On Real Beaches

When I first moved to Kiel and started teaching the north Germans, I couldn’t help but notice a theme. Whenever the topic of our daily small talk (‘small talk’ is built into the syllabus when teaching Germans) turned to holiday destinations, one country seemed to pop up over and over again; Germany’s northern neighbour, Denmark. It was like everyone was in on the secret – everyone except me, who never thought to equate a summer beach holiday with a Scandinavian country. And so, I kept asking, why Denmark? The nature, the Germans reliably replied. Beautiful beaches, a different landscape. The Kielers spoke of big, white, sandy beaches, and the rough surf of the North Sea. My own Danish experiences being limited to a stop in beautiful, wealthy Copenhagen as a filthy, poor backpacker, and a freezing day trip to Sonderburg, I could only nod politely and wonder … how good, how big, how really ‘beach-like’ could those Danish beaches be?

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It is an annoying Australian habit to assume most European beaches just aren’t really beaches. Or, even if they are ‘really beaches’, not a patch on our beaches. When it comes to Europe, we are impressed by old castles and ancient ruins and villages straight from the Brothers Grimm fairytales. We get excited about drinking espresso on cobbled streets and instagramming it. The Mediterranean provides reliably social-media-shareable backdrops to glasses of cheap wine and glowing tans, and we boast of once bobbing around the warm waters like it’s our job. But beaches, real beaches – we have plenty of them. What else have you got?

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And so it was with that attitude, I strapped myself in for the 3.5 hour drive from Kiel to a little wooden house behind some sand dunes on the west coast of Denmark. (Dunes are another thing Kielers always mention when discussing Denmark – these gigantic, mystical dunes.) It was time to take the next step in becoming a northern German, and holiday on the Danish coast. The temperature dropped steadily the further north we drove, and the closer we got to the North Sea. A gorgeous 18 in Kiel had become, by the time we pulled up in a cloud of sand in the middle of nowhere, a fresh 11. The nature, as the Germans had promised, was gorgeous, all blonde and blue.

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It rained the first afternoon, much to everyone’s disappointment. I personally felt the rain and heavy skies suited where we were, and felt like I was in an episode of Wallander (I know, it’s Swedish, bear with me) in my little red house surrounded by the waving blonde grass and a few other little red wooden houses. No beach today, was the verdict. I didn’t mind. It was 11 flipping degrees, what was I going to do on a beach anyway? (Much less a Scandinavian beach, my inner Aussie added.)

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The moral of the story is, which those of you who are in the know when it comes to Denmark’s gorgeous coastline would have already guessed, is don’t be a smug Aussie. We got over the dunes the next day, the wind blustering with all its might, and all I could see was white sand and pounding surf. It was a real, really big, beach. A loud, choppy, rough, long, foamy, sandy beach. Just like the ones at home.

The kids, decked out in all possible functional clothing, including gumboots, ran ahead with buckets for shell collecting. Die Lüdde squealed delightedly as the wind knocked her bobble hat about, preparing her nicely to catch a delicious end-of-winter cold. I shrunk into my jacket and thought how lovely this would all be if it was 15 degrees warmer.

But colour me impressed Denmark. You do a good beach. I might even be back in the summer.

 

12 thoughts on “On Real Beaches

  1. I spent most of my childhood summer holidays on Römö, just north of Sylt. We went for 3 weeks and were lucky to have one sunny week out of the three. I loved it but the unreliable weather made me save up for the Mediterraneans when I was a teenager.

    When I was little, there was no electricity in the summer houses but a hole in the kitchen for food as a fridge. My dad had to go downstairs for a water pump he operated manually. We used to pump up kerosene lamps for light. Sheep with paint patches on them roamed between the fenceless holiday homes and at times actually came into the houses when the doors were open. When we crossed the Danish border we had to wait at times and I thought the Danish border personnel looked funny since they all seemed to wear clogs. Then and now the Danes made great ice-cream and I had to have one behind the border.

    We roamed freely in the tundra like heather landscape and picked wild blueberries later in the season. We often went briefly in winter too or around Easter or 1st May – Labour Day – for a long weekend or a week perhaps. That was later on when the motorway in Schleswig-Holstein had been built and as you said, it’s about 4 hours to get to the west coast. These days, fancy bungalows have spa pools and central heating and other mod cons which means that loads of people hire larger bungalows and stay over New Years as a group. One year they all got snowed in on the way there and had to spend the night in their cars if I remember it right – or was that on the way back?

    1. I love your childhood memories – they are just like mine, but from a beach on the other side of the world. I think there are few more magical times in one’s life than the seemingly endless summer holidays as a child.

  2. ahhhhhh, how I miss those beaches!! We holidayed in Denmark almost every year together with aunts uncles and multitudes of cousins (mostly Fano but sometimes in the very North, where Baltic and North Sea meet) Some of my very best memories are there and when our kids were younger and we took them to Europe/Germany to visit my parents, we went to Fano for a holiday with them… my cousins still go there on a regular basis! Do go again in the summer, even the water can be quite nice due to the Gulf Stream….. you will love it!

    1. We are heading back in June for a couple of days – to Fano! I can’t wait to be there in warmer temps, and perhaps minus the crazy wind!

  3. Many thanks for a wonderful report, Liv! However, I’m still shivering after reading it! Guess I have to settle for the beaches of Southern California!

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