young men parade across the island together with the "Wiefke", a young lad dressed as a woman. Who has the honor to give the Klaase is decided in mysterious fights in the early evening, behind pig's head masks they remain unrecognized for the rest of the evening. "Armed" they are with a large curved cow horn, which is mainly needed to spank young ladies the buttocks. And they do it so violently that it is not unusual for tears to flow. Mothers and their children, on the other hand, are supplied with moppe, a sticky gingerbread pastry, and even stroked.

It is not quite clear what the origins of this custom are. It has something to do with the Christian feast of St. Nicholas, and at the same time archaic exorcism is probably mixed into the spectacle, which according to other sources originated in the whaling era: When the men returned from the long fishing trip, they first had to restore their position and power in the families.

Borkum's beach pavilion crowns the promenade and overlooks the beach with its typical island tents and baskets. © picture alliance / DUMONT Bildarchiv | Martin Kirchner

The Klaase are accompanied on their procession through the community by numerous onlookers, but above all by an infernal noise of horns, drums and the "Düwelsgeigen" equipped with can lids. The hustle and bustle goes on for several hours, they move from pub to pub, dancing on tables and benches, before the haunting comes to an end in Westerstraße with dervish-like dances and great hooting of the crowd. Then the waves splash back onto the beach, as if nothing had happened, the wind whistles its usual song. For 364 days, Borkum is now a normal island in the North Sea again - until the next Klaasohm.

Janus-faced Norderney

Norderney is the oldest seaside resort on the North Sea coast, but in terms of its geological history it is the youngest of the East Frisian islands. Today, the island successfully manages the balancing act between tradition and the merciless hustle and bustle of tourism. At the time-honored Conversationshaus, demurely dressed older guests listen to the spa concert. Where Clara Schumann once gave piano concerts for crowned heads, moderate classical tones still resound today. A stone's throw away, house and techno basses rumble at night. Hardly anyone is dressed modestly when, for example, the "White Sands Festival" is celebrated. An event that combines beach volleyball, windsurfing and partying. Norderney is also unquestionably the most sporty of the East Frisian islands.

The island is the sophisticated nobility - statesmen and poet princes once vacationed here - but also something like the "Ballermann" in the Wadden Sea. While on other islands the bird watchers crawl out of bed at 5 a.m., on Norderney they stagger out of the legendary discotheque "Backstage" at this hour. On Norderney, people sit down to dinner in a noble ambience and candlelight, but here they also stand at the booth for kebabs. Bowling clubs promenade on the beach in harmony with celebrities, who have been increasingly visiting the island again for some years. Vacation and let vacation, that could also be the motto of Norderney.

With Brad Pitt to Juist

Jan-Lüppen Brunzema from the island pilots in Harle had to say goodbye at some point to his regular guests, who were Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts or Jürgen Vogel and Katja Riemann. The pilot from East Frisia did not have the stars in the flesh on board his Cesna. For more than 30 years, he transported film reels with blockbusters to the East Frisian Islands. In the age of digitalization, however, films are no longer played from reels but from digital storage media. Nevertheless - the idea was ingenious and it gave Brunzema a fantastic job for years.

Cinema operators on the islands were fed up with constantly having to offer the same antiquated films, including shaky pictures and creaky sound. However, the small island cinemas could not afford the latest top films on their own. So they joined forces, exchanged the film reels among themselves, and Brunzema rattled from island to island with his propeller plane. Wind and weather sometimes disrupted the flight plan somewhat; then the pilot pressed the film reels into the hand of the recipient on the tarmac and he raced to the cinema with them. It was extremely rare that moviegoers had to wait a few minutes. But it was still better than seeing Heinz Rühmann as "Quax der Bruchpilot" for the twentieth time...

Of course, the "island planes" still carry passengers in the flesh. In the summer, these are mainly well-off vacationers or those who have missed the ferry, while in the winter months they tend to be craftsmen and business people. Or islanders who want to be with their loved ones under the Christmas tree in time for Christmas. In addition, everything that is in a hurry: medicines, the current daily press and fresh fish, sometimes even baby seals in distress that have to be nursed back to health at the breeding station in Norddeich. Only film reels are no longer part of the island fliers' cargo.

Rich in tradition and climate neutral

Storm surges recently increasingly destroyed parts of the beautiful natural landscape on Juist, raising not only anxious questions but also enormous costs. So those responsible thought beyond tomorrow. They didn't just want to repair dune breaches and raise dikes. They appointed a sustainability officer, officially declared themselves a "climate island" back in 2010; in 2015, Juist was awarded the German Sustainability Prize. The island wants to be the first vacation destination to become climate-neutral by 2030.

Tradition helps: On the island, people ride bicycles instead of cars, and horse-drawn carriages are used for transportation. In the future, more use is to be made of wind and solar power plants, as well as geothermal energy. However, not all the natives are on board, and some consider the sustainability officer to be an eco-madman. One thing, however, could play into the cards of Thomas Vodde and his comrades-in-arms. For them, sustainability also means social responsibility, preserving traditions and, above all, maintaining living space for the islanders.

Because Juist is starting to have a similar problem to Sylt. Rents and real estate prices are horrendous. The number of second homes is increasing, at the expense of social life: sports clubs can no longer fill their teams, and the volunteer fire department lacks new recruits. That's why Juist is planning a housing cooperative, for example, whose plots are to be reserved for islanders. If nothing changes, many believe that in the not too distant future the "Töwerland" (magic land) could become a ghost island.



