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Coordinates: 54°54′N 8°20′E / 54.9°N 8.333°E / 54.9; 8.333

Native name: Söl, Sild
Satellite map
Wadden - Sylt.PNG
Location Wadden Sea
Coordinates 54°43′N 8°30′E / 54.717°N 8.5°E / 54.717; 8.5
Archipelago North Frisian Islands
Major islands Sylt, Föhr, Amrum
Area 99 km²
Length 38 km
Width 13 km
Highest point Uwe-Düne (52 m)
State  Schleswig-Holstein
District Nordfriesland
Population 21,000
Density 212 /km2 (550 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Germans, Frisians, Danes
Official website

Sylt (German pronunciation: [zʏlt]; Danish: Sild; Söl'ring North Frisian: Söl' ) is an island in northern Germany, part of Nordfriesland district, Schleswig-Holstein and well known for the distinctive shape of its shoreline. It belongs to the North Frisian Islands and is the largest island in North Frisia. The northernmost island of Germany, it is known for its tourist resorts, notably Westerland, Kampen and Wenningstedt-Braderup, as well as for its 40 km long sandy beach. It is frequently covered by the media in connection with its exposed situation in the North Sea and its ongoing loss of land during storm tides. Since 1927 Sylt has been connected to the mainland by the Hindenburgdamm causeway.




With 99.14 km², Sylt is the fourth-largest German island and the largest North Sea island. Sylt is situated at 9 to 16 km off the mainland, being connected there by the Hindenburgdamm. Southeast of Sylt the islands Föhr and Amrum are located, to the north lies the Danish island Rømø. The island of Sylt extends for 38 km in a north-south direction and on its northern peak at Königshafen is only 320 m wide. Its widest distance, from the town of Westerland in the west to the eastern Nössespitze near Morsum, measures 12.6 km. On the western and northwestern shore a 40 km sand beach is located, east of Sylt the Wadden Sea is situated, which belongs to the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park and mostly falls dry during low tide.

The island's shape has constantly shifted over time, a process which is still ongoing today. The northern and southern spits of Sylt are exclusively made up of unfertile sand deposits, while the central part with the municipalities of Westerland, Wenningstedt-Braderup and Sylt-Ost consists of a geestland core, which becomes apparent in the form of the Red Cliff of Wenningstedt. The geestland facing the Wadden Sea gradually turns into fertile marshland around Sylt-Ost. Today sources show that Sylt has only been an island since the Grote Mandrenke flood of 1362.[1] The so called Uwe-Düne (Uwe Dune) is the island's highest elevation with 52.5 m above sea level.


On Sylt a marine climate influenced by the Gulf stream is predominant. With an average of 2 °C, winter months are slightly milder than on the mainland, summer months though with a median of 17 °C are somewhat cooler, despite a longer sunshine period on Sylt. The annual average sunshine period of Sylt is 4.4 hours per day. It is due to the low relief of the shoreline that Sylt had a total of 1899 hours of sunshine in 2005, 180 hours above the German average.[2] Clouds cannot accumulate as quickly and are generally scattered by the constant westerly or northwesterly winds.

The annual mean temperature is 8.5 °C. The annually averaged wind speed measures 6.7 m/s, predominantly from western directions. The annual rainfall amounts to about 650 millimetres.[3] Since 1937 weather data are collected at Deutscher Wetterdienst's northernmost station on a dune near List, which has meanwhile become automated. A number of commercial meteorological services like Meteomedia AG operate stations in List too.

Shaping and threat by the sea

The island in its current form has only existed for about 400 years. Like the mainland geestland, it was formed of moraines from the older ice ages, thus being made up of a till core, which is now apparent in the island's west and centre by the cliff, dunes and beach. This sandy core began to erode as it was exposed to a strong current along the island's steep basement when the sea level rose 8000 years ago. During the process, sediments were accumulated north and south of the island. The west coast, which was originally situated 10 km off today's shore, was thus gradually moved eastward, while at the same time the isle began to extend to the north and south. After the ice ages, marshland began to form around this geestland core.

