We finally moved into more permanent accommodation in Bremen at the beginning of June. The next few weeks were spent sorting through our things, which had been put in storage when we left Berlin. By Sunday 22 June, we were a little more settled and decided to take advantage of the long, although not especially sunny, northern midsummer days.
We took the train via Bremerhaven to Cuxhaven and walked through the town to its eastern beach at Döse. I had been interested to visit Cuxhaven, since learning that the last direct ferry between England and Germany had connected Harwich with this medium-sized port town at the mouth of the Elbe. I was saddened to hear that this service had been discontinued in 2005.
Climbing over the dyke, we followed the Elbe to where it meets the North Sea, marked by the Kugelbake, or “ball beacon”: a tall wooden structure built after the war, the latest in a series of similar beacons built on the same spit of sand since the early 18th century. Previous structures had either succumbed to storms or been deconstructed during times of war to prevent invaders finding their way up the river to the city of Hamburg.
Alongside the beacon was a memorial to Jonathan Zenneck who pioneered ship-to-coast radio communication from the structure at the turn of the twentieth century. Despite the wind and choppy conditions, we were far from alone here at the northernmost point of Lower Saxony, with an irritatingly large number of other visitors milling around.
What impressed me most about the mouth of the river was the amount it had been engineered to ensure not only that the city of Cuxhaven was not flooded but that in spite of the shallow waters and marked tidal changes, the Elbe could allow passage to mammoth container ships on their way to Germany’s largest port. I had read recently, however, that the Port of Hamburg was under pressure from the Chinese to dredge the Elbe further, as it is not wide nor deep enough to fit the largest of modern ships.
From the Kugelbake, facing west over the sea proper, started the long sandy beach going down toward Duhnen and Sahlenburg. The tide was out and the sand flats here were far easier to traverse than the mud of Friesland. This almost desertscape was stopped by a breakwater to the north, on the other side of which flowed the artificially deep waters from the Elbe.
We walked a little way along the beach, as the late-afternoon sun began to appear through the clouds. I noted the new construction of the sea wall and the many groynes protecting the beach.
We stopped at the lifeguard station and cafe, where we could drink beer and watch the ships. In the other direction, we could look out to the island of Neuwerk, an enclave of the Hanseatic city of Hamburg, famous for its lighthouse, originally built as a fortified tower in the 14th century. It’s possible to walk to the island at low tide, and we considered this for another occasion.
As we wandered back toward the station, we passed the former naval fort with its artillery still pointing out over the Elbe’s entrance. We took the path over the dyke with swallows swooping among us, followed the street back into town and retraced our way to the train.