Wadden Island Sylt – spa island for bathers

The German Wadden Island of Sylt has focused more on bathers than any other Wadden Island and has profiled itself as a spa island. The island is also known for its nudist beaches. In the course of the twentieth century, several large apartment complexes were built and in the current century construction companies have their hands full laying bricks and carpentry of large thatched holiday homes, often semi-detached. In 1850, Westerland had fewer than 500 residents and not a single boarding house. More than one hundred and fifty years later, more than one and a half million tourists visit every year. Sylt is the most expensive holiday destination in Germany.

German Wadden Island Sylt

  • Wadden island Sylt and the healing North Sea bath
  • Frei Körper Kultur
  • Movie stars, writers and painters
  • Wall of Miramar
  • Pay for the beach
  • Beach chairs and Louis Vuitton
  • Sansi bar and flower power
  • Shipwreck Mariann in the mudflats near Sylt


Wadden island Sylt and the healing North Sea bath

Sylt has a long bathing culture. The first bathers arrived as early as 1855, mainly on the advice of doctors who prescribed a dip in the fresh North Sea water as beneficial. The bathers came by ship and horse cart and it was not until the opening of the Hindenburg Damm in 1927 that the large flow of tourists started. The beach holiday and bathing culture emerged.

Twentieth century and the apartment complexes

Around 1900, the islanders had an idea of what direction their island should take. The development of accommodations for bathers started and was tackled on a large scale in the 1960s and 1970s. The first large hotels were built around 1900. What seemed big then is small by today’s standards. Sylt has high-rise buildings and apartment complexes.

Badkar and Badewarterin

Around 1900, bathers kept their clothes on on the beach and when bathing, men and women were strictly separated from each other. The beach baskets were already widely found on the beach at that time and they still form a recognizable image of the German coast. There were also rows of bath carts, bath houses on wheels.
Badewärterinnen , bathing ladies , worked on the beach . These were young women who cleaned the bathing carts barefoot and helped the ladies who wanted to bathe in the North Sea. They could enter the water unseen via the bath cart. This prudish way of bathing existed alongside naked swimming.

Frei Körper Kultur

Sylt is known for its nudist beaches and FKK, the Frei Körper Kultur. Nude recreation was already taking place at the beginning of the twentieth century and the FKK celebrated its heyday on Sylt in the 1960s. Groups experience joy in nature and in being naked itself. Nowadays the boundary between textile beach and nudist beach has become blurred. The swimwear became smaller and smaller and no one is surprised by a bare stomach anymore. Topless people are healthy and the body dressed in swimwear is almost as naked as the nude runner.

Movie stars, writers and painters

It started with the construction of one house that set in motion a development that the island and the islanders could not have imagined what it would mean. Before the Second World War, Ferdinand Avenarius, nephew of composer Richard Wagner, had a holiday home built near Kampen. The house was so enormous that it dwarfed the small farm houses. It set the trend and the houses that were built afterwards were larger and more expensive than what was there and were built for the rich. Singers, actors, film stars, painters and writers came to the island, who mainly gathered in Kampen.

Romy Schneider and Rainer Maria Rilke

The number of large holiday homes grew steadily and Kampen became an artists’ colony. Romy Schneider had the sand of Sylt between her toes. Kandinsky, Stefan Zweig, Rainer Maria Rilke and Thomas Mann all left their footprints in the sand there. Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker sang and danced on Sylt and Herman Göring also had a thatched summer house built in Wenningstedt.

Gubter Sachs and Brigitte Bardot

Gunter Sachs came there with Brigitte Bardot and they really put the island on the jet set map. German singers and TV stars followed, with snobs in their wake. They still drive their Porsche Cayenne, Maserati, Ferrari, Range Rover from north to south and back again to order a caviar sandwich in one of the bistros.
Beach chairs / Source: Press Agency AmelandHoogbouw / Source: Press Agency AmelandMiramar / Source: Press Agency Ameland

Wall of Miramar

People strolled on the boulevard and wealthy guests dined in the restaurants on the beach. The Westerland boulevard was already there in the early 1900s and the Friedrichstrasse was already a wide shopping street with Art Nouveau establishments on either side. Westerland did itself no favors by demolishing those characteristic buildings in the 1960s and exchanging them for large blocks or by supplementing the lovely architecture with an disproportionate floor. Hotel Miramar, at the end of the wide street, is still there and is a legacy of that time. As early as 1907, the hotel had to build an 80-meter-long and 6-meter-high wall to protect against the North Sea. Necessity was turned into a virtue by adding the promenade on top. Nearly twenty years later, the wall became more than ten times as long and is still there today. It is an attraction and coastal defense in one.

Pay for the beach

Nowadays, anyone who wants to enter the beach of Sylt must pass an access house with an official who will ask you for your Beach Card . You will receive this card from the landlord of your accommodation and it shows that the tourist tax has been paid. If you are only on the island for a day, you pay an entrance fee of a few euros. The tourist tax pays for rescue swimmers, beach cleaning, concerts, television room and other facilities at the service of tourists. Furthermore, Sylt is an island where parking fees are charged and where there are a surprising number of traffic lights and road signs.

Beach chairs and Louis Vuitton

There are hundreds of beach chairs on the beach of Sylt. They can be rented and offer protection against sun and wind. Every celebrity can also sit quietly in a Strandkorb , shielded from prying eyes, cell phones and cameras. Kampen has developed into a village with shops of expensive brands. You will find Bulgari, Hermès, Joop!, Jil Sander and Louis Vuitton in the old buildings. The well-filled purses of wealthy visitors also brought Michelin-starred restaurants to the island. They thrive there, because in the summer the rich come, in the fall the filthy rich. Holiday homes have owners named Schwarzkopf, Bayer, Axel Springer or Miele.

Sansi bar and flower power

The hippest beach bar on the island is located near Rantum on the North Sea side. It is Sansibar, famous throughout Germany and anyone who has been to Sylt must have frequented Sansibar. It was already a hip thing in the 1960s, where flower power followers liked to come for a snack and a drink and to hold beach parties. Sansibar has managed to maintain that reputation. The establishment is now best known for its large collection of wines.

Shipwreck Mariann in the mudflats near Sylt

There is a wreck in the mudflats near Baderup that is regularly visible at low tide. These are the remains of the Mariann, a wooden three-masted transport ship from the Second World War, which was sailed to the island by a group of artists in 1961. It became a party ship where there was often a lot of fun. It was a thorn in the side of the residents of Baderup. Those parties are now long over, because the ship burned down in 1981. Was it arson or carelessness under the influence of alcohol; that was never made clear. The ship has become a wreck with a special history and a sight on the mudflats that Sylt proudly mentions in its brochures.


A . Hindenburgdamm
B . Westerland
C . Kampen
D . Wreck Mariann
E . Sansibar
F . Wenningstedt
G . Hotel Miramar

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  • Wadden Island Sylt – Sights
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