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Travel

Taking It Slow on Germany's North Sea Coast

Stepping onto the East Frisian islands off Germany’s North Sea coast might be like stepping back in time. The word hectic has no meaning -- especially not on the cozy isle of Spiekeroog.

Landscape of sea meeting beach

Sandy Spiekeroog invites tourists with its endless beaches

Measuring just 18 square kilometers (about 7 square miles), Spiekeroog is home to 820 islanders whose numbers swell in the high season by 3,500 tourists -- most of whom stay in holiday apartments.

The nearby bathing resort on Norderney, one of six neighboring islands, used to be better known. But as early as 1846, guests started coming here instead because it was "less noisy and luxurious." On first glance, nothing has changed much.

There are no cars or any other motor vehicles on the island. Even riding a bicycle is deemed to be disturbing the peace.

"Trips with a horse and carriage are possible," said tourism director Silvia Nolte by way of compensation.

Horses galloping across beach

With cars and bikes forbidden, the fastest form of island transport is horse

Natural treasure trove

There are likewise not a lot of excursions to be had on what is essentially a huge sandbank along the Wadden Sea. The highest elevation and "East Frisia's tallest mountain" is a dizzy 24 meters. Long walks along the beach -- the best time is when the tide has just gone out leaving the sand nice and firm -- are among the most relaxing attractions on the island.

In contrast to the other Frisian islands, Spiekeroog's main settlement escaped the ravages of the post-war reconstruction. A village has been known at this site since 1600. The broad belt of sandbanks around the settlement affords it protection from the North Sea and there are consequently many older houses to be seen which have withstood centuries of wind and weather.

The village church built in 1696 is the oldest house of worship in the East Frisian Islands. Among its treasures is a picture of the apostles said to have come from the flagship of the Spanish Armada which sailed against England in 1588.

Norderloog is the location of an eccentric little museum with all manner of stuffed birds, including a pheasant which crashed into the door during a storm and broke its neck. The flotsam and jetsam preserved here include the 16-kilogram (35-pound) lumbar vertebra of a whale and a stuffed crocodile which must have been thrown overboard by a passing sailor.

Fleeting literary fame

One who passed this way many years ago was Irish nationalist writer Erskine Childers whose spy novel "The Riddle of the Sands" (1903) revolves around two amateur yachtsmen who sail along the Frisian coast on holiday and end up foiling a plot by Kaiser Wilhelm to invade Britain. Spiekeroog plays a part in the story.

Woman standing in ocean while man and child play on a nearby seesaw

With few motorized options, islanders adore beach play

The best thing about Spiekeroog, however, is its tranquil landscape. There is plenty of woodland, thanks to a forestry director from Hanover who came as a guest in 1862 and could not resist planting little copses of pine, birch and oak trees. The islanders followed his example and today Spiekeroog is decidedly green. It is even home to the long-eared owl.

The so-called "Ostplate" in the east with its wide sandy beaches can only be enjoyed on foot. Countless seabirds give birth to their offspring here and the seals come to sunbathe. The drift line is littered with objects abandoned by the waves.

Sometimes the sea shells pressed into the sand and garnered with seaweed are like still life arrangements, so delicate that the visitor is loath to disturb them by pocketing a souvenir.

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