I am already revealing a prejudice by referring to the island as Heligoland. In German, it is Helgoland.
Unusual for almost anywhere in the world, Heligoland is somewhere that receives very few British visitors; more unusual still given that Heligoland was a British-administered territory from 1807-90 and again from 1945-52.
Having said that, Heligoland is not the most accessible spot to get to; my entry is via a 4-hour catamaran ride out of Hamburg on the Halunder Jet.
On a late August day, 68 kilometres of North Sea are thankfully as calm as the proverbial millpond. The long, pincer-like wall of Heligoland’s south harbour stretches out to welcome me like some kind of giant crustacean, dragging me in like a tasty morsel scavenged from the sea.
The prospect of few British visitors had been an incentive to visit, and I am struck by the fact that I do not hear another British voice on either the journey to the island or, indeed, during my entire time on Heligoland.
Heligoland’s remote location means that it enjoys a privileged tax-exempt status; much of its revenue achieved by sales of alcohol, cigarettes and perfume to day-trippers from the German mainland, and the first of these commodities is in evidence on my walk from the harbour into town: pallets of beer piled high in a temporary loading bay.
Pulling my wheelie-bag, I form an uneasy part of a zombie-like day-tripper procession towards a line of colourfully-painted cottages, which signify the first front of an inherently capitalist world.
This is not the Heligoland that I seek. I know that there is more to the island than cheap booze and Toblerone.
I keep wheeling. Wheeling my wheelie-bag beyond the tawdry tourist shops. The Heligoland I want to discover lies beyond the reach of first impressions.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny tries to never judge a book by its cover. Unless the cover is very good (Ed.)