In 1141 Sylt is recorded as an island, yet before the Grote Mandrenke flood it belonged to a landscape cut by tidal creeks and at least during low tide it could be reached by foot.[1] Only after this flood, the creation of a spit from sediments began to form the current characteristical shape of Sylt. Thereby mainly the northern and southern edges of Sylt were and still are the subject of great change. E.g. Listland was separated from the rest of the island in the 14th century and from the later 17th century on, the Königshafen (King's Harbour) began to silt up as the "elbow" spit began to form.[4]

In addition to the constant loss of land, the inhabitants during the Little Ice Age were strained by sand drift. Dunes shifting to the east threatened settlements and arable land and had to be stopped by the planting of marram grass in the 18th century. Consequently though, material breaking off the island was increasingly washed away and the island's substance continued to decrease.

Record of the annual land loss exist since 1870. According to them, Sylt lost an annual 0.4 m of land in the north and 0.7 m in the south from 1870 to 1951. From 1951 to 1984 the ratio increased while to 0.9 and 1.4 m respectively, while shorelines at the island's very edges at Hörnum and List are even more affected.[5]

Severe storm surges of the last decades have repeatedly endagered Sylt to the edge of breaking in two, e.g. Hörnum was temporarily cut off the island in 1962. An only 500 m wide part of the island near Rantum is especially threatened.

Coastal management

An armoured concrete groyne at Westerland
Sand flushing at Westerland beach
Concrete tetrapods at Westerland's promenade

Measures of protection against the continuous erosion date back to the early 19th century when groynes of wooden poles were constructed. Those were built rectangular into the sea from the coast line. Later they were replaced by metal and eventually by armoured concrete groynes. The constructions did not have the desired effect though to stop the erosion caused by crossways currents. "Leeward erosion", i.e. erosion on the downwind side of the groynes prevented sustainable accumulation of sand.

In the 1960s it was tried to break the power of the sea by installing tetrapods along the groyne bases or by putting them into the sea like groynes. The four-fingered structures, built in France, were too heavy for Sylt's beaches with tons of weight and were equally unable to prevent erosion. Therefore they were removed from the Hörnum west beach in 2005.[6]

Since the early 1970s the only effective means so far has been flushing sand onto the shore. Dredging vessels use to pump a mixture of sand and water to a beach where it is spread by bulldozers. Thus storm floods will only erase the artificial storage of sand, while the shoreline proper remains intact and erosion is slowed down.[7] This procedure causes considerable costs. The required budget of an annual 10 million is currently provided by federal German, Schleswig-Holstein state and EU funds. Since 1972 an estimated 35.5 million cubic metres of sand have been flushed ashore and dumped on Sylt. The measures have so far cost more than €134 million in total, but according to scientific calculations they are sufficient to prevent greater loss of land for at least three decades, so the benefits for the island's economic power and for the economically underdeveloped region in general would outweigh the costs.[8] In the 1995 study Klimafolgen für Mensch und Küste am Beispiel der Nordseeinsel Sylt (Climate impact for Man and Shores as seen on the North Sea island Sylt) it reads: "Hätte Sylt nicht das Image einer attraktiven Ferieninsel, gäbe es den Küstenschutz in der bestehenden Form gewiss nicht" (If Sylt did not have the image of an attractive holiday island, coastal management in its current form would certainly not exist).[9]

The enforcement of a natural reef off Sylt is being discussed as an alternative solution. A first experiment was conducted from 1996 to 2003.[10] A sand drainage as being successfully used on Danish islands is not likely to work on Sylt owing to the underwater slope here.[11]

Parallelly to the ongoing sand flushing, the deliberate demolition of groynes has begun amid great effort at certain beach sections where they were proven largely ineffective. This measure also terminated the presumably most famous groyne of Sylt, Buhne 16 — the namesake of the local nude beach.

