Strandgut: The North Sea also washed up treasures on the beach

EIt was the German autumn. And when an abandoned yacht ran aground on Sylt in October 1977, the island was in turmoil. The stranding case of the “Apollo” quickly developed into a criminal case because the thing was more than mysterious: strange men soon got to grips with the ship, weapons were hidden behind a fairing.

Kripo, Interpol, finally large search. The fugitive men, they were Danes, were arrested after they left Rømø. At the time, Niels Diedrichsen was a bailiff on the Listland coast: “Terrorists, the kidnapping of Schleyer, then an abandoned ship on the beach, sawn-off shotguns – what do you think was going on here?”

Over the course of his 35 years as a bailiff, Niels Diedrichsen has experienced a lot and found and found many things on the beach. It was his job and his passion.

Strandgut: Even a worthless, single shoe has its history

Source: mauritius images / Naturfoto-Onl

Niels Diedrichsen, now 88 years old, now lives in List in the old part next to the Osthof, which the family has lived in for generations. The family is a co-owner of the Listland and so, at that time the 23-year-old farmer, he was given the task of the beach bailiff in April 1955.

As a bailiff responsible for the recovery of the lost property

“In my function as a beach guard, I was available around the clock for more than three decades, I was on the beach with wind and weather,” he recalls. He was responsible for the stranding cases – be it buoys or entire boats.

Niels Diedrichsen was responsible for the salvage. “I had to report the lost and found items to the beach captain in Westerland and to customs. Then an attempt was made to determine the owners. Failing that, the goods were sold in favor of the state treasury. There were public auctions, which took place here on our farm. ”Niels Diedrichsen also received his share of the proceeds.

The beach bailiff had no easy office – on the one hand he was obliged to the respective sovereign, on the other hand he had to maintain village peace. After all, he lived in a community that relied on ancient common law to get what the North Sea gave off the beach.

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Diedrichsen’s stretch of beach was 27 kilometers long. Impossible to monitor everything. What did people hide from him in the dunes, he still wonders today. In September 1990 he received a letter from the Office for Agriculture and Water Management, informing him that the office of the bailiff had expired. Auctioning and administration were no longer worthwhile.

Wood was valuable on islands and Halligen

A lot of wood was washed up on the North Sea before the steel containers were introduced; Coastal residents regularly collected beams and boards. Wood was valuable – and delivered – on the forest-poor islands. It was used for building when it was not burned. It can still be found in old houses on the islands, including the Diedrichsens. Almost everything was found and used.

Even on the Halligen. The passenger ship plows through the waves, from Hörnum to Sylt, via Amrum and Hallig Hooge to Nordstrand. And from there with a ferry via Pellworm to the small Hallig Süderoog.

Today, the captain chooses the route on the sea side around Amrum – where the North Sea breaks over the upstream sandbars. With unchecked force, wind, waves and currents hit the coast here, the sands protect Halligen and islands from the worst.

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The captain heads south-southeast between sandbars and Amrum’s west coast. The endless knee psand – Amrum’s huge beach – can be seen on the port side. In the 1970s there was a small hut village built from beach wood.

Here it becomes clear where to look for beach goods: outside, far outside. Where the North Sea meets the coast, for example at the dykes of Dithmarschen, on the beach of Sankt Peter-Ording, on the west coast of Hallig Hooge, on the western beaches of Amrum and Sylt. If you ask local sandpipers when the best time to look for flotsam, they say in unison: go look for strong west winds!

Every shoe has a story

Arrival on Hooge, on the Hanswarft – the main hill of the Hallig – is the Boyens family’s small art gallery. Handmade ceramics, wool are available here and beautiful watercolors. In front of the historic Frisian house there are shelves with old shoes.

“In 1994 I found a shoe on the dike and I took it with me,” says Werner Boyens. The 77-year-old is a passionate collector and runs a small gallery on Hallig Hooge. Today there are more than 350 individual shoes on the shelves next to his gallery; Work clog and children’s shoe, up to size 50 and with a ten centimeter heel.

Werner Boyens runs a small gallery on Hallig Hooge, where you can admire his shoe collection

Werner Boyens runs a small gallery on Hallig Hooge, where you can admire his shoe collection

Source: Swantje and Leif Boyens, www.hal

“Everyone likes to collect, and when I find something nice, I take it with me.” Boyens ’collection keeps growing, because if the former captain doesn’t paint, he goes to collect shoes. “I often go on the dike around the Hallig – and then they lie on the washing seam. I’m not looking for shoes that come to me. “

He says: “Every shoe has a story!” Did it fall off the cutter? Did he come across the Elbe? Strandgut stimulates the imagination. “In some years I find twenty pieces, this winter season was a rather mediocre shoe year.

You have the best chances to find shoes or beach goods at all here on Hooge after stormy days with strong winds from western directions. ”Then he puts the brush away and starts again at the dike. “When I find a shoe, it’s a good day.”

