Schiermonnikoog is mainly known to people from the three northern provinces of our country. And that’s a pity. Although beachcomber Thijs de Boer does not necessarily need more tourists on ‘his’ island.
The boat from Lauwersoog takes fifty minutes. And then I am on the car-free and smallest inhabited Wadden Island of our country. I walk and cycle around Schiermonnikoog, have an appointment with Thijs, the beachcomber, sleep in the only guest house (nicer than one of the hotels) and I am amazed by the varied nature on the island. Are you coming?
From monks to seafarers
Schiermonnikoog was inhabited for the first time in the fifteenth century: by monks in gray (near) robes. From 1600 to 1945, the Wadden Island was then privately owned. Then the Dutch state confiscated it from the last owner: the German Count Von Bernstorff. The most stately hotel on the island is still named after him. Since February 2021, the Cistercian monks are back on the island. The former inn Rijsbergen now houses a monastery with a retreat.
“We have a strange dialect here,” says beachcomber Thijs met me during our conversation in his beachcombers museum. “A nautical school was established on Schier for a long time and the captains and helmsmen sailed a lot to the Baltic Sea and Scandinavia. They brought strange words.” Thijs still lives from the sea. Or actually in front of the sea. It’s his passion. “I spend hours on the road with my bike. What I find on the beach… But the wide variety of shells and snails makes it really worth it. They fill my entire museum.”
Schiermonnikoog – the last owner
Schiermonnikoog has 900 residents and 4000 rental bicycles. So you guessed it: I’m not the only one visiting the island these days. It was different when the island was private property. Then the population grew only slowly. In 1700, the owner at the time slowly allowed ‘new construction’, but according to his taste: all the same and along a straight street pattern parallel to the dunes. For the owner families Stachouwer, Banck and Count Von Bernstorff had a good time at their private island.
“Do you know why the houses on Schiermonnikoog have such long straight gardens?” Thijs asks me. “That was useful for drying the fishing nets and the flatfish. The island mainly earned money from the nautical school, but the inhabitants of Schiermonnikoog also lived from fishing and sold it as far as Hamburg.” Today the island belongs to the state, only the houses are privately owned and tourism is the source of income. Many a garden now houses a holiday home that is rented out and the lines at the bakery and supermarket can be very long during some holiday periods.
“If you cycle away from the village, you hardly see anyone anymore,” Thijs says. I jump on the bike and go find out. That’s right. When I cycle towards the National Park on the east side, I hardly see anyone anymore. Via the shell paths I pass the duck decoy and afterwards: orchids and other rare plants, endless birds, singing larks and, well, also neatly tidy other cyclists. What a rest. And especially if I go to the immense Weststrand with its bird paradise Westplas that afternoon. I had not expected that when I cycled out of the village.
“Have you seen all those banners?” Thijs asks. “There were plans for an industrial area and a road for the local contractor, through a piece of rare nature with dozens of orchids. We found it ‘by accident’ and were able to turn it around.” When Thijs then tells me that Schiermonnikoog has a ‘green’ mayor, I understand his anger and especially incomprehension even better.
Schiermonnikoog – island of ttraditions
Humans are creatures of habit. If you come to Schiermonnikoog as a child for a holiday, you will also go as an adult. And so each Wadden Island has its own audience. For Schiermonnikoog this means: tourists from the three northern provinces and hardly any German guests. Civilized young people, ditto elderly and therefore a wonderfully quiet terrace atmosphere. My monastery beer in the sun at Hotel Bernstorff couldn’t taste better that afternoon.
Humans are stubborn creatures of habit. On Schiermonnikoog you are a member of a billiards club from father to son. There are no fewer than nine. And so Schier also has its own typical Sinterklaas party (like every Wadden Island by the way) and – just to name a few – three Whitsun instead of two. Many residents stay on the island – or return after a while. Like my pension owner, who came back to Schier after working for years in Africa with his French-speaking wife. I myself am on Schiermonnikoog for the first time. But every tradition begins with a first time. This time!