Sunday, August 22, 2010

The island of Baltrum

Today, I want to lure you away to a tiny island that I bet nobody of you ever heard of - most Germans only have a very hazy idea where it is, though it is in Germany. If you start out in Canada, roughly in the middle of Newfoundland and fly straight east and jump over Britain (where Manchester is located), then you'll end up at the North Sea and the German shore where a few islands are scattered. Seven of them are counted as the "Ostfriesische Inseln", and Baltrum is the smallest of them, right in the middle. Only three hundred people live there permanently.

For some reason, Baltrum is a thing you inherit from your family, like brown hair or black. My grandmother used to go, so did my mother when we were small, and now, I've taken my daughter, too, and she cried when we had to leave, so I think she'll come back, too!

There are no cars allowed on Baltrum, that's why you are projected into another world the very second you get off the ferry (which crosses the short stretch to the mainland in 35 minutes two or three times a day, depending on the tide). Things are transported with little hand-carts, or, if you indulge yourself, you hire a horse waggon.

There is one smnall supermarket where you can buy single rolls (!) of toilet paper, one small department store so you can stock up on sturdy sea clothing and bathing costumes, one books store, and a few knick-knack stores that you just need on a rainy day.

Besides that, there's the gym, which in summer, serves as the local theater. The actors are the inhabitants of the island who whiled away the cold, long winters by learning their texts. You can't imagine how thrilling it is to see the murderer of The Mouse-Trap, cycling past you on your way to the beach the very next morning. Twice a week, the gym also serves as the cinema, a one-man show, run by a man with bare feet who chases errant moths from the screen with a long broom before the movie starts.

A very German thing is the "Strandkorb". Translated, it means beach basket, and it's a huge sort of woven seat on the beach that you can use as your temporary castle to protect you from the wind, the sand, and the sun. Of course, you have to pay for it way in advance, or they're all booked out, but I'm a great fan of the Strandkorb as I tend to freeze easily (and the North Shore of Germany is NOT known for hot weather). But with a Strandkorb, you have nothing to fear.

Another attraction of Ostfriesland (that's the region Baltrum belongs to) is the very clear water which allows you to drink tea without that horrid black slime on top, which can be found everywhere else. The Ostfriesen drink their tea with cream and white rock candy that makes delicious cracking noises when the hot tea comes on top. I drink gallons of tea whenever I'm on Baltrum.

It's all laid-back and wind-blown and sandy, and I love it. Every time I go there, I wonder if I would like to live there permanently, to write my books without distractions, but I don't think I could stand the lonely winters. I think you have to be born to bear that kind of solitude. How about you? Are you true island-people or summer visitors only?


Sandy Cody said...

Beate, your island sounds lovely. One of my favorite fantasies when life's distractions keep me from writing is to imagine myself alone in a lighthouse, protected from the world by 100's a steps. However, in all honesty, I'll have to admit that, like you, I'm a summer visitor.

Beate Boeker said...

I like the idea of living in a lighthouse! It must be hard to sleep, though, with all that light flashing by - or do lighthouse-keepers sleep in a shuttered room? Imagine staying within a lighthouse during a storm . . . must be so scary.

Elisabeth Rose said...

What an amazing place, Beate! The European beaches are so bleak by comparison with ours. (If you go to my website I've posted a pic of Coogee beach in Sydney where our RWA conference was held last weekend.)

But islands have a magic all their own, don't they, regardless of the temperature? I love the Strandkborbe. Must be just like sitting in a basket. Did you swim or is too cold?

Beate Boeker said...

Well, to do it justice, I took that picture with the Strandkorb on the one day that we had bad weather this time. The other days, it was hot and blue! So yes, this year, I did go swimming several times - it was wonderful, so refreshing.

Jane Myers Perrine said...

Beate--how fascinating! Thanks for sharing. I love learning about different way people do things--the crackling tea, for example. I have to find this island on a map.

As wonderful as this looks, I need cars and warm weather. I hope someday you can live your dream of living here.

Zelda Benjamin said...

Lis, nothing is as civilized as Sydney Harbor. However, at times there is serenity in a bleak day at the beach. I find myself more productive when there's stormy weather in S Fl.

Beate Boeker said...

Jane, you'll have to look quite hard to find Baltrum on a map . . . thanks to google, you can enlarge it, though.
Zelda, I agree with you - I prefer to work when it's stormy outside. Makes me feel so cozy and protected within my house!