( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In Heligoland itself there are few trees, no running water, no romantic ruins, but an extra-ordinary width of sea-view, seen as from the deck of a gigantic ship; and yet the island is so small that one can look around it all, and take the sea-line in one great circle.
Seen from a distance, as one must first see it, Heligoland is little more than a cloud on the horizon; but as the steamer approaches nearer, the island stands up, a red rock in the ocean, without companion or neighbor. A small ledge of white strand to the south is the only spot where boats can land, and on this ledge nestle many white-walled, red-roofed houses; while on the rim of the rock, nearly two hundred feet above, is a sister hamlet, with the church-tower and lighthouse for central ornaments.
On the Unterland are the principal streets and shops, on the Oberland are many of the best hotels and government-house. As there is no harbor, passengers reach the shore in large boats, and get their first glimpse of the hardy, sun-browned natives in the boatmen who, with bright jackets and hats of every picturesque curve that straw is capable of, pull the boat quickly to the steps of the little pier. Crowds of visitors line the way, but one gets quickly through, and in a few minutes returns either to familiar quarters in the Oberland, or finds an equally clean and moderate home among the lodging-house keepers or seamen. The season is a very short one, only ten weeks out of fifty-two, but the prices are moderate and the comfort unchallengeable.
Heligoland is only one mile long from pier to Nordkap, and a quarter of a mile wide at its widest—in all it is three-quarters of a square mile in size. There are no horses or carts in Heligoland--only six cows, kept always in darkness, and a few sheep and goats tethered on the Oberland. The streets are very narrow, but very clean, and the constant repetition in houses and scarves and flags of the national colors gives Heligoland a gay aspect; for the national colors are anything but dull.
Green land, red rocks, white strand—nothing could be better descriptive of the island than these colors. They are easily brought out in domestic architecture, for with a whitewashed cottage and a red-tiled roof the Heligolander has only to give his door and window-shutters a coat of bright green paint, and there are the colors of Heligoland. In case the unforgettable fact should escape the tourist, the government have worked the colors into the ingenious and pretty island postage-stamp, and many of our German friends wear bathing-pants of the same unobtrusive tints.
Life is a very delightful thing in summer in this island. On your first visit you feel exhilaratedly the novelty of everything as much as by the strong warm sea wind which meets you wherever you go. When you return, the novelty has worn away, but the sense of enjoyment has deepened. As you meet friendly faces and feel the grip of friendly hands, so you also exchange salutations with Nature, as if she, too, were an old Heligoland friend. You know the view from this point and from that; but, like the con-verse of a friend, it is always changing, for there is no monotony in the sea. The waves lap the shore gently, or roar tumultuously in the red caverns, and it is all familiar, but none the less welcome and soothing because of that familiarity. It is not a land of lotus-eating de-lights, but it is a land where there is little sound but what the sea makes, and where every face tells of strong sun and salt waves. No doubt, much of its charm lies in its contrast to the life of towns or country places. Whatever comes to Heligoland comes from over the sea; there is no railway within many a. wide mile; the people are a peculiar people, with their own peculiar language, and an island patriotism which it would be hard to match.
From the little pier one passes up the narrow white street, no broader than a Cologne lane, but clean and bright as is no other street in Europe, past the cafes with low balconies, and the little shops-into some there are three or four steps to descend, into 'others there is an ascent of a diminutive ladder—till the small square or garden is reached in front of the Conversation House, a spacious building with a good ball-room and reading-room, where a kiosque, always in summer full of the fragrant Heligoland roses, detains the passer-y. Then another turn or two in the street, and the bottom of the Treppe is approached—the great staircase which winds upward to the Ober-land, in whose crevices grow masses of foliage, and whose easy ascent need not be feared y any one, for the steps are broad and low.
The older flight of steps was situated about a hundred paces northward from the present Treppe. It was cut out of the red crumbling rock, and at the summit passed through a guard-house. Undoubtedly the present Treppe should be similarly fortified. It was built y the government in 1834. During the smuggling days, it is said, an Englishman rode up to the Oberland, and the apparition so shocked an old woman, who had never seen a horse before, that she fell senseless to the ground.
From the Falm or road skirting the edge of the precipice from the head of the stairs to Government Rouse, one of the loveliest views in all the world lies before our eyes. Immediately beneath are the winding stairs, with their constant stream of broad-shouldered sea-men, or coquettish girls, or brown boys, passing up and down, while at each resting-place some group is sitting on the green-red-white seats gossiping over the day's business. Trees and plants nestle in the stair corners, and almost conceal the roadway at the foot.
Lifting one's eyes away from the little town, the white pier sprawls on the sea, and count-less boats at anchor spot with darkness the shining water. Farther away, the Dune lies like a bar of silver across the view, ribbed with emerald where the waves roll in over white sand; and all around it, as far as the eye can reach, white sails gleam in the light, until repose is found on the horizon where sea and sky meet in a vapory haze. At night the Falm is a favorite resort of the men whose houses are on the Oberland. With arms resting on the broad wall, they look down on the twinkling lights of the houses far beneath, listen to the laughter or song which float up from the small tables outside the cafe, or watch the specks of light on the dark gleam of the North Sea. It is a prospect of which one could hardly tire, if it was not that in summer one has in Heligoland a surfeit of sea loveliness.
Heligoland is conjecturally identified with the ocean island described y Tacitus as the place of the sacred rites of the Angh and other tribes of the mainland. It was almost certainly sacred to Forsete, the son of Balder the Sungod—if he be identified, as Grimm and all Frisian writers identify him, with Fosite the Frisian god. Forsete, a personification to men of the great white god, who dwelt in a shining hall of gold and silver, was among all gods and men the wisest of judges.
It is generally supposed that Heligoland was first named the Holy Island from its association with the worship of Forsete, and latterly in consequence of the conversion of the Frisian inhabitants. Hallier has, however, pointed out that the Heligolanders do not use this name for their home. They call the island "det Lunn"—the land; their language they call "Hollunner," and he suggests that the original name was Hallig-lunn. A hallig is a sand-island occasionally covered with water. When the Dune was connected with the rock there was a large stretch of sand covered y winter floods; Halliglunn would then mean the island that is more than a hallig; and from the similarity of the words to Heligoland a series of etymological errors may have arisen; but Hallier's derivation is, after all, only a guess.