“The fact that some students from Heidelberg came to the island and raised flags certainly did not lead to this happening,” says Fitchen. “Arrangements were made at the European level, and at some point the right time came.” What enabled the people of Heligoland to return home was perhaps of secondary importance to them. They wanted to get back the life they once had. “It’s completely apolitical, they just wanted to go home.”
The reconstruction in Heligoland was considered complete in 1967. Since then, tourism and cultural activities have once again become the most important economic sectors on the island. Until the 1970s, guest numbers at the North Sea resort rose to around 800,000 guests a year, a figure that has not been reached since – driven primarily by the still-in-place duty exemption, which made it cheaper to buy alcohol. On the island and gave it the unpleasant nickname “Vosvelsen”.
Fitchen believes the image in no way does Heligoland justice. “For the world on the Nordic and Baltic coasts, you can say: there is no place where you can experience nature and the power of nature, the sea and the weather so directly as in Helgoland,” he says. “The island has a rough charm, but there’s also something beautiful about it.”
True Heligolanders know this too. Many families have lived on the island for many generations and lived there through its highs and lows. Some of them only leave their 1.2 square kilometer habitat in case of emergency – for example to see a doctor on the mainland – or not at all for years. Anyone who knows her story can imagine why.
More exciting stories about The World Islands will be told on November 5, 2023 starting at 6:45 a.m. on National Geographic’s Big Island Day. You can get National Geographic and National Geographic WILD through our partner Vodafone on the GigaTV package.
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