Cuxhaven: My Favourite North Sea Resort
Cuxhaven Travel Blog› entry 1 of 8 › view all entries
Cuxhaven is my favourite place on the shores of the North Sea. It is one on the few places on the mainland where the mudflats are sandy and solid, thus can be walked safely. About 10-15 kms of sea bottom fall dry at low tide, so no matter how crowded the beach has been, you'll be on your own when you set out. The tidelands are part of the Nationalpark Deutsches Wattenmeer and full of life. For those who are interested in nature, there is a lot to discover. At the same time the town is big enough to offer all kinds of infrastructure and shopping. Train connections both to Hamburg and Bremen are all right, so the place is easy to reach without a car.
In late spring 2007 I spent three weeks in Cuxhaven and found it the PERFECT place for my purposes: I needed a quiet place far away from my phone, internet and the usual hassle to write/finish a book, and I wanted it to be close to the sea.
I had long wanted to return and in summer 2013 I finally made it back.
In March 2015 I spent two weeks in Otterndorf for research reasons, and I gave myself a day off for a hop over to Cuxhaven. At that time the beach was still empty, and it was too chilly for mudflat walking. A completely different experience.
Wattwandern - Walking the Mudflats
There is nothing more relaxing than a walk on the soft ground underneath a big big sky, feeling the wind and watching out for all those little animals that live in the mudflats - and, which is singular for Cuxhaven, watching the big ships entering or leaving the river Elbe.
10-15 kms of dry sea bottom can be walked at low tide. You can walk out from the beaches outside Duhnen and Döse and also from Sahlenburg. There ground is solid. However, avoid the part between Duhnen and Sahlenburg where the salt meadows are, there it is soft and muddy and dangerous.
Wind and sunlight and clouds put on a show for free over the tidelands. The sky looks always different, often dramatic. The photos here are just random examples. I carried my camera whenever I was walking to the seashore... An evening walk on the beach promenade is also rewarding. The main beaches of Döse, Duhnen and Sahlenburg face northwest. The beach promenade and the stone dams are the perfect balcony to enjoy the sunset show over the mudflats.
What is so fascinating about walking the muddy tidelands? A question I am often asked. Isn’t it boring?
No it isn’t, at least to me. It is one of the most relaxing activities on Earth. It appeals to all senses. Looking at the big big sky and the often dramatic clouds, and the endless horizon. Feeling the wind and the splashing shallow water that quickly warms up with the sun. Smelling and tasting the fresh salty sea air. Feeling the ground around your feet – sometimes soft and muddy, sometimes sandy, sometimes more solid with a pattern of little ripples or waves, sometimes a tickle from a baby fish or shrimp. Hearing the wind and the screams of the birds. The tidelands tell of eternal change. Panta rhei, everything is flowing.The water is constantly rising and falling and changes the structures of the ground and the water currents within minutes.
Walking the mudflats is safe if, and only if, you observe a few rules:
1. Check the tide calendar, take a watch and observe the hours!!! The end of walking time the calendar states is the hour of the lowest tide. You've still got some time till the water returns, but get back to the land side of the last Priel soon. The water comes faster than you imagine. Printouts of the tide calendar or blackboards with the up to date information are on display at all beach entrances. Make sure you understand what it says.
2. If the ground feels muddy or the water becomes too deep, turn around. Take care when crossing a Priel, the waterflows where the water leaves last and comes back first.
3. Watch your steps. Broken shells have sharp corners, and some crabs might show a nasty sense of humour.
Wildlife in the Mudflats
At first sight, the mudflats look like a boring patch of flat brownish mud, and nothing else. But they are full of life. Worms and shells, little snails, shrimps, fish larvae, crabs, jellyfish populate it. Various specieses of water birds feed on them. In spring and autumn millions of wandering birds use the tidelands for a rest during their long journey. Guided tours in the mudflats (Wattführungen) are a great way to learn more about the amazing variety of life in this delicate ecosystem. There are guided tours of all kinds, for kids, families, or adults, and even guided hiking tours across to the island of Neuwerk.
You will notice all this life very soon. During your first walks in the mudflats you will probably, just like I did, panic when something tickles your feet. The idea of a crab catching your toes with its pincers isn't too pleasant. In 99% of the cases, the causer is completely harmless and almost invisible. The shallow waters near the beach are full of tiny baby shrimps in late spring, and hardly bigger baby fish during the summer.
The ancient law of the sea says: finders keepers. Stranded goods belong to whoever finds them. Modern legislation has a different approach concerning the load of stranded ships.
Beach and Beach Promenade
The beaches along Döse, Duhnen and Sahlenburg are popular for sunbathing and all kinds of beach activities in the summer season.
The sandy beach is fine, the waters are calm, but swimming the sea is hardly possible. At high tide the water is too shallow even far out. I tried and managed to swim a bit but always had to keep my knees from getting stuck on the sea bottom. Real swimming is only possible
a) at the grass beaches of Grimmershörn and Altenbruch along the Elbe at rising tide
b) in the pretty big sea water spa in Duhnen
c) in the open air sea water pool among the dunes in Döse (Freibad Steinmarne).
A favourite pastime on German beaches is building sand castles. Digging holes and canals in the wet ground just off the beach is also popular.
All kids, big and small (and also some very big kids;-)), enjoy playing in the mud at low tide. Schlick surfing is a low-tide beach entertainment that looks like big fun.
A smoothly paved promenade extends all the way along the beach. It has benches, showers and taps to wash muddy feet, a couple of eateries and souvenir shops along the way and free toilets in several spots - everything that you need on the beach. It is suitable for wheelchairs, walkers, prams and strollers and toddlers' tricycles. The ramps over dyke and dunes prove the only problem that people with walking difficulties have to cope with.
The walk is very pleasant. If you find it too long, you can use the beach train. This is not a train on rails but a motor vehicle in the shape of a train. It runs along the beach promenad, starting at the Western end of the beach in Duhnen and ending at Alte Liebe in the port, with several stops along the way. It runs right on the beach promenade. If you can't or don't want to walk long distances, this "train" is a fun alternative to experience the beach landscapes and the views of the sea, tidelands and the Elbe. There are only four rides per day, so check the timetable in advance and plan accordingly.
Strandhaus is a popular spot on the beach in Döse. It was built right on the dyke in the 1950s. The architecture of the building and the stage shell are typical for that era, unspoilt, and will raise the spirits of every 1950s fan. The upper floor hosts an upscale restaurant with large panorama windows. The ground floor has a souvenir shop and snack bar, and on the meadow in front they have a large self-service beer garden. Part of the outdoor seating is inside a tent with heaters. From Wednesday to Sunday they have live music on the concert stage outside – the quality of the bands and musicians varies. Some are quite good, the two guys who did the “Kölsche Abend” one night, however, deserve a “Warnings and Dangers” tip.
The playground by the beach promenade next to Strandhaus Döse has this huge pirate ship. Two wooden figures represent the town mascots Jan Cux and Cuxi dressed up as pirates. The ship must be fun to play on for kids, and it makes a nice subject for photos.
The Beach Off Season
So far I had seen the beach always in high season, all filled with beach baskets and wind-protecting fences in between. In March, still off-season, the beach was wide and empty and undivided. Outside Duhnen they had already cleaned it and brought in fresh sand.
The new season was approaching and preparations were in full swing. In one spot the very first beach baskets had just been put up and people enjoyed the spring sun, well wrapped up in warm jackets. The horse-drawn carriages to Neuwerk had just opened the new season, there were four or five on tour - in late spring there will be 40 per day, during the summer holidays even twice as many.