Published: 12/11/2012 18:55 - Updated: 12/11/2012 19:15

Town by the sea

YES, I know, I wasn’t aware of the place either. Husum is a coastal town in north-west Germany, in Schleswig Holstein.

It hasn’t always been a port; in 1362 there was a great storm that significantly changed the coastline and Husum woke up to find that it was suddenly on the edge of the sea.

In 1962 it was severely flooded again, and there are marks on walls here and there recording how high the water level was.

Husum, population 22,500, was Danish until the area was taken over by Prussia in the 19th century. It is the birthplace of one of the greatest German writers, Theodor Storm (1817 to 1888). He is not well known here and not many of his books have been translated, which is a shame as they paint very sympathetic and graphic descriptions of this flat landscape and the eternal battle with the sea.

To get to Husum, go to Hamburg or Esbjerg (Denmark), both airports are about 120 kms away, and both have train connections. It has its own wee airport but only for charter and private planes.

The sea is a major influence on Husum. Lovely houses, cafes and hotels are on all sides of the harbour, which has a pair of lifting bridges at its throat. It is fascinating to watch these lift to let even rather small boats go through. Then main line trains thunder across and the road is always busy. A good place to watch this is from the restaurant "Steak + Meer", right on the quayside, a rather stark modern block structure, but the food is excellent. See www.loofhusum.de The town has a very clever competition each year. Hotels and restaurants prepare a full plate dish that must retail for 14.50 Euros, using only 5 Euros worth of ingredients, and be on their menu from April to the end of October. There is a brochure available with the winners and runners-up, and you can go from one to the other during your stay eating very well for a reasonable price. Naturally, many of the dishes feature fish (many different ways to serve herring) and shrimps, which they call Krabben, abound in the shallow muddy waters around here. A shrimp festival is staged every October. Today there are only eight shrimp boats still operating.

Offshore are many low, flat islands and a very large protected area of natural beauty. The region in invaded by all sorts of birds at different times of the year as they migrate.

Just off the harbour is the irregularly shaped main square, dominated by a fountain with a strong statue of a local lady holding an oar. This is the Tine fountains, given to the town by the famous artist Adolf Brütt who was born in Husum in 1855, and died in 1939. Behind it is the large church of St Marien, and close by the town hall (Rathaus). Many attractive shops and buildings are all around.

Husum is actually a shopping centre that attracts Germans from far and wide. There are over 300 speciality shops, but no ugly shopping centres, just shops along all the streets. I counted three that sold just tea – not cafes, but shops specialising in selling tea, tea pots, tea strainers and all varieties of tea. You can certainly get a good cup of tea anywhere in Husum. In the square are regular farmer’s markets on Thursdays and Saturdays. The shopping is not frenetic, no hustle or bustle or hassle, just a friendly place to wander around. People have that small town way of talking to you.

I went into the Post Office to buy some stamps for my postcards. The counter clerk spoke perfect English and pulled my leg about bringing the rain over with me. The tourist office (www.husum-tourismus.de) organises guided walks and has a culture trail which includes the Theodor Storm museum. There is a castle, too. It is unlike the image of a castle, there is no high ground for it to dominate. It sits fairly low, in pretty gardens, and is really just a very large house built in the local style, but very attractive. An international piano festival is staged every August.

The gardens are estimated to have around five million crocuses. The Husum people like them as they signify the arrival of spring, so in March they have a crocus festival and elect a Crocus Queen. There is a surprising amount of things to see and do in Husum, with museums, including a puppet one which the children all love, a conference centre, for 20 years Husum has been the world’s leading wind energy centre for a trade fair, and it also has as a centre of research. Over 2,700 wind turbines are sited in Schleswig Holstein, the tallest things that you will see, and they are everywhere.

The North Sea museum is a splendid 1930s style brick building, with a blue line at a surprising height along it where the 1962 floods reached. The Museum of Shipping includes details of floods and dyke building – subjects close to the heart of everyone here. The National Parkhaus Museum explains about the UNESCO protected costal area, the biggest between North Cape and Sicily. You can take a walk along the big dyke by the town, and go to concerts held in the Chapel by the Sea (Kirchlein am Meer), and of course like many German towns the Christmas markets in the square are very popular.

There is also golf, cycling, boat trips, fishing trips, visits to islands to visit the wildlife, inline skating marathons, and the Baltic Jazz Festival. You can also take a beer tour at the local brewery – which is connected directly to my hotel, the Best Western Theodor Storm (www.be-theodor-storm-hotel.de) This is an excellent 4 star hotel, great food, and great service, again the staff are people who take the time to talk to you and go out of their way to be helpful. Thoroughly recommended.

Some places where you go, you feel that you are insignificant, there is too much impersonal hustle and bustle and noise. Husum is a relaxing place, but full of interest, character, charm and activity to make you want to stay there for a while and explore. For business travellers coming for a conference, I can’t think of a better location. It is fairly easy to get to, and with its unique charm will be a place that is remembered (see www.nordsee-congress.de ) Coming from our clean, stormy seas with our big tide variations, and with mountains all round us, I was a little unsure about going to an area of Germany where the highest things are the wind turbines, but I found it fascinating.

The countryside has thatched houses with their roofs low down to protect against the wind, farms on their raised earthworks to protect against the floods, dykes forming horizons – somewhere different to go and explore.

To end, here is Theodor Storm’s little poem about his home town of Husum: By the grey shore, by the grey sea, And set apart lies the town, The fog lies heavy on the roofs, And through the stillness roars the sea, Dully round the town. No forest murmurs, nor do birds, Sing constantly in May, Only the goose on autumn nights, With its harsh cry, flies by, On the shore the grasses sway. Yet all my heart belongs to you, You grey town by the sea, The magic of my youth, evermore, Will rest and smile on you, on you, You grey town by the sea.

The original was written in 1851, the translation by Denis Jackson in 1999 is wonderful. It is said in some books that not so many of Storm’s works have been translated into English as he uses the sounds of the German words to convey a profound word imagery – obviously difficult to achieve when put into English, as I hope you can follow from the poem above.

This is another result from my trip – some culture.

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