German Plans to Double Size of North Sea Island Helgoland | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 06.07.2008
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German Plans to Double Size of North Sea Island Helgoland

Helgoland, an island in the North Sea which was once fiercely contested between Britain and Germany, could nearly double in size under a land reclamation project which won official clearance this week.

The two parts of Helgoland seen from the shore of one side

Will land soon fill the gap between the island's parts that were separated in 1721?

The island was a British possession from 1807 till 1890, then became a major German submarine base in two world wars. In an explosion described at the time as the largest non-nuclear detonation in history, Britain blew up the submarine pens in 1947.

The only part of Germany which is not in sight of the mainland is a sleepy tourist resort nowadays, but a Hamburg businessman Arne Weber wants to change that, reclaiming a gap between the island's two halves and selling the new land.

An aerial view of Helgoland's two islands

Helgoland currently exists of two parts...

Although large bits of Helgoland collapsed in the 1947 blast, the division of the island was not the work of the British but of a storm in 1721 that washed away much of its ancient sand dunes.

Investing millions

Weber envisages an investment of 80 million euros ($125 million) to constantly dredge up sand for 12 months and pack it in the shallow gap to create 1 square kilometer (0.38 square miles) of dry land as a site for apartments, hotels and a new beach.

Computer simulation of the united island after connecting the parts

...that Weber wants to connect again

This would supplement the present 1.7 square kilometers of the island, says Weber, whose ancestors lived on the island. The reclaimed land would be protected from storms in the age of global warming by walls of steel piles.

The ministry of the economy of the state of Schleswig-Holstein said this week the project was bold but viable. State and federal officials would be asked to throw their weight behind the project.

Fading tourism

Helgoland is hardly a world-class tourist destination, but many older Germans have fond memories of crossing the sea by launch to visit it and being rowed ashore through the shallows in small boats.

Helgoland's Long Anna rock seen from above

Helgoland's landmark, the Long Anna rock on the left, might collapse soon

In the days before Germans jetted to beaches all over the globe, it seemed like an exotic trip abroad.

Smokers can still buy duty-free cigarettes and whisky while staying on the island, but the holiday trade has halved since the 1970s, when 800,000 Germans visited the island every year.

Surrounded by open sea, Helgoland has a milder climate in the colder seasons than the German mainland, but there is not much to do or see on the island other than enjoy the big sky. For some, that is an attraction.

A stay on the island can resemble an ocean cruise without the sea-sickness, although the trip there and back can be rough if there is a heavy swell or a stiff breeze blowing over the North Sea.

Bright future ahead?

The sun setting over a cliff in Helgoland

Helgoland's not ready to disappear ino the sunset quite yet

In the 19th century, Germany was so eager to recover the bare island that it granted colonialist Britain in exchange a free hand to seize the East African sultanate of Zanzibar.

Helgoland's mayor, Frank Botter, said the 1,500 residents are not quite sure what to make of the plan. Some think it is mad.

Others think it could bring new hope to the declining community, especially if Weber introduces a better ferry service to the mainland and a pier for cruise ships is built on the island.

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