Field Recording – Hallig Hooge, Germany

Put your headphones on and join me on a trip to one of the strangest, most human-altered landscapes in Europe.

Hallig Hooge is the second-largest of the halligen in the Wattensee (Wadden Sea) area of the German Bight. Each of these islands is actually just the remains of a great dune that stretched along the North Sea coasts of the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. Each is home to a tiny community, completely at the mercy of the sea and reliant on their dikes and warften (the mounds on which their houses are built).

The track above is a collection of recordings taken over a couple of days in April 2023. It begins with a walk around the small ferry that serves Hooge from the mainland. I began at water level in the cafe before walking up the steps, through an air-operated door, and out onto the open (and very windy) vehicle deck.

On our trip, a herd of nervous cows was being transported, along with a couple of tourist cars. I walked around the deck, listening to the gulls, the water rushing by, and the inescapable wind. My companion on the trip was a former seafarer, and he talked about the comforting rumble of a ship’s engine and how the vibration is reassuring – if it stops and the engine has failed, that’s when problems begin.

Once onto the hallig, the pace of the world slows down immediately. Sunday morning means the church bells call the faithful half-dozen to prayer, but the larks and geese don’t seem to notice this interruption to their foraging and calling.

The next day, as we explore, we take time out to visit the Königspesel or King’s Room in one of the ancient houses. In the 1820s, the room provided refuge for a Danish king who sat out a storm in a house belonging to a ship’s captain. The room remains largely unchanged since and contains a magnificent ‘grandfather’ clock built by Samuel Honeychurch in London around 1770, and subsequently sent to Japan for some custom paint or gilt work.

The geese on the hallig are stopping off on their trip north from South Africa, back up to Greenland, Canada, and Siberia. 10,000 Brent Geese were on the island when we visited, and occasionally, they’d be disturbed and fly up in huge clouds before noisily discussing where next to land. This is actually bad news for the geese who should be saving every ounce of energy they can before setting off on the next leg of their epic trip.

If you’re on Hooge, you should take the chance to walk out the 4km or so to Japsand, a sandbank off the north-western shore (you need a guide to do this as you’re in a UNESCO protected environment). The walk is spectacular, and the surroundings truly unique. Take water shoes or wellies, though, and don’t try going barefoot as we did. Sure, it’ll help you bond with nature, but nature also has a habit of cutting open your feet.

As the sun sets, the geese finally calm down, but the terns and black-headed gulls continue their relentless squabbling – the Eider ducks’ haunting honks only adding to the otherworldly atmosphere. Before you know it, it’s time to get back on the ferry and return to the real world where time isn’t measured by the tide or when the ferry arrives…

So, while you’re listening to the sounds, here are some of the pictures.


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