I drink tea – lots of tea.
I eat fish sandwiches. Always fish sandwiches.
And I stare at the water for hours. I don’t find it monotonous. On the contrary: it’s a blessing, pure and simple. I enjoy the balmy sun as if it were shining on me for the last time. As I turn my face to the wind, I can feel my skin reacting gratefully, flushing a cheerful pink. In the calm of the off-season I go to bed unusually early. Every text message I get from the mainland is a nuisance. For the first time ever on a trip, I put my mobile on airplane mode.
It’s beautiful. But would I want to live here? Could I, even? What kind of people live permanently on such a tiny island, so far off the beaten track? Are they hiding from the rest of the world, out here in the North Sea? What was it that brought them to this place? Was it the lure of a tranquil lifestyle? What keeps them here? The peace? The view? The nature? What does the island do to them?
From Berlin to Langeoog
Mayk D. Opiolla works at reception in my hotel, and gives me excellent advice about a bike ride. Behind his desk he reigns supreme. Smartly dressed, extremely polite and very obliging, he’s a nice chap who knows his job, and I take an immediate liking to him. He speaks in such a polished way, and expresses himself so well! Somehow I’m immediately impressed.
In the evening we finally get to talking. Mayk has been living permanently on the island since April 2014. In 2012 he experienced a truly golden October here during the World Migratory Bird Day weekend. Immediately love-struck, the librarian and copywriter – I knew it! – succumbed at last to the magic of the island, which he had known since childhood. Langeoog appeared more beautiful, romantic and inspiring than ever, a dream holiday with all sorts of consequences.
Mayk no longer lives in Berlin, but on Langeoog, where he earns his crust at the Hotel Logierhus. In his free time he enjoys the natural world, which quite clearly are an enduring inspiration for him: he’s created marvellous drawings on the island – he likes to depict birds most of all – and an enchanting blog, ‘Geflügel mit Worten’ (Birds with Words). His first book has just come out, he says. When Mayk gives me a copy with an inscription, I’m genuinely touched, and begin to read it that same evening. I devour it. In ‚Snapshots‘ Mayk ponders across 130 pages the pain of a failed relationship and an eternal passion – for Langeoog.
bathtub steamer captain
Holger Damwerth, who grew up on Langeoog, became a captain due to his love of the sea. Four stripes adorn the jacket of his uniform. He’s been on some long trips, having sailed the seven seas – even the polar sea. Nicole, on the other hand, who worked as an editor, was lured to the island – and onto a ship – by her love for the captain. Since getting married and starting a family with the mind-boggling number of eight (!) children, they make a strong team, both personally and professionally.
They refer to the MS Flinthörn, their ship, named after a part of the island in the south-west of Langeoog, as a comfortable ‘all weather ship’, meaning that you can take beautiful and above all entertaining tours on the Flinthörn in more than just radiant sunshine. Apparently it stays cosy and warm in the two lounges even in miserable weather. And hot chocolate, coffee and sea-buckthorn toddies from the ship’s galley are well-known as warming drinks. Guests, you can read on the Damwerth shipping company’s website, also lovingly refer to the Flinthörn as the ‘bathtub steamer’, because it looks like one of those bulbous toy ships you give children to splash around with in the bath. It is a little rotund, perhaps. Another favourite among the guests is the term ‘waffle boat’, because Nicole Damwerth makes great quantities of delicious waffles on demand in the ship’s galley, following her secret recipe.
During the summer months, the two of them and their accompanying tourists make twice-daily trips out onto the sea: a cocktail trip or an informative exploration of the mudflats. When Holger Damwerth shows me around the Flinthörn, it’s not during the season.
As the captain makes his final preparations for a burial at sea that will be taking place the next day, covering the tables in the lounge with black cloths, he placidly philosophises about life. Some mornings he travels towards Baltrum, to the darlings of the North Sea, the quizzical seals who lie on the sandbanks and pose for the tourists. Later he sails along the coast with a high-spirited wedding party. During the afternoon’s pirates-and-mermaids tour there are forty screeching children on board. Then as the sun goes down there’s a burial at sea – like tomorrow.
Weddings, children, deaths, work parties, lovers’ trysts, farewells, happiness and tears – all facets of life poured into the same melting pot. It brings serenity, but not indifference. A day later I’m invited to the Damwerths’ house. Never have I experienced such concentrated zest for life in a relatively small space, even though only four of their eight children are home. One of the girls is having a birthday. In the front room the table of presents is dominated by the colour pink. Nicole Damwerth is at least as serene as her husband. Amid the screeching and the bustle, she tells me – just in passing – about the children’s books she writes and illustrates.
Next morning I’m standing in the island’s bookshop. With ‘Amelie and the Treasure of the Viking Ship’ under my arm I leave the premises.
Then I sit on the beach and settle down appreciatively to read the children’s book…
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