A number of experts, however, fears that Sylt will still have to face considerable losses of land until the mid 21st century. The continuous global warming is thought to result in increasing storm activity, which would result in increased land loss and, as a first impact, might mean the end for property insurances. Measurements showed that, unlike in former times, the wave energy of the sea is not any more consumed off the beach, today it carries its destructive effects on to the beaches proper. This will result in an annual loss of sand of 1.1 million m³.[4] The dunes of the island constitute nature reserves and may only be entered on marked tracks. So called "wild paths" promote erosion and are not to be followed. Where vegetation is tread upon and no roots are left to hold the sand, it will be removed by wind and water.

The Wadden Sea on the east side between Sylt and the mainland is nature reserve and bird sanctuary since 1935 and is part of the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park. The construction of breakwaters in this area shall abate sedimentation and is used for land reclamation.

Also the grazing of sheep on the sea dikes and heaths of Sylt eventually serves coastal management, since the animals keep the vegetation short and compress the soil with their hooves. Thus they help create a denser dike surface, which in case of storm surges provides less area for the waves to impact.

Flora and fauna

Rosa rugosa, known as "Sylt rose" on the island

The flora of Sylt is shaped by the island's original sparingness. Until the mid 19th century Sylt was an island almost completely devoid of trees, only artificial plantations created small areas of forest and bush. Still today one can recognize the devised structure of the Friedrichshain and Südwäldchen forests in Westerland, the tress are mostly standing in rank and file. Also the now widespread Rosa rugosa, known as "Sylt rose" on the island was only imported to Sylt. It originates from the Kamchatka peninsula in Siberia. The undemanding rose met ideal conditions on Sylt and spread so quickly that it is now a common sight on the island. Its proliferation is viewed critically from a biological point of view, since it threatens to displace endangered local species, especially on the heaths.[12]

The ample heaths on the eastern side of the island provide habitats for many rare species of plants and animals which are adapted to the extreme conditions like drought, warmth, wind. About 2,500 animal species and 150 species of plants have so far been recorded. 45% of those plants are on the IUCN Red List.[12] Especially notable are the 600 species of butterflies that live in the heaths, Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone, Painted Lady and Peacock butterfly among them.[13]

With several thousand individuals in the dune belt of Sylt, the Natterjack Toad, endangered in Germany, has one of Germany's largest habitats here. Their spawning places are wettened dune slacks and shallow, short-lived pools.For a living they prefer sandy areas with vegetation. The main threat for this species on Sylt is road traffic.[14]

The many water birds and other coastal avians, that have their hatching grounds on Sylt or use the island for resting on their migrations constitute an ornithological feature. There are two notable hatching areas on Sylt, the Königshafen bay with the small island Uthörn in the north and the Rantum basin in the southeast. Birds that use to hatch on Sylt include Black-headed Gull, Arctic Tern, Pied Avocet, Common Redshank, Common Gull, Oystercatcher, Northern Lapwing, Common Shelduck and Tufted Duck. During the migration, Sylt is a resting spot for thousands of Brent Gooses and Shelducks, Eurasian Wigeons and Common Eiders, as well as Bar-tailed Godwit, Red knots, Dunlins and Eurasian Golden Plovers. Ringed Plover, Common Snipe, Ruff and other species are less common visitors to the island.[15]

Concerning land mammals, there is no significant deviation from the neighbouring areas of mainland Nordfriesland. Primarily European Hare, Rabbit and Roe deer can be found and are also hunted as game on the island. When the island was connected to the mainland by the causeway, also fox and badger became common.

West of Sylt a breeding area of Harbour Porpoises is located. In addition, great numbers of Harbour Seals and Grey Seals, the latters being rather uncommon in German seas, can be found on sand banks off Sylt.

Numerous associations and societies that care for the exploration and the protection of endangered animals and plants have their branches on Sylt. Among them are the Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Verein Jordsand and Schutzstation Wattenmeer. Also the Federal Office for the Environment operates a research station in the dunes at Westerland.


