Before you go thinking about sunbathing, scuba diving, and sipping cocktails on Dutch islands in the Caribbean, let us draw your attention to the Wadden Islands. They make a belt off the bight of mainland Germany and the Netherlands, in an area known as the Wadden Sea — and you don’t want to miss them.
The funny thing about these islands is that they’re slowly but surely moving geographically from west to east. After unsuccessful attempts to rejoin the Wadden Islands to the mainland, the houses on the west side of the islands have been gradually claimed by the sea over the centuries. 🌊
The first inhabitants were recorded in parts of the Wadden Islands as early as 800 AD. The Roman author, Gaius Plinius Secundus, pitifully wrote about them: “There these miserable race inhabits raised pieces of ground or platforms, which they have moored by hand.”
So, what do the islands look like today and what more can we learn about their history?
Texel (the Frisian word is phonetically pronounced “Tessel”) has 14,000 inhabitants. The well-known island is essentially the largest physical rampart between the North Sea and the Wadden Sea. One-third of Texel is a protected nature reserve, probably a contributing reason as to why hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the island each year. The island is great for cycling and beaches.
Between Texel and Terschelling rests Vlieland with little more than a thousand inhabitants. During World War II it was utilized by the German’s to make up a part of the German Atlantic Wall. The Germans placed two anti-aircraft weapons on Vlieland and had mail delivered on the north side of the island from Texel. During this time there were more soldiers than locals occupying the island!
Make sure to check out Vlieland’s lighthouse for some great views. After that, catch an open-air film screening at Podium Vlieland or go horseback riding before settling into some beach yoga. When visiting the Dutch islands, leisure and a sense of adventure are key.
Between Vlieland and Ameland sits Terschelling. This particular Dutch island has a bloody past. In 1666, the Brits were hell-bent on disrupting Dutch trade routes and narrow the competition in European trade. So, how did they overtake the Dutch in global trade dominance?
By bombarding them at Terschelling, annihilating 150 Dutch ships, and raiding and burning the island to the ground. The island was consumed in such a blaze that it would be known as “Holmes’ Bonfire” after the British general Sir Robert Holmes. One year later, the Dutch, led by De Ruyter, retaliated and gave the Brits what for in “The Battle of Chatham”, ending their disputes.
Today, Terschelling survives off tourism and revitalizing items that wash ashore from the North Sea — farms and barns are built out of shipwrecked masts (how awesome is that!). The island has a bit of agriculture but in many parts, it’s a nature reserve. Terschelling is a beautiful Dutch island with much to do and see — from learning about the Netherlands’ bloody history with the British, to driving a landrover on the beach, to visiting a shipwreck museum.
Ameland is inhabited by just 3,500 people, fondly referred to as Amelanders. Hollum, Ballum, Nes, and Buren are the largest villages left on Ameland…There were others but sadly the ocean flooded them.
Claimed by the Netherlands after a series of its own lordships ruled over Ameland, the Dutch of the day didn’t care to overthrow them. So, eventually all the lordships in Ameland died out. The Dutch Royal Family wrote Ameland into its constitution as a part of Friesland in 1813 when it was conclusively recognized as a part of the Netherlands.
More than a century later, in 1940, German troops were shipped out to Ameland, where they took control of the island. The Allies never engaged in combat with the German troops on Ameland, as the island was seen as strategically worthless. This may be the reason that these stranded Nazi troops surrendered only a full month after Nazi Germany fell — they were hard to contact.
Today, Ameland has an airport, a bus route, and is an especially colourful destination. The place is littered with flora and fauna as well as countless varieties of birds. The island is also great for thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies — ever tried kite surfing?
Getting out to Schiermonnikoog is always a great idea. The largest spanning beach in Europe is right here and so are opportunities for mudflat walking because most of the sandbank is covered in shallow (walkable) waters.
Situated between Rottumerplaat and Ameland, Schiermonnikoog is commonly seen as a Dutch national park. Sometime around 1640, the aristocratic Stachouwer family bought Schiermonnikoog and for centuries it was their private property. What do you get when you mix native islanders with wealthy aristocrats? It rhymes with “shm-uprising.” That’s right, in the 18th century before the Napoleonic war, the people of Schiermonnikoog revolted against Maria Stachouwer. The Friesland states had to send troops to quell the uprising.
From 1858 to 1893 the private owner of Schiermonnikoog was Dutch poet, John Eric Banck (I know right — poets made money back then? A poet owning an island? These days the only poet even close to owning an island is Jay-Z). Whatever the reason (probably the uprising), the Stachouwer family didn’t want the island anymore. Banck improved the agriculture of the island, planting a hardy species of grass that would last well into the future.
What happened next? At the end of his run, Banck sold the island to a German count, Hartwig Arthur von Bernstorff-Wehningen. Whne Bernstorff-Wehningen died in 1940, his son inherited the island and became the only thing standing between the Nazis that occupied the island, and its inhabitants. At the end of the Second World War, Schiermonnikoog was confiscated by the Dutch State under Article III of the Decree on Enemy Assets.
Mudflats behind the Dutch Islands
Behind the Dutch islands is a large stretch of semi-solid ground known as the mudflats. They stretch between the Wadden Islands and the mainland of Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands.
How many Dutch islands have you been to? Tell us in the comments below!
Feature Image: Erik-Jan Leusink/Unsplash
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June 2019, and was fully updated in September 2021 for your reading pleasure.