Softeis & Little Houses

Lest you think we spent all three days chasing seals and squelching through the tidal flats, there were other things on the agenda; Roland Garros, eating, and Denmark’s Most Beautiful Town, Sønderho. That is a genuine mantle the town bears, I didn’t just make that up, although I could be forgiven for doing so.


Sønderho is full of the most delightful little houses, with low thatched roofs and bright white picket fences. Danish flags rustle in the fresh wind, and the gardens are terrifyingly neat. It is like a step back in time meets Hobbiton meets the Truman Show. Beautiful, eerily perfect, and small. The houses and the little grassy paths between them, are all left over from Sønderho’s 18th and 19th century glory days of being a prominent shipping town.

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We drifted in and out of the old church, and a tiny little antique and trödel shop, and then magically found ourselves in an ice cream shop wherein we all ordered obscenely large softeis (soft serve) cones. Knowingly, I hasten to add. It wasn’t like the size took us by surprise, we deliberately went for the large option. It was thick and sweet and the perfect balance of fat and sugar, perched atop a lovely crunchy waffle. I ate mine, then ate half of SG’s and felt completely ill for the rest of the afternoon. Die Lüdde was treated to the inaugural few licks, which would have turned into an entire cone had I not taken it away. (Oma snuck her a few more, because that is what Omas are for.)

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And that’s all she wrote folks. Denmark isn’t on our agenda for the foreseeable future, so you shall be spared endless photos of blue skies and grassy dunes for a while. Although considering we live just over an hour’s drive from the Danish border, I cannot promise anything…

Oh, just before we wrap it up, can you see him?

A hare!
A hare!

Denmark Again: Fanø

On Thursday afternoon, we packed the car, picked up a coffee to go and a pack of Ikea hotdogs, crossed a border, hopped a ferry, and arrived on the island of Fanø some two and a half hours later. The first thing we saw when we drove off the ferry? Two seals sunning themselves on a sandbank. Then came acres of lush green paddocks, clusters of houses, some the classic wooden beach shacks inhabited entirey by Germans, some with those classic thatched roofs (presumably also inhabited entirely by Germans). The closer we got to the water, the longer and blonder the grass got, and the hillier the dunes. We found our little house just 80 metres back from the beach, nestled snugly in rabbit and hare-filled tussocks.

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Because we do our best to embody the true north (as is the tagline of Schleswig-Holstein nowadays) Fanø marked the second time in as many months that we have driven up to Denmark, with an Ikea hotdog pack. Except last time, while beautiful, was unbelievably cold, both because it was April and because a nasty cold snap occurred at the precise moment we arrived. It meant an arschkalt wind that rendered us all sick and snotty for two weeks after we drove home. Consequently, I was wary of returning, despite it being June and glorious weather forecast. I am slowly learning all bets are off with the North Sea – she is a temperamental bastard.

But. Look.

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And look.

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Look again!


Am I in Denmark or Far North Queensland?

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What do you think the first thing we did was? We threw off our shoes (but threw on our jackets … that wind never dies) and wir sind im Watt gewandert. The North Sea, in keeping with her extreme behaviour, does a sort of low and high tide on crack thing. The low tide is so low as to reveal kilometres of seabed, which enables one to wattwandern  … wander through the mud flat (the closest thing I can get from Google translate for ‘watt’. Super un-romantic. Perhaps tidal flat is better?).

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We were a bit late, so the tide was pretty much in – but it was still only ankle deep for, quite possibly, two kilometres. Or three. It felt like a long distance of ankle deep water stretched ahead of us.

Fanø’s entire west coast is essentially one long beach, stretching for 15km. You can drive along a good portion of it, where you’ll pass campers, people in strange bike-like contraptions being pulled along by an attached kite (most likely Germans) birds pecking at a seal corpse, kids looking for amber, and all manner of other things.