Thatched cottages in Kampener Heide
A view of sand dunes and beaches near List
A beach in Westerland

Sylt is divided into two administrative bodies: the Amt Landschaft Sylt with its seat in Keitum administrates all municipalities on the island, save for the independent town of Westerland. As of December 2007, Sylt had 21,190 inhabitants, 9,072 of whom living in Westerland.[16] These numbers do not include owners of summer residences.

A referendum held in May 2008 decided for the merger of the Sylt-Ost municipality with the town of Westerland due 1 January 2009.[17] Various groups of interest are thereby striving for a fusion of all municipalities on the island into a single governing body.[18]

Settlements along the west coast

Six municipalities are situated along the west coast of Sylt. List in the very north of the island constitutes Germany's northernmost municipality, it retained a certain indepence due to its remote location and its long-time adherence to the kingdom of Denmark. On its eastern shore, a harbour is located where, in addition to tourist ships, the "Sylt-Express" ferry-boat sails to Havneby on the Danish island Rømø. Wenningstedt together with Braderup and Kampen used to form the Norddörfer (Northern Villages) municipality, an early intercommunal association, which partly remains today in form of a school union. While Kampen, mainly in the 1950s and 1960s was famous in Germany for attracting celebrities, Wenningstedt is known as a "family resort" for more than 100 years. Since 1855, the prominent black and white Kampen lighthouse is located between Kampen and Wenningstedt, it is the oldest one on the island. East of there, the "Braderuper Heide" nature reserve is situated. Right south of Wenningstedt are the town limits of the island's metropolis, Westerland.

After the complete destruction of the village Eidum by a storm surge on 1 November 1436, the survivors founded a new village northeast of their old home: Westerland. The name was first recorded in 1462. In 1865 a seaside spa was founded, 50 years later Westerland was granted town privileges. In 1949 it was finally officially recognised as a health resort. In 2007 the town counted 9,072 citizens.

South of Westerland, the island extends for about 15 km in the form of a spit, until it is cut by the Hörnumtief tidal creek, that runs through the Wadden Sea mudflats east of Sylt. Here is the location of Rantum. This village, like no other on Sylt, had to fight sand drift during the past centuries. Many farmsteads and a church had to be abandoned because of shifting dunes moving eastward. Only the planting of marram grass stopped the dunes and put an end to this threat. To the east there are a few scattered spots of marshland, while the area is mostly coined by dunes.

Hörnum on the island's southern headland is the youngest village, having been founded shortly after 1900. But already in former times the uninhabited southern tip of Sylt was said to serve as refuge for pirates and fishermen. The name Budersand in the area emanates from that custom, marking a great dune where booths (German: Buden) stood in former times to serve as shelters.[19] This southern headland, called Odde, is marked by continuous loss of land. Each year great amounts of sand are washed away by storm floods and coastal management has not yet seen sustainable effects in the area, so that further losses have to be expected.


Sylt-Ost (East Sylt) is a township, consisting of several small villages on the Nössehalbinsel on Sylt. The population (as of 2000) is 5,500. The villages include Tinnum, Munkmarsch, Archsum, Morsum and Keitum.



Tinnum castle (Tinnumburg) is a circular parapet with a diameter of 120 meters and a height of 8 meters. It was built in the 1st century BC, likely as a pagan holy site.


Keitum has a historical church (St. Severin church), dating back to the 1200s. The green cliff is also located near Keitum. The village has been the economical and social center of the island until tourism started to get higher importance and Westerland, the islands onliest town, started to expand. From the old days are still many beautiful frisian houses left which were build by the towns seafarers especially during the whalehunting time (1650-1850).


Munmarsch has been the main port of the Island. Ferries from Hoyer (today in Denmark) landed here. When the "Hindenburg Damm" was finished in the 1920s, the town lost its importance. A marina is today located at the old port.


Of all villages on Sylt, Archsum has the highest percentage af inhabitants still speaking Söl'ring.


St. Martin church

Morsum has a historical church (St. Martin church), dating back to the same era as the one in Keitum. Morsum is also known for its morsum cliff, that shows the geological history of the last five million years on its height of 21 meters. It has been under landscape conservation since 1893.