Strandgut offers bizarre surprises

Although the office of the bailiff with its dissolution at the beginning of the 1990s no longer exists, beach goods still exist. You just have to keep your eyes open, sometimes there are bizarre surprises.

Holger Spreer, a kind of modern beach bailiff, lives on the small Hallig Süderoog. He is one who likes to show guests the curiosity cabinet of the sea and can tell a few stories about it.

However, you can only visit Süderoog as part of a guided tour. The mudflat is endless here, the walk from Pellworm in an accompanied group takes around an hour and a half to the lonely Hallig.

Showroom with lost and found items on Hallig Süderoog: According to estimates, around 20,000 tons of beach goods and garbage end up in the North Sea every year

Showroom with lost and found items on Hallig Süderoog: According to estimates, around 20,000 tons of beach goods and garbage end up in the North Sea every year

Credit: picture alliance / Christian Cha

Nele Wree and Holger Spreer live with their daughters on Süderoog. The couple moved to Hallig in 2013. Both are employed by the land and work for coastal and nature conservation: counting birds, making sure that nobody walks unaccompanied and unauthorized in this part of the national park, maintaining the stock of the 60-hectare Hallig and its building.

They have also built a so-called archehof, they keep poultry and sheep threatened with extinction and sell surplus meat. When mudflats or guests come from Pellworm by ship, the two entertain their guests with soup, cake and homemade lemonade. On the stately farm on Süderoog, the sign with the national coat of arms and the note “Strandvogtei” is still emblazoned today.

A garden pond on the beach at Süderoog

Even if there are no beach guards on Süderoog since 1965, Holger Spreer somehow sees himself as such. Because as a national park ranger he controls the beach of the upstream southern sand, which is otherwise taboo, he hides things there and elsewhere, reports them if necessary and puts them back into “value”.

The couple introduced Hof and Hallig. First it goes up to the beach corner. There, in the cabinet of curiosities, Spreer shows the guests his collection of beautiful and strange things from the sea – “there is always something!”

Be it a television with an English connection or just a shoe. Strandgut often has a long way to go and a story to tell. Sometimes you have to come up with one yourself.

For example, the plastic mold of a garden pond was washed ashore on Süderoog – did a castaway perhaps use it as a lifeboat? And what was the path of this high-heeled women’s shoe in the unusual size 43 before it ran aground here?

Things of value go to the lost property office

“The winter months are usually the best,” says Holger Spreer, but this season there was less washing up than usual. “It used to be real beach goods – with an emphasis on good, in terms of goods or value. In the meantime, it’s mostly just rubbish. ”

Nevertheless, it still exists today, the sea value. But: you can’t just keep and sell lost and found items. If Spreer, and this also applies to all other beach goods seekers, finds things of value, these must be reported and returned to the lost property office.

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National park ranger Holger Spreer is also an area manager on the upstream Süderoogsand and in the Wadden Sea. Sometimes he finds a nice piece of wood, but he only takes it home if it does not violate the regulations for the protection of nature and archaeological finds.

Treasures and recognizable old things are delivered. Regular beach wood is not a problem. “Sand and water polish the wood, shape and color refine over time,” he says. “We use it to make candle holders or cloakrooms, lamps or small works of art, for example.” The wood has a nice grain now and then, and who knows, maybe an exciting story.

Amber also washed up the North Sea

Sometimes it’s not just garbage that is washed up on the North Sea beach. Maybe it’s even a piece of amber. Of course, Holger Spreer also found some of them – and if you just look closely, you might be successful yourself. Far out there and with western winds, the chances are the best.

The modern “Strandvogt” Spreer, who lives on the outpost in the North Sea and always keeps his eyes open, also looks at something completely different during a walk, namely fairway barrels. These are flashing buoys, weighing a good half a ton, quite important and expensive.

If one goes into business in a hurricane and Holger Spreer finds it somewhere around Süderoog, he tows the buoy and returns it to the water authority. There is then mountain salary, so much that it is worth taking a closer look.

The history of the camera went around the world

The most bizarre find took place in autumn 2017. Then Holger Spreer’s father found a black box on the banks of the Hallig. After cleaning it, unpacking it, and pushing a few buttons, this beach ware actually started telling a story about a boy who had lost his camera on Yorkshire Beach in England, that very find.

The camera, fortunately packed waterproof, filmed loss and doom. Flood and current drove the piece on Süderoog. The owner was found on Facebook and the find returned to the boy. The camera went around half the North Sea, its story around the world.

“I am speechless that I have the camera again”

His camera was floating in the water for weeks before it landed on the coast of Schleswig-Holstein. Ten-year-old William now traveled with his family from England to Süderoog to pick them up.

Source: WELT / Tobias Stammberger

Tips and information

Beach law: After an amendment to the law that came into force in 1990, the right of discovery has been applicable to stranded goods since then. This means that anyone who finds beach goods must hand them in to the lost property office or report them, with the exception of finds of low value.

Information desk: Travel and accommodation options at, general information at and

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Participation in the trip was supported by Sylt Marketing and Nordsee-Tourismus-Service. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at


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