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The following day, there was great excitement in the house, because my father in law looked out the window and suggested these tiny specks on a sandbank were seals. Squinting through the binoculars, we couldn’t precisely confirm, but left the baby with Oma regardless, and made for the beach. There was no time to rug her up, the tide was against us!

As we walked, SG kept taking zoomed in photos to ensure we were headed for seals and not rocks. it was n awful long way to go for rocks. About halfway there, he said dejectedly, peering at the camera screen, ‘I am pretty sure they are rocks.’


We pressed on.


And on.


Definitely seals. Loads of them.



We went back the next day, a little earlier, so as to avoid the pressing issue of getting back to shore before the tide closed in. One seal was particularly curious.




Seals aren’t the only animal highlight, either. Fanø has an enormous amount of birds and is UNESCO World Heritage listed. Millions of migrating birds – something like 10-15 million – spend time on Fanø  every year, as they pass through from or en route to their breeding grounds. The seabed, exposed by the low tide, provides an absolute feast.

Fanø is also home to actual hares, giant things, with faces like sheep, and deer. One casually bounded by our house one evening, as dusk fell. Which is when I looked around and idly wondered if I was on a film set and no one had told me.

In unrelated facts, Fanø also has around 300 Bunkers built by Nazis during WWII that are still dotted around its western coastline.

I’ll leave it there for now, but don’t think I don’t have more pictures to come …


Monopoly & Filter Coffee

The week was spent kowtowing to the wind. It screamed in straight off the North Sea, loud and cold.  No matter how brightly the sun shone – and it did shine for much of the time – the wind was bossier. At night, our little red wooden house creaked and shook. Lying in bed, you got the feeling the walls were still standing because the wind was in a playful mood, not an outright mean one.


A few times, we rugged up and headed out, put die Lüdde in a little backpack, her bobble hat bobbling to and fro. We went to a nearby town where even the main street, safely sandwiched between rows of shops, couldn’t escape the wind’s rampage. You always end up either ducking into and spending a disproportionate amount of time in completely random shops, or lasting ten minutes in a new town when the weather outside is being a bully. I was reminded of my famous ten minute jog through a freezing Sonderburg way back when, which left SG astounded that a planned day trip had been compacted into a brisk walk.



As an Aussie, I can't let this slide by.
As an Aussie, I can’t let this slide by. So much Mary.

A couple of times, we took the cricket set out to the gravelly road and had a bash, losing the ball more than once in the long blonde tussocky grass. One Aussie and two Germans playing cricket in freezing cold Denmark. I must say, the Germans took to it like a duck to water. I was bursting with pride, even when bowled out. When we trooped back into the house after our first game, cricket received the ultimate seal of approval from the resident teen: ‘cooles Spiel.



On one particularly ambitious morning, we swaddled die Lüdde and ourselves and headed out to a particularly beautifully located old lighthouse. It was cold and clear, nothing but blue and green and German tourists for miles. We bowled around the circumference, faces taut and cold, and sucked the whistling frische Luft into our lungs.




But mostly, we padded about our little wooden house. Or I did, at any rate, because a few days in, die Lüdde’s nose took on a distinctly snotty look, ruling out more time spent in her backpack outside in the howling wind. And a day or two after her nose started running, mine joined in. Post lighthouse, we were officially out for the count.

We cracked out Monopoly on rainy afternoons. I finished a Jo Nesbo (imagine: reading Scando crime, in Scandinavia, clutching a cup of filter coffee … I essentially was Harry Hole but female and in Denmark and not pursuing a murderer). Morning cups of filter coffee gave way to afternoon pots of tea, and then cup after cup of hot lemon and honey. It was that kind of wifi-less week.




Back home now, the sun has been out everyday, and the wind is gentle. The trees are slowly turning green, some showing off a little and shaking out their glossy leaves well ahead of the others. Soon the forests will be thick again, and it will be time for Friday night red wine on the couch to be officially replaced with Friday night white wine out on the cafe pavements. We’re still snotty and all but out for the count – but the vitamin D and blooming magnolia trees are helping.


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.