Sylt – Jetset island with coastal defenses with tetrapods

Sylt is one of the Wadden Islands that borders the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site. It is the northernmost German island that has been fully inhabited since the Middle Ages and has been fighting a battle against the North Sea ever since. Coastal defense is a problem. In the first half of the twentieth century, the island was discovered by architects, writers and painters and since then Sylt has developed as an island where Germany’s jet set strolls.

Coastal defense of the island of Sylt

Hard fight for preservation and against erosion

Sylt is fighting a hard battle against erosion. The waves of the North Sea, and especially the storm surges, ravage the North Sea coast and eat sand from the dunes. The Rode Klif near Kampen, a dune area with cliff formations known for its red-colored earth, is shrinking by a meter every year and a concrete wall and concrete behemoths in the shape of tetrapods must provide protection for the promenade at Westerland. There are thousands of them on the beach at Hörnum and the current still finds its way and nibbles at the coast.

Tetrapods

Sylt has been fighting against land loss since the Middle Ages. Over the centuries, many attempts have been made to turn the tide. Breakwaters have been constructed and concrete blocks poured. The newest method is the tretrapods, enormous concrete four-legged structures that have to break the waves.

Hotel Miramar near Westerland

Hotel Miramar was forced to build an 80 meter long and 6 meter high wall in 1907 to keep the North Sea at bay. The promenade was constructed on top. In the 1920s the coastal defenses were extended to more than 800 metres. To preserve the beach, sand replenishment has been carried out regularly since the 1970s. The beaches are raised with nourishments to compensate for the lost sand and to maintain a recreational beach, but the currents move the sand and take it from the beach to drop it off the coast. This sand transport has created sandbanks parallel to the coast of Sylt – and also of Amrum.
Coastal exit on the southern arm / Source: Ameland Tetrapoden Press Agency / Source: Ameland Press Agency Concrete to withstand the waves / Source: Ameland Press Agency

Günther Sachs and Brigitte Bardot

In 1990 a new method was tested. Near Kampen there is a house on the edge of the dunes where protection is needed. The house called Haus Kliffende was built in 1923 by architect Walther Baedecker on behalf of a bookseller and antiquarian from Berlin: it became a meeting place for German artists and high-ranking figures. From painters such as Emile Nolde to writers such as Thomas Mann , Max Frisch , Günther Grass and Hermann Göring . The German-Swiss entrepreneur, bobsledder, art collector, photographer, filmmaker, playboy and Opel heir Gunter Sachs also strolled there with Brigitte Bardot at his side.

Cliffing and the jet set

The first artists who settled there invited other artists and Kampen grew into an artists meeting place. Many celebrities came to the island and a sophisticated and liberal culture emerged. People did good business on Sylt and over the years the art and liberality remained the wealth that you can see in the expensive cars that drive there. The architects and the artists’ colony started a movement in which big money and the rich and famous changed the atmosphere and appearance of the island. More and more wealthy people discovered the island through friends and acquaintances and had large houses built there or bought the original Friesenhäuser with thatched roof.
Walther Baedeker
Walther Baedeker was a German architect who lived from 1880 to 1959. He mainly built houses in the Hamburg area and also on Sylt. There he designed 28 houses and buildings, mainly in Kampen. He himself bought an old Friesenhaus in Kampen, on the Sjip-Wai 1914. It was a house that was built in 1763 with Dutch wall tiles in the room and doors with hand-carved profiles. In 1932 he sold it to fellow architect Hans Poelzig. It was the beginning of a development that proved unstoppable after the Second World War. Walther Baedeker died in 1959 and is buried in the cemetery in Keitum .
Enjoying the boulevard in the March sun / Source: Ameland Press AgencyThe beach at Westerland / Source: Ameland Press AgencyMusic dome on the beach with daily concerts in high season / Source: Ameland Press Agency

Deutsche Bank and sandbags

Kliffende came into the hands of the Deutsche Bank in 1955, which used it as a holiday home for its directors. It was Deutsche Bank itself that took up coastal defense and introduced a new method with large sandbags. The bags were stacked in front of the Kliff and were supposed to stop the waves. Ten years later the sand deposit was washed away. With the heavy storm of January 30, 2000, large pieces of dunes were again washed away and the Kliffende house came dangerously close to the edge. The municipality is now fighting with the owners (the German Bank has now sold it to private individuals) from which pocket the protection of that specific piece of coast should be paid.

Breaking point of Sylt

Sylt has a long but narrow beach, which in some places is only a few tens of meters wide. What is a carefree environment of fun in the water and on the beach for bathers, is a headache for directors and managers. Not only at Kampen and Westerland do the waves regularly bite pieces off the coast. On the southern arm, between Rantum and Hörnum, the island is so narrow that it almost breaks in half. Anyone who drives, walks or cycles there will see the Wadden Sea very close to one side and the dunes of the North Sea directly on the other side.

Sylt

Legend
A . Kampen
B . Roten Kliff
C . Westerland
D . Kentum
E . The narrow part that is threatened with breakthrough
F . Hörnum
G . Rantum

read more

  • Sylt – German Wadden Island or Nordseeinsel
  • Rømø – Danish Wadden Island in the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site
  • Bosch – disappeared Wadden Island near Schiermonnikoog
  • The Wadden by Toon Fey – a visual Wadden book
  • From Hell’s Door to Devil’s Horn by Pieter de Vries

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