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?
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?
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.
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.)
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.