Today I want to whisk you away to one of my most favourite places in Europe. I am speaking of a little island on the north-western coast of Germany called “Borkum”.
Borkum ~ a part of the East Frisian Islands and it’s Nazi past
It is part of the East Frisian Islands and used to be one big island together with Juist and a part of Norderney called Bant. It got destroyed by huge storms in the 18th century and I am not sure if that meant the end of its reputation for piracy and whaling.
My American readers who are interested in history might know the island for its massacre of seven American airmen in 1944. Their plane crashed on Borkum and they were taken prisoners. They were supposed to be brought to a camp in central Germany but the commanding officers decided to walk the prisoners through Borkum town where they were objected to abuse by the citizens before being shot.
you don’t think of Borkum’s Nazi past when you see this 🙂 photo credit: Erich Ferdinand via Flickr
I never knew anything about this before I researched Borkum for this post. It reminded me however of a pretty spooky experience in December 2000 or 2001. I stayed on Borkum for recovering from stress. At the beginning of December, a more or less ancient tradition takes place on the island which is called “Klasohm (this is a German link. There are no translations)“. “Klas” refers to Santa Claus and “Ohm” means uncle. It is a mixture of an ancient tradition of the men coming back from whaling taking back power from the women on the island and the benevolent Santa who brings presents.
Klasohm on Borkum ~ a strange ancient tradition
It is a tradition that is very sacred to the Borkumers and they don’t really like to have tourists around even though they can’t avoid that as tourists are their main income today. What happens is that seven young men from a men’s club run around dressed as “Klasohm’s” who hit women on the buttocks with horns. Local women do not mind so much. It seems to be an honour even though it can hurt quite badly. I was warned to keep away from the action as far as I could as they are not gentle. On the other hand, they also throw presents or sweets around for onlookers to catch.
Photo credit: G. Meyer via Wikipedia
I found the whole experience extremely spooky. Borkum was rather sparsely lit and suddenly I was reminded of Nazi hunts of people who were not liked. Then I thought it quite strange that I was reminded of Germany’s Nazi past.
Today though I read not only about the massacre of the American airmen but also that Borkum was one of the places who kept Jews away on purpose and were famous for it. And suddenly it made sense.
(Defendents at Borkum Island War Trial in Ludwigsburg, by Seventh Signal Corps Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
It makes me sad that a place that is very dear to me as it is a beautiful spot especially healing for people with breathing and lung conditions as the island is low in pollen and other allergens has such a nasty history. Borkum has the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen (well maybe Norfolk can compete 🙂 ) and the people are very friendly and open.
You can’t avoid Germany’s Nazi past when visiting
I suspect you cannot go to any place in Germany without the possibility of discovering some atrocity that happened in Nazi Germany. The country I come from has a gruesome past however it is a beautiful place and even though there are still those around who believe Hitler to be a hero most Germans are open minded and fight for civil rights, for equality and most of all are welcoming to strangers no matter if they are refugees, immigrants or tourists.
Even though I have a rather split relationship with the country I come from and its politicians I am proud of how it welcomed so many refugees in the past year. I am aware though that such an immense influx of people from such a different culture creates problems and many who are afraid for their own well-being are easily lead backwards to racism and xenophobia.
Well, I did not plan to make this post such a history lesson and political opinion piece. When I write this it is the end of November and we hear an awful lot about Brexit and what US president-elect Donald Trump wants or doesn’t want to do. I am rather disillusioned about the future and fear for the young people all over the world. Where on earth can all this “we do not want immigrants” lead to?
Life is a cycle ~ the bad will end
To me, it seems it can only go in one direction and that is pure racism and atrocities never heard of. I am scared. I am shocked. I do not know how to deal with this. However, I am a survivor of abuse and if there is one thing I have learned in life and learned from looking into history then it is this: Life is a cycle. There have been times of freedom and civility and times of becoming cavemen and -women and atrocities. But none stay forever. History changes time and time again and some of us learn and some don’t.
We won’t stop the wheel of time or the wheel of change. I suspect the only thing we can do is cling to our values and do as much good as we can in the immediate area of our lives. And we can be grateful for the beautiful places given to us no matter how their past looks like.
Borkum is long walk on sandy beaches
When I think of Borkum I think of long walks at sunny sand beaches. Even though I mainly stayed on the island in Winter the weather can be stunningly nice and still warm. Even at the beginning of December one day, I sat at the beach in a protected spot and I could take my jacket off. That was brilliant.
photo credit: rhiya via Flickr
Borkum is also known for a sort of beach seats made of Wicker. It is like a wooden bench with wicker protection around and some lovely colourful cloth protection from the sun. You can rent them at the beach and have the time of your life ;-).
On that particular stay, I spoke of earlier I had the chance to breathe freely and to let go of many of my self-set limitations. Borkum is one place where I discovered and re-discovered my love for poetry and where I started to believe that I could make my dreams reality. And look at me 16 or 17 years later: I have made many of my dreams reality and that makes me proud and happy.
Borkum’s sometimes quirky restaurants and cafes
Heimliche Liebe a restaurant a little outside of Borkum Town, photo credit: Erich Ferdinant via Flickr
But Borkum isn’t only about going to the beach. There are many lovely restaurants and cafe where you can for example experience a genuine northern German tea ritual. The northern Germans brew their tea very strong. You get it served in a previously warmed cup and add a huge piece of sugar called Kluntje. When it hits the hot tea it makes a crackling noice which made children giggle. And you let cream run into the cup from the side which makes the cream “cloud” up in the tea. No stirring. You drink the rather bitter top first and then enjoy the very sweet bottom with all the sugar at the end. A great experience for tea lovers!
Speaking of cafes: there is one little cafe that is quite quirky. It has attached a model train to it’s walls which go from room to room. Yes, you are right there are holes in the walls where the train comes through. You can imagine how children love that place :-).
Borkum ~ a lovely place for a family holiday
Borkum is lovely for a holiday stay for families anyway as driving your car is very restricted in Borkum town. You are only allowed to got to your B&B, holiday apartment or hotel and then have to leave it and do all on foot or with the little island train that takes you practically everywhere. But the Island is so small you can reach everything easily on foot or by bike anyway.
One thing that would either excite or scare children are the two lighthouses on the island. The younger one in the middle of Borkum town is a real feature and you can walk up and look over the Northsea and Borkum itself. A real treat.
Borkum lies within the Wadden Sea
And last but not least I have to mention that Borkum lies within the Wadden Sea an area of shallow sea, tidal flats and wetlands. You can find it on the UNESCO’s World Heritage list and any bird watcher and nature lover will a diversity of flora and fauna that will excite. There is also a colony of seals living close to the beach and in good weather and with binoculars you can watch them all day long. Or you take one of the tourist boats and get real close.
(it says in the text: Island faces, you’ve forgotten everyday life, the air smells of salt, there is sand stuck to your body, the new borkum film, 2011, part four, watching seals, video credit Borkum Fan via YouTube)
Did I make you curious?
There is, of course, much more to say about Borkum but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own :-). So if this post has made you curious then take the time to visit Germany and go to Borkum and find out for yourself what the charm and spell is that it puts on you :-).
Resources and further reading:
Borkum on Wikipedia
Borkum Island War Crimes Trial on Wikipedia
WikiVoyage East Frisian Islands
Borkum on Germany Travel
Borkum on Borkum.com
Borkum on Virtual Tourist
Borkum on LanceWadPlan
Borkum on DW Made for Minds
Borkum on The Tour Expert