Posts Tagged ‘Priel’

Wattwagenfahrt – endless discovery

Monday, July 31st, 2017


A Wattwagenfahrt (horse-drawn carriage ride in the Wadden Sea) is an eerily romantic and definitely unforgettable experience! Along the 280-mile stretch of German coastline, the seawater recedes for an incredible nine miles during ebb tide and exposes vast tidal flats in the process. We wanted to see this rare vestige of unspoiled nature and signed up for a Wattwagenfahrt. We started in Cuxhaven-Duhnen and headed for the tiny island of Neuwerk, about 7.5 miles into the North Sea.

What a Wattwagen looks like

A Wattwagen is a horse-drawn carriage that has been outfitted with leaf springs so that the body of the coach perches high above the vehicle’s wheels. The reason for the raised suspension is that the expedition will take us through tidal gullies, called Priele. Contrary to popular belief, the Wadden Sea Read: Allure of the Wadden Sea does not recede and refill evenly during low and high tides. A vein-like network of gullies cuts through the surface of the wetland. These tidal creeks can be just a few inches deep at low tide and grow into rivers as the tide returns, which can happen within minutes. Negotiating the gullies, the horses frequently end up in the water up to their bellies. That means the floor of the coach also gets wet. To minimize this problem, the leaf springs raise the coach and hopefully keep it from becoming immersed in water.

A Wattwagen with leaf springs to elevate the coach floor. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

A Wattwagen with leaf springs to elevate the coach floor. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Our fascinating Wattwagenfahrt

We signed up with the Wattwagenfahrt operator, the “Wattenpost,” operated by Jan Bruett. This family business has been in continuous operation since 1880 when the German Emperor Wilhelm I charged Christian Bruett with the task of delivering the mail to the island of Neuwerk. To this day, the Bruett family continues to deliver the mail on a weekly basis. You might say we felt in good hands.

Each Wattwagen has the capacity of loading nine people (8 passengers and the coachman). Our coachman was actually a woman, Claudia, who possessed a keen sense of humor. The expedition began with ladders being readied for the boarding process since the seating area is so high off the ground. After everyone was seated and wrapped in warm blankets, our convoy of about 10 Wattwagen slowly crossed the dike, the dunes and the beach and then entered the mudflats of the Wadden Sea. Tufts of birch tree twigs stuck in the ocean floor marked the route. The tide was low and the sun was shining. The horses broke into a trot. Soon, we were joined by another expedition coming from nearby Cuxhaven-Sahlenburg. Together we made the 1.5-hour trek to Neuwerk.  Read: Neuwerk Worth a Staycation Although it was early May, the temperatures were outright frosty. A robust wind blew from the east, and some of the gusts managed to penetrate our carefully layered clothing. We looked and felt a bit like early pioneers making our way to the New World.

Wattwagenfahrt from Duhnen to Neuwerk. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Wattwagenfahrt from Duhnen to Neuwerk. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

The island of Neuwerk beckoned in the distance. Before us lay the great expanse of wetland, serrated here and there by small and large priels. Sea birds above the ground, small sea life below the ground. Every once in a while we passed a safety cage propped on a giant pole. These cages serve as safe havens for people who misjudged the speed of the incoming tide while crossing the mud flats on foot. Looking to our right, the superstructures of giant container ships slowly moved down the nearby Elbe River towards Hamburg. In this fast-paced life, a Wattwagenfahrt is a truly peaceful and bewitching experience. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat and recommend it to anyone for their bucket list.


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