A Postcard from Friedrichstadt
Schleswig-Holstein’s west coast has, despite living here for six years now, eluded me somewhat. We’re strict east coast people when it comes to going to the beach, the little enclaves of pale sand and clear water you can wade in for what feels like kilometres feel familiar to me now. The west coast is too much of a drive to make the beaches there a regular thing and, again, despite living among Schleswig-Holsteiners for six years, I am not the most enthusiastic Wattwanderer, something North Sea proponents tend to be. (Wattwandern involves traipsing about in the muddy tidal flats when the tide is out in the North Sea, being buffeted by the wind.) (And before anyone says anything, I did indeed try it once when we were in Denmark – coincidentally my introduction to the North Sea and it was an impressive one. I am simply someone who goes to the beach to bake in the sun or swim in the sea, not squelch through a child’s imagining of quicksand.)
I digress. And so it was that, a couple of weekends ago, when we were talking about where to take a daytrip to, the west coast popped up. Not the beach, per se, but a little town by the name of Friedrichstadt.
Only an hour and a quarter’s drive from home, Friedrichstadt isn’t quite on the water, but it is on the Eider, a river that starts nearish to where we live and runs across Schleswig-Holstein. Today the Eider bisects the state, running between Schleswig and Holstein, but once upon a time it was the border between the Jutes and the Angles and later, the Saxons and the Danes.
Of course, it wasn’t an hour and a quarter’s drive because of two of German’s most important words: Baustelle and Umleitung. Construction site and detour. The detours sent us through the northern German countryside, through villages big and small, until we eventually, having eaten most of the snacks I’d packed, turned up in Friedrichstadt and parked next to a church.
The little town of Friedrichstadt is mostly famous for its Dutch buildings – Holländerhäuser – which belie its beginnings as a trading city founded by Dutch settlers in 1621. For a while, Dutch was the official language and plans were made to establish Friedrichstadt as a major European trading hub. That didn’t really happen, but those stepped facades and the stony streets remain like a picture from a centuries-old storybook.
We decided to hire a motorboat and take it down the canals. It, obviously, quit on us as we crested the farthest point. I can tell you how many times my husband or I had captained a motorboat prior to that moment: zero. We called the boat shop repeatedly but no one picked up (‘hier war viel los,’ he said later, slightly dismissively) and so we drifted for a while, until it became apparent someone was going to have to use the gigantic old oar to get us to a nearby pier (that someone wasn’t me: I was soothingly telling die Lüdde we were, in fact, going to make it back to land, and she didn’t have to cry). That pier was the Police Department’s, and had a sign telling people not to attach their boats to it. We did. Eventually, after some valiant wrestling, the motor started again and we puttered back down the canals, sweating slightly, giddy with relief it hadn’t ended in an embarrassing rescue mission spectacle, or indeed, in the water. As it turned out, that role was fulfilled by a fellow tourist, Wolfgang, who seemed unable to remain upright on his hired stand-up paddling board, and attracted crowds of spectators on bridges, as he swept down the canals on his knees, dripping wet.
It’s the most delightful little place to potter around, ducking in and out of antique shops and boutiques. Certainly charming enough to ignore the terrible fish and chips we had (although, when with children, one must always acknowledge clean bathrooms, quick service and window seats) which was later made up for with ice cream and Dänisches Eis.
Introductions now formally made, I plan on getting further acquainted with the west coast, although may wait a while before doing so with a motorboat.
We usually stay home for the summer holidays anyway, saving our days and money for an annual trip to Australia. This year we’re even more pointedly ‘holidaying at home’ what with Corona and all it has brought with it. In an effort to write during a time of my life I have even less time to do so than usual (kids at home more, working at home during an unusual semester) and in an effort to show you a little more of my adopted homeland, I thought I’d write postcards from our adventures this summer.