The flood, the island of Neuwerk and what Hamburg has to do with it

EIn a bit of wind, there is always Neuwerk, that tiny island off Cuxhaven that is so small that there would not even be a place for an 18-hole golf course. At night, when the day visitors have disappeared, it is completely quiet on the three square kilometers. At most you can hear a “pop”. Then a pawn fell over on the hotel’s garden chess field, caught in a light breeze.

37 people live on the green spot in front of the Elbe and Weser estuaries. Most of them live from tourism. There are five guest houses in total, plus a Wadden Sea house, a bit of agriculture, a bit of port logistics. Neuwerk and the surrounding Wadden Sea are part of Hamburg, but the few island tractors have Pinneberger license plates. Sometimes wealthy horse owners bring their animals here so that they can recover from their lung ailments in the pure North Sea air.

So close that you want to start walking right away

This island is so different and so close that you want to start walking straight away. The temptation already begins at the Cuxhaven ball beacon and continues to the beach at Döse, where the huge container ships in the Elbe estuary are soon no longer a sensation. Here we really see it: two distant rows of trees shimmer like a mirage on the horizon, with a tower between them. It looks like a little Mont-Saint-Michel. But wait! You can’t just run out into the mudflats, no matter how seductive it is. The moon only pulled the carpet of the sea briefly. Soon the creeks will be full again, then the tide will come. When everything is back to the way it was, there will be a flood.


Emptying times on Neuwerk depend on the tide.
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Image: Christoph Moeskes

Tschelp. Dschubb. Our shoes squeeze the mud like in a Donald Duck story. Now we’re on our way to the island. Julia from “Wunderwelt Watt” leads us, together with the dog Ben. At eleven o’clock sharp, we left the land in Sahlenburg, less than a minute later. Today is low tide at 1 p.m. During the almost four-hour hike, we run halfway into the lowest point and halfway out again. Sahlenburg disappears behind us, other groups move away in front of us. Soon we 20 mudflat hikers seem to be alone under the pencil-gray sky. We stay together. Julia stops. It gurgles in the silt, bubbles rise – the work of sapling tube worms, which continue to filter food in the damp channels. We continue. It is still a long way to Neuwerk, around twelve kilometers in total.

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