A Postcard from Tönning
Back to the west coast, this time to an aquarium in the little town of Tönning. While Tönning itself is little, it plays a central role in one of Schleswig-Holstein’s most valuable (ecologically, biologically, culturally) sites: the National Park Wadden Sea. Another sea? Yes, another sea. With the North Sea running up the west coast and the Baltic Sea dipping into the east coast, and the state itself peppered with lakes big and small, I can imagine you’re all probably thinking, how many bodies of water does one relatively small area need to be associated with?
The Wattenmeer – Wadden Sea – is technically a part of the North Sea, and lies between the coasts of Germany, Denmark and The Netherlands. But it isn’t a normal ‘sea’ – it’s actually an intertidal zone, the largest tidal flat system in the world, where the biodiversity in sea and birdlife is unparalleled. The Wadden Sea is UNESCO World Heritage Listed and one of the few remaining places in Europe where nature is left to be nature without humans meddling and ruining everything. The three countries share the responsibility of protecting the Wadden Sea (and funding research and education) and, in Germany, three separate national parks were established to do so: one in Schleswig Holstein, one in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) and one in Hamburg. The administration centre for these three parks is in Tönning, North Frisia (a region of Schleswig-Holstein).
The Multimar Wattforum is the largest Wadden Sea information centre and wonderfully done for children. Almost every inch of the place is interactive (which, for Corona times, meant plenty of handwashing and disinfecting) and kids are invited to spin and flip and connect things as they explore the various exhibitions. The tidal system and the environment it provides for the thousands of species that live and breed there, is obviously the focal point of the centre, and it is this tidal system that makes the Wadden Sea so precious. As the water goes out, revealing kilometres of seabed, the birds swoop in to feed on sea snails and mussels. As many as four million birds use the Wadden Sea to feed and rest in later summer, early autumn. Thousands of seals and porpoises also make use of the sandbanks to rest after their fishing expeditions. But really, it isn’t the fat, sleek seals, nor the dramatic flocks of birds picking along the seabed that are the true stars – it’s the tiny little guys, the invertebrates, that feed the slightly less tiny snails and worms that feed the crabs and fish, that feed the birds and seals, that make the Wadden Sea so desperately important. Without the tiny guys, the Wadden Sea wouldn’t function as the fish nursery it does, where the herrings and flounders grow up, before moving to the North Sea.
It’s a different sort of aquarium experience (particularly if you are more used to aquariums boasting the Pacific Ocean and its bright fish and deadly inhabitants) but how lucky are we to be so close to one of the world’s most vital ecosystems?
After a thorough walk-through and then a play in the lovely playground outside (where there are plenty of picnic tables) we drove quickly into the town of Tönning (drove because it was drizzling and the kids were getting grizzly, otherwise you can easily walk) to have a quick look. (And it was a very quick look.) I always find these little harbour towns up here oddly comforting when beneath grey skies. The boats jostling in canals that have been used for centuries, the old red-brick warehouses – they’re lovely in the sunshine too, but when it’s a little grey and blustery it always feels oddly right.
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.