The sea, the mud flats and sometimes floods: these are all part of everyday life for Gunda Erichsen. The trained cook and hobby ornithologist is one of the 230 people in Germany who live on a Hallig, one of the marsh islands in the North Sea. She grew up on the Hallig Nordstrandischmoor. Today she lives with her husband Gonne and their two daughters on the Hallig Südfall. Whilst Gonne’s full-time job is the preservation of the Hallig, Gunda looks after the tourists who visit the island by day, and provides them with insights into life on the tiny island.
Ten Halligs still belong to Germany today: Nordstrandischmoor, Langeness, Oland, Gröde, Hooge, Habel, Südfall, Süderoog, Norderoog and Hamburger Hallig. They are located on the North Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein in the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park. They only formed in the last millennium, either through new deposits on old marshland, or as the remains of a once larger island. Today the Halligs play an important part in coastal protection by helping to break the impact of the incoming waves.
High tides flood the Halligs
But in contrast to ‘real’ islands, the Halligs lie only a few metres above sea level. During very high tides and storms they become flooded. When this happens, all that remains peeping out of the water are the man-made dwelling mounds with their houses perched on top. This occurs about fifty times a year. Every time the Hallig is flooded, the sea deposits additional sand and mud, so that the tiny island grows by about one centimetre each year.
Life on a Hallig has to be well organised. It is impossible to simply get up and go somewhere different. There are hardly any shops, and only the larger Halligs have doctors. The inhabitants do their shopping on the mainland, and in medical emergencies the air ambulance helicopter has to be called in. Basically, everyday life is determined by the tides and the weather. If a storm tide happens to be stronger than anticipated, a safe room anchored in reinforced concrete offers the necessary refuge in each of the houses. Gunda Erichsen never feels lonely on the Hallig: “I think that people in the city are often more isolated than we are.”