Borkum (5200 inhabitants) is the largest of the East Frisian Islands with just under 31 km² and the most westerly. Until 1863, Borkum consisted of the sub-islands of Westland and Ostland; the "Tüskendör" ("in between") still marks the former junction. The island was first mentioned in 1398. The islanders lived more poorly from jetsam until whaling brought temporary prosperity in the 17th century. After the end of whaling in the late 18th century, there was a great exodus from the island. Only with tourism (from 1834) the situation slowly changed.

Borkum, a recognized North Sea spa since 1850, has a high seas climate that is low in pollen and particularly rich in iodine, although car traffic - albeit limited - is largely permitted. The island can boast of its dune landscape, around 25 km of sandy beaches and the wonderfully fresh air. On Borkum's beach promenade, rather ugly concrete castles alternate with dignified buildings from the Wilhelminian period.


The island has three lighthouses. In 1576 the 45 m high Old lighthouse Originally a church tower and burned down, it was rebuilt at the end of the 19th century (Wilhelm-Bakker-Straße 4; currently under construction). As a replacement, the people of Borkum erected the Great Lighthouse in 1879, also called the New lighthouse which is still in service today (Goethestraße 1, tel. 04922 77 99; visit April-Oct. dgl. 10.00-11.30 and 15.00-17.00, Mon., Wed., Fri. and Sat. also 19.00-21.00, otherwise Tues., Fri. and Sun. 15.00 to 16.30). In 1891 on the south beach was built the until 2003 operated Small lighthouse (27 m).


Tourist Information, Am Georg-Schütte-Platz 5, 26757 Borkum, Tel. 04922 93 30, www.borkum.de


In Low German, the people of Juist call their island "Töwerland", which means "magic land". "Töwer" meant witch in Old Platt German; according to old sources, the island was so named because three islanders were accused of witchcraft and burned at the end of the 16th century.

The island between Borkum and Norderney is the narrowest of the East Frisian islands and a true natural paradise. Depending on the tides, Juist measures only 500 m in the north-south extension, but is the longest of these islands with almost 17 km. Juist (1800 inhabitants) is often called the most beautiful sandbank in the world. It has been a state-approved seaside resort since 1840.


The 1898 built Historic spa housealso known as the "White Castle by the Sea" and an impressive example of seaside resort architecture on the North Sea coast, now houses a four-star hotel (www.kurhaus-juist.de). In 2008, the 17 m high Sea mark created a new island landmark on the new pier. The Water tower, also called "Doornkaatbuddel" by the islanders because of its special shape, was built in 1927 when the conventional water supply was no longer sufficient due to the increasing tourism.

The Old warm bath (1899) now houses the registry office and a reading room. The lighthouse Memmert Fire no longer has any significance for shipping. The Lake Hammersee, the largest freshwater body of water on the East Frisian Islands, was formed in the mid-17th century when the devastating Petriflut of 1651 temporarily divided the island in two. At the western end of Juist lies the Billriff, on whose sandbanks seals can occasionally be seen at low tide.


Kurverwaltung, Strandstr. 5, 26571 Juist, Tel. 04935 80 98 00, www.juist.de


Norderney has existed in its present form only since the middle of the 16th century and is thus the youngest of the East Frisian islands. It was allowed to call itself a Royal Prussian seaside resort as early as 1797, and a Royal Hanoverian seaside resort from 1819 to 1866 - until Prussia took over the Kingdom of Hanover. On the second largest of the East Frisian islets (26 km²), mainly the upper ten thousand vacationed at first; poets and composers were inspired here. Today the island (6000 inhabitants) records over 3 million overnight stays per year. Even from the ferry, the urban silhouette of the town of Norderney catches the eye; it is lively there in the high season - peace and quiet can be found in the extensive dune landscape and on the beaches.


Around the Spa Square Norderney exudes the charm of times gone by. Especially when a concert is played there. Built in 1840, the Conversation House (Kurhaus) is one of the most important secular buildings in East Frisia (today a casino). The sophisticated Spa hotel was built as early as 1837 and served as a summer residence for the Hanoverian royal family. Also the Spa Theater (1894) evokes memories of "anno dazumal" (cinema) with its "plush" ambience.

The Windmill Seldenüst ("Selten Ruhe", 1862) is the only one on the entire East Frisian Islands (Restaurant, Marienstraße 24, Tel. 04932 20 06, www.norderney-muehle.de). From 1872 to 1874, the 54-meter high Lighthouse you can enjoy a magnificent panoramic view (tgl. 14.00-16.00 o'clock).

At Watt Worlds Wadden Sea Visitor Center Norderney visitors learn not only which special animals and plants live and grow in the Wadden Sea, but also what problems there are, for example, with the garbage in the North Sea and offshore installations at sea. (Am Hafen 2, tel. 04932 20 01, www.nationalparkhaus-norderney.de; March-Sept. daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m., otherwise 9 a.m.-5 p.m.).


Tourist Information in the Conversationshaus, Am Kurplatz 1, 26548 Norderney, Tel. 04932 89 19 00, www.norderney.de

Cover photo: Borkum's colorful beach chairs in the evening light © picture alliance / DUMONT Bildarchiv | Martin Kirchner

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