Halligen Islands: a journey between rails, islets and the sea of an enchanted place

There is a small group of tiny islands up there facing Germany. They are the Halligen Islands and here every season means having to deal with the sea and climate change. These 10 islands are so low above sea level that at certain times of the year they are completely submerged and “reappear” after a few days.
A few dozen inhabitants live on each island but the risk that with climate change everything will be submerged forever is really high. However, these islands have a certain importance for several factors: first of all they protect the German coasts and, above all, they allow many species of birds to settle in these parts.

The regular floods that submerge these islands bring sediments that help the flora and fauna to feed. Elsewhere this would not be possible. It is for this and for other reasons that the coastal state of Schleswig-Holstein, which includes the Helingen Islands, is investing a lot of money so that here we can raise the level of the islands with respect to the sea while trying, at the same time, to also enlarge their surface.
According to the studies carried out by experts, each island would have to “grow” by about 4-5 mm every year to keep up with the sea level. So far only the island of Hooge, thanks to a closed dam that surrounds it, has managed to limit the floods, while Nordstrandischmoor only grows by 1-2 mm per year.

Vista aerea dell'Hallig Süderoog
Aerial view of Hallig Süderoog, Adobe Stock photo
The bird population

The Wadden Sea was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2009 and it is no coincidence that around 60,000 birds live on Halligen, which means more than half of the species found in Germany. Sea swallows, arctic terns, and gulls are the most common species here. On the Halligen islands they find an ideal place to nest away from predators who stay away thanks to the abundant winter floods.
Preserving the life of the people of this island therefore also means saving the life of a unique environment in the world where many animal species can proliferate and survive. This is why it would be important to continue with the conservation projects of this place

The railway lines
Lüttmoorsiel-Nordstrandischmoor railway line, Photo Adobe Stock

The Halligen Islands are connected by two railway lines: the first is the Lüttmoorsiel-Nordstrandischmoor, also known as the Lorenbahn. This first line is 3.6 km long and was built between 1933 and 1934.
It is used for the transport of goods, for mail and for the transport of building materials. Every resident of Nordstrandischmoor owns a wagon and must be at least 15 years old and have a license to drive it.
The second railway line is the Halligbahn, which runs along the Dagebüll – Oland – Langeneß line.
In Oland, there is only a small municipality with about fifteen houses and a church, while Langeneß is home to 58 families.

The hallig
  1. Nordstrandischmoor covers an area of approximately 1.9 square km and has four terps, a couple of schools and a restaurant. In 2010, 18 people lived here;
  2. Langeneß is today the largest Hallig of all and has a total length of 10 km. Its 134 inhabitants of which 113 in Langeneß are divided into 18 terp: Bandixwarf, Christianswarf, Honkenswarf, Ketelswarf, Kirchhofswarf, Kirchwarf, Hilligenley, Hunnenswarf, Mayenswarf, Neuwarf, Norderhörft, Peterhaitzwarf, Peterswarf, Rixithwarland, Törfwarland. The economic income of this Hallig comes partly from agriculture and partly from the state enterprise for the protection of the coasts;
  3. Gröde with 252 hectares, it is the third largest hallig on the island. Only 8 residents live here and there are two terps, one of which is uninhabited;
  4. Hamburger hallig owes its name to two Hamburg merchants who bought the island in the 17th century. This hallig is connected to the mainland and managed by the NABU (Nature Conservation Union) and has a bird keeper. Nobody lives here and its two terps are uninhabited.
  5. In Süderoog Nele Wree and Olger Spreer run an ecological farm. They are the only inhabitants of the island. In addition to many guests, seabird species such as knot and sandpiper also come here.
  6. Hooge is the second largest hallig and is protected by a stone dam that “defends” it from the biggest floods. Here live 95 people spread over 10 terp which are: Backenswarft, Hanswarft, Ipkenswarft, Kirchwarft, Lorenzwarft, Mitteltritt, Ockelützwarft, Ockenswarft, Volkertswarft and Westerwarft. In Hooge there are 2 schools, 5 restaurants, 2 bars and even 2 hotels, as well as various city services that are located in Hanswarft, the main hangar of the Hallig.
  7. Habel is undoubtedly an undisturbed territory of wild nature. This hallig is inhabited only by a bird keeper for the Jordsand and V. association and, in summer, also by a bird watchdog. The species of birds that come here are hardly counted..
  8. Norderoog,is also known as “Vogelhallig”. In 1909 the Jordsand and V association purchased this hallig with the intention of making it a bird sanctuary. Thanks to donations and the work of young volunteers, stone embankments have been built here and the constant risk of floods has slowed down. In Norderoog live about 14 species of nesting birds, 6 of which are endangered and, with them, also lived the legendary keeper of the hallig Jens Wand who after living here for 40 years has never returned from a walk in the muddy plains of the area.
  9. Oland covers an area of about 2 square kilometers and has about twenty residents distributed in 18 houses on a single terp. The peculiarity of this hallig is that here is the only lighthouse built in straw in all of Germany.
  10. Sudfall is the other hallig dominated by the presence of sea birds. The property has been part of the Jordsand association since 1957 and a limited number of day trips are allowed here. Only in the summer two inhabitants arrive: an engineer and his wife who keep company with 15 species of seabirds: herring gulls, arctic terns, just to name a couple.