Heligoland

So I was looking at Der Spiegel this morning — the stories they’ve translated into English, anyway, because my German isn’t quite good enough to read the news without stopping to look up every eighth or ninth word, which would be good for me to be doing as far as keeping my German in shape goes but I have much else to do — and I came across an article about Heligoland (“Helgoland” auf Deutsch).

I’d heard of Heligoland but knew very little about it other than that it was an island in the North Sea. Well, it turns out that it’s actually two small islands in the North Sea, belonging to Germany but a three-hour sail from the mainland. (Here’s the Wikipedia article.) They were a single island until a storm in 1720 washed away the middle of the island, leaving two separate islands remaining. Over the years it’s been a base for smugglers, a German resort, a British resort, a German naval base, and a British bombing range. Now it’s a German resort again.

Heligoland is in the news today because over the weekend the residents (all 1650 of them) voted 55% to 45% against a $141 million Dubai-style construction project to fill in some of the shallow sea between the islands to increase the size of the larger island by about a quarter and connect it to the smaller island. And Der Spiegel has published a number of photos of Heligoland along with the article, and the photos go a long way to explain the vote.

Well, good lord, if you lived in a place that looked like that, would you want to tamper with it? I sure wouldn’t.

Fun facts: Early D’oyly Carte company member Richard Mansfield (he created the role of Major General Stanley in Pirates of Penzance spent much of his youth living in Heligoland, which was British at the time. And Werner Heisenberg came up with the beginnings of his theory of quantum mechanics while vacationing in Heligoland, which was German at that time.

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