Sylt is connected to the German mainland by the Hindenburgdamm, a causeway with a railway line on top. The passenger trains connect Westerland to Niebüll or Klanxbüll, and there is also the option of taking one's car onto the train at Niebüll. Furthermore, Ferry services to the nearby Danish island of Rømø exist. Beyond, Sylt Airport serves the region.


Sylt is a unique part of Germany, since it is part of the Frisian Islands. It has its own dialect, Söl'ring, which is the indigenous speech of Sylt. Söl'ring is a unique dialect of insular North Frisian, with elements of Danish, Dutch and English. Today, only a small fraction of the population still speaks Söl'ring. A law to promote the language („Friesisch-Gesetz“) was passed in 2004. The northernmost part of the island, Listland, was traditionally Danish-speaking.

As in many areas in Schleswig-Holstein on New Year's Eve, groups of children go masked from house to house, reciting poems. This is known as "Rummelpottlaufen", and as a reward, children receive sweets and/or money.

Sylt also has unique Frisian-style houses.


  • Sylt was originally part of Jutland (today Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein)
  • There is evidence of human habitation going back to 3,000 BC at Denghoog
  • First settlements of Frisians during the 8th century and 9th century
  • Sylt was divided between the Duke of Schleswig and the Kingdom of Denmark in 1386
  • Except for the town of List, Sylt became part of the Duchy of Schleswig in 1435
  • During the 17th century and 18th century, whaling, fishing and oyster breeding increased the wealth of the population
  • Keitum became the capital of the island, and a place for rich captains to settle down
  • In the 19th century, tourism began; Westerland replaced Keitum as the capital
  • During World War I, Sylt became a military outpost, but did not suffer from war damage
  • In 1927, a rail causeway to the mainland was built, the Hindenburgdamm, named after Paul von Hindenburg
  • During World War II, Sylt became a fortress, with concrete bunkers built below the dunes at the shore, some of which are still visible today. Lager Sylt, the concentration camp on Alderney was named after the island.

Today, Sylt is mainly a tourist attraction, famous for its healthy climate, and the many German celebrities who own houses on the island. The beach even has a nude section.

See also


  1. ^ a b Kehl, H.. "Entstehung der Insel Sylt im Laufe von 700 Jahren" (in German). Institute of Ecology, Technical University Berlin.  
  2. ^ "Tourimusstatistik 2005" (in German) (PDF). Town of Westerland.  
  3. ^ "List auf Sylt (climate chart)". Bernhard Mühr. 1 June 2007.  
  4. ^ a b Thiede, J; K. Ahrendt (2000). "Klimaänderung und Küste – Fallstudie Sylt" (in German). GEOMAR, University of Kiel.  
  5. ^ Landesamt für den Nationalpark Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer, Umweltbundesamt, ed (1998) (in German). Umweltatlas Wattenmeer (Wadden Sea environmental Atlas). I - Nordfriesisches und Dithmarscher Wattenmeer. Stuttgart. p. 38.  
  6. ^ Witte, J.-O.; Kohlhase, Sören, J. Radomski, P. Fröhle. "Fallstudie Sylt" (in German) (PDF). University of Rostock.  
  7. ^ Von Liebermann, Nicole. "Küstenschutz: Bisherige und zukünftige Maßnahmen" (in German) (PDF). Technical University of Harburg.  
  8. ^ Daschkeit, Achim; Horst Sterr. "Küste, Ökologie und Mensch, Integriertes Küstenmanagement als Instrument nachhaltiger Entwicklung". in Bernhard Glaeser. Edition Humanökologie. 2. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Humanökologie.  
  9. ^ Daschkeit, Achim; Peter Schottes (2002) (in German). Klimafolgen für Mensch und Küste am Beispiel der Nordseeinsel Sylt. Springer. ISBN 978-3540425694.  
  10. ^ Bleck, Matthias. "Funktionale Bemessung künstlicher Riffe für aktiven und sanften Küstenschutz" (PDF). Stiftung deutscher Küstenschutz.  
  11. ^ Newig, J.. "Sand auf Sylt" (PDF). University of Kiel.  
  12. ^ a b "Interessantes über die Braderuper Heide" (in German). Naturschutzgemeinschaft Sylt.  
  13. ^ "Morsum-Kliff" (in German). Naturschutzgemeinschaft Sylt.  
  14. ^ Klinge, Andreas (2003) (in German) (PDF). Die Amphibien und Reptilien Schleswig-Holsteins, Rote Liste. 3rd version. Schleswig-Holstein State Office for Nature and Environment.  
  15. ^ Lohmann, M.; K. Haarmann (in German). Vogelparadiese. 1 - Norddeutschland. Paul Parey. ISBN 3-490-16418-0.  
  16. ^ "Orte, Städte, Gemeinden im Landkreis Nordfriesland" (in German). Deutschland auf einen Blick.  
  17. ^ "Westerland und Sylt-Ost fusionieren" (in German). Sylter Rundschau (Schleswig-Holsteinischer Zeitungsverlag). 26 May 2008.  
  18. ^ "Der Fahrplan zur Teilfusion: So geht es jetzt weiter" (in German). Sylter Rundschau (Schleswig-Holsteinischer Zeitungsverlag). 27 May 2008.  
  19. ^ Pahl, Max (1983) (in German). Hörnum. Heimat am Horn - Querschnitt und Streifzüge durch Geschichte, Leben und Landschaft des Nordseebades Hörnum auf Sylt. Lunden: Verlagsdruckerei Schallhorn.  
This article incorporates information from the revision as of 28 September 2008 of the equivalent article on the German Wikipedia.

