Sylt – Wadden island of cliffs and mythical creatures

Sylt is one of the Wadden Islands. It is the northernmost German island that has a geologically different history than most Wadden Islands. The Dutch islands formed a barrier that was breached by storms. Sylt, on the other hand, was, like the islands of Amrum and Föhr, the end of a glacier, which left many boulders on the island. These traces can still be found on the island today and left behind cliffs of different colors on the island.

Saale glaciation, glaciers and cliffs

During the Saale Ice Age, which lasted from 200,000 to 130,000 years ago, Scandinavian glaciers pushed ice, sand, clay and boulders. We can still recognize them as moraines in the landscape. The Hoge Berg on Texel is an example of this and the elevations can also be seen in the landscape at Wieringen and Gaasterland. Remnants of moraines can also be recognized in the cores of Sylt, and in those of Föhr and Amrum. On Sylt you can see this in the various high cliffs.

Origin of the Wadden area

During that ice age, the enormous areas of land ice held water. The sea level at that time was much lower than it is today. Even 7,000 years ago, the coastline of the Northern Netherlands was tens of kilometers further north than today and the sea level was more than three meters lower. The sea level slowly began to rise and the beach wall that lay at the current Wadden Islands broke through here and there. The area behind the broken beach wall filled with salt water and became the Wadden Sea. After that, some things changed in the area, mainly due to storm surges, but also due to the closing of inlets (Zuiderzee, Lauwerszee) and the construction of dams, such as the Hindenburgdamm near Sylt.

Rote Kliff – Red Cliff

The glacier from that time can be seen in the Red Cliff on the North Sea side of Sylt. The Red Cliff is a 30 meter high steep coast between Wenningstedt and Kampen. It’s a sight to behold. The rust-colored boulder clay gave the cliff its name. The red earth is a ferruginous terminal moraine from one of the glaciers. The cliff starts at Wenningstedt and ends at Haus Kliffende, the house that stands on the edge of the dune, near the Kampener Westheide. The highest dune on the island is also located there, the approximately 52 meter high Uwedüne.

Coastal defense

The Rode Klif is a problem child. It has been suffering from erosion for many years and every year the coast moves inward by one meter. Since the 1970s, regular sand replenishments have taken place for the entire West Beach of the island to provide protection against land loss. This also ensures that the Red Cliff is no longer visible everywhere because new dunes covered with marram grass obscure the view of it. In 1979, the dune area from Wenningstedt to Kampen was recognized as a nature reserve. This area east of the Red Cliff covers 177 hectares.
Rode Klif / Source: Ameland Press AgencyGroene Klif / Source: Ameland Press AgencyGraf mound at Groene Klif / Source: Ameland Press Agency

Morsum Kliff and the mythical creatures

On Sylt East you will find the Morsum Kliff or Buntes Kliff, the Bonte Klif. It is called fur because of the different layers of earth that come to the surface, each with its own color. It is the home of countless mythical creatures who have been given a place in the Sylter legend world. There live the öneersken, the underground earth beings, dwarf-like cavemen, who defend their area. They raid storage cellars, legend has it. You can still find evidence of slabs and skirmishes in the form of round flat stones found near the cliff.

Geologically unique in Europe

The Morsum Cliff is a unique area. You can read the geological structure of Europe from the cliffs and strata on the surface. You will find three layers of the earth next to each other that are three to eight million years old. Originally they were on top of each other, but during the ice age they shifted next to each other under high pressure. The cliff is 1,800 meters long and 21 meters high. It was already designated as a protected nature reserve in 1923. When building the Hindenburg Damm after the First World War, they wanted to use parts of the cliff as building material. Activists then climbed the barricade and managed to prevent this.

Orchid and sundew

Various rare plants grow in the heathland behind the cliff, including a gentian known from the Alps. It is considered a botanical treasure. Orchids and sundews also bloom there. The area is also very rich in butterflies and seabirds. At low tide the birds forage on the mudflats and some species breed in the walls of the cliffs. People have left their mark there in the form of dozens of burial mounds and dolmens. There must have been a few hundred burial mounds, but many have disappeared due to work and erosion.
Walking dunes / Source: Press Agency AmelandBonte Klif / Source: Press Agency AmelandHunebed at Groene Klif / Source: Press Agency Ameland

Weiße Kliff – White Cliff

The White Cliff is located near the beach near the Braderuper Heide. There are the original thatched houses from the time when Baderup was mainly inhabited by whalers. The walking path goes over wooden plank roads and at the highest point the view is beautiful. You can see the neighboring Danish island of Rømø, the walking dunes that drift and slowly move forward – at List and Kampen. On the Wadden coast you can see the White Cliff. It is a steep coastal wall that shines in the sun with its white sand like a chalk coast. Less famous than the Rode Klif and the Morsum Klif, but just as beautiful.

Grüness Kliff – Green Cliff

The Groene Klif is located near Keitum. It is the high green coastal smoke that merges into the salt marsh on the mudflat side of the island. It is ghost soil, raised to many meters in height. The highest point is 13 meters. The Green Cliff extends over a length of three kilometers. There is a dolmen and burial mound on it.

Rainbow on Wadden Island Sylt

Sylt has cliffs in different colors. They come in red, white, green and colorful and all are interesting for their geological history and fantastic to walk. The island may have the image of expensive and sophisticated and is called the Saint Tropez of the north, because the rich and famous of Germany buy second homes there and cross with large and expensive cars via the Sylt Shuttle, the special geology and nature is of unprecedented beauty.


A . Red Cliff
B . White Cliff
C . Green Cliff
D . Morsum Klif
E . Föhr
F . Amrum
G . Hindenburgdamm
H . Uwedüne
I . Rømø

read more

  • Sylt – German Wadden Island or Nordseeinsel
  • Sylt – Jetset island with coastal defenses with tetrapods
  • Rømø – Danish Wadden Island in the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site
  • 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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