Heligoland: First Impressions

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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E. C. Glendenny tries to never judge a book by its cover. Unless the cover is very good (Ed.)

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