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Thatched cottages in Kampener Heide on Sylt
Thatched cottages in Kampener Heide on Sylt

Sylt is one of the North Frisian Islands.

Get around

Bus is the easiest although bikes are also popular. On the bus a family ticket for 3 days all over the island is about 40 Euros.

  • Daily news coverage about Sylt [1]
  • The Island TV shows you all you must the on Sylt [2]
  • Sylt pictures [3]


Almost every restaurant on the island is seafood, with the fish burger being considered something of a takeaway speciality. The island is definitely not cheap with the prices somewhat inflated by the wealthy German tourists who seem to make up 95% of the tourist traffic.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SYLT (probably from the O. Fris. Silendi, i.e. sealand), the largest German island in the North Sea, being about 38 sq. m. in area and nearly 23 m. long. It is, however, very narrow, being generally about half a mile in width, except in the middle, where it sends out a peninsula to the east 7 m. across. It belongs to the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein, and lies from 7 to 12 m. from the Schleswig coast. The central peninsula contains some marshland and moorland pasture, on which a few thousand sheep graze; but the rest of the island consists merely of dunes or sandhills. These attain at places a height of from z oo to 150 ft., and are continually shifting to the westward. The inhabitants (3500) are of Frisian origin, and the official language is German, though in the extreme north of the island, known as List, Danish is spoken. Their occupations are fishing, oyster-dredging, seafaring and wild-duck catching. The chief places are Keitum, Tinnum, Morsum, Rantum and Westerland. Westerland, one of the most frequented sea-bathing places of Germany, lies on the west side of the island, separated from the sea, which is seldom perfectly calm, by a chain of sand dunes, across which board walks lead to the beach. The island is reached by a regular steamboat service from Hoyer on the mainland to Munkmarsch, which is connected by a steam tram with Westerland. Another line of steamers runs from Hamburg to Sylt via Heligoland. During the Danish War of 1864, after suffering severely at the hands of the Danes, the island was occupied by the Prussians on the 13th of July (see [[Frisian Islands]]) .

See P. Knuth, Botanische Wanderungen auf der Insel Sylt (Tondern, 1890); C. P. Hansen, Das Nordseebad Westerland auf Sylt (Garding, 1891); Meyn, Geologische Beschreibung der Insel Sylt (Berlin, 1876); and Kepp, Wegweiser auf Sylt (Tondern, 1885).

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