North Sea, Germany - Stefanie Hartmann
When I was a child, between the ages of eight and twelve, I often spent the summer on the coast of the North Sea, mostly because my uncle Gerhardt and his wife lived around there, in Wilhelmshaven. The North Sea has a lot of large, sandy beaches, and is a popular vacation destination for families. Lots of housing developments for vacationers have developed along the coast, and my family would often rent one of the many identical stone cottages. We were never staying directly on the waterfront, we still had to walk there. The houses were separated from the beach by a dike, and you always had to walk over these huge piles of sand. This kind of beach vacation basically consisted of spending the entire day at the beach. Many people would rent beach chairs that looked basically like a small sofa with a bit of a roof, basically like a big stroller made of wicker. That way you were sheltered from the wind and the sun, so they were quite popular, and people tended to rent them for a week and take them to the same spot each day. People who stayed longer dug a hollow space for it into the sand, which they often decorated with seashells and their family name; those were really quite beautiful.
The North Sea has quite dramatic tides, and most of the time the tide was low, and the water was far out in the distance. This was excellent for walks called ‘Wattwanderungen’; the sand was very wavy and solid from wetness, and you could clearly see the impressions of the waves, which you couldn’t smudge by stepping on. Walking here was even supposed to be very healthy for your feet.
There were also a lot of horseback riding, and even horse drawn carriages could move easily over the abandoned seabed. You could walk away from the shore for many kilometres, and children would fly kites there, happy to not have to watch out for trees.
Of course, it wasn’t an even surface, and spread throughout were puddles that were often very deep and very warm. It varied, but some looked misleadingly shallow, but their water was utterly dark and could unpleasantly surprise you with its depth. The water in the North Sea was quite cold even in the summer, it tended to be around eighteen degrees Celsius, so the warmth of these puddles made them a good place to relax.
When the tide is drawn back like this, there were a lot of crabs walking around, often going backwards, many quite small; the size of a seashell, no larger than a dollar coin. They tended to spend their time in the puddles, and when I went looking for seashells with my brother, we would see them sitting there. The shells were in part entirely pink, reminding me of flamingo feathers, and there were many of them. There were sand worms there too, and you could see the clear outline of their trails even after they were long gone. There were jellyfish with bodies shaped like half a bread roll, translucent and shimmering green with long white legs, slippery and quick to bite. My brother and I had a game making ‘jellyfish soup’, meaning that we would find the creatures in the puddles or swept up on the beach, lift them up with sticks and place them into a large bucket we’d filled with water. There were seals as well, and the babies were sometimes washed ashore, and so there was a nursery there just for them, where they were raised with a bottle. They were called ‘Heulerchen’ (little one that cries), because their crying sounded like a human’s.
In the evening when the fishermen returned, you could buy what they’d caught, and my parents liked to buy Granat, known as brown shrimp in English, which you can only get from the North Sea. You had to eat them quickly, cold and freshly smoked. It was a lot of work to peel them, and since they were so small it took quite a while until you had enough for a meal. I didn’t actually like them, I thought they were pretty weird looking.
The water itself was salty, thick with waves when it came in, and you especially had to watch yourself when it was windy. It wasn’t clear and blue like the ocean in the Caribbean, but pure green. When you went swimming you never felt the touch of seaweed or rocks, it was always impressively clean, and even on the beach you found nothing but sand and seashells. It rained often, but no matter the weather, the water always shimmered green, partly black even, and although it was clean you could never see the bottom. The North Sea is mighty and tremendous. Even during low tide you could see the foam from its waves in the distance. The time I spent there will always remain in my memories, because we went there so often, and because I really thought it was beautiful.