Swiss Railways train in Zurich Station
Schleswig – Holstein does not get as many British tourists as some other parts of Germany, but it deserves to be better known.
This most northerly of the 16 federal states, sandwiched between the North and Baltic Seas, has at times belonged to Denmark and the present frontier, established in 1919, essentially follows the linguistic border between German and Danish.
For English visitors it is worth noting that the Angles, some of our ancestors, came from this part of the Continent, and in the mid 19th century an Englishman, Morton Peto, built a railway to link Toenning, on the North Sea coast, to Flensburg on the Baltic. This classic Victorian entrepreneur also had a shipping line between Toenning and Lowestoft (which, to this day, has a Tonning Street, Flensburg Street and Denmark Road) and for a time passengers and freight went between London and Lowestoft by train, then ship to Toenning and train to Flensburg which became a gateway to Copenhagen and the Baltic.
In May I took a party of 15 to Luebeck, the historic former Hanseatic city in the south east of Schleswig Holstein, and we enjoyed some rail-based excursions.
- Across the former east/west border to historic Schwerin, surrounded by lakes and forests, with its ornate castle, once home to the Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg
- A very different destination was Rendsburg, in the centre of Schleswig-Holstein on the great Nord-Ostsee-Kanal (which we call the Kiel Canal). It was opened in 1895 to provide a short cut
between the Baltic and North Seas and remains the third busiest waterway in the world, exceeded only by the Suez and Panama Canals. Our regional train from Kiel took us up and over the steel viaduct leading to the High Bridge, built to give 42m clearance to the Ocean-going vessels underneath. We continued on the viaduct as it looped round the town of Rendsburg to the station; from which we were able to catch a town bus, have lunch in a kebab house and walk along a leafy side street to the foot of the great bridge. A transporter (free of charge) takes cars, cycles and pedestrians across the canal, while an interesting exhibition charts the historic of this unique structure.
- On the way to Kiel we had travelled through “Holstein Switzerland” – an area of hills, forests and lakes centred on the town of Ploen, overlooked by its castle. There was no time to stop off there on this excursion, but several of our party were inspired to make a separate excursion from Luebeck on a later day.
- Another group were more adventurous and crossed Schleswig-Holstein to Westerland on the North Sea coast.
A day trip to the quiet little resort of Toenning would have been feasible, but the group decided instead on a safari to the island of Sylt whose capital, Westerland, has grown to a fashionable resort served by Inter City trains.
The meant changing trains at Kiel and again at Husum, travelling over Peto’s original railway for the last 20 miles. From this small attractive town we caught an Inter City train which sped north along the coastal plain (reminiscent of parts of East Anglia and the Fens) before turning west on to the Hindenburgdam, built in the late 1920s to link Sylt to the mainland.
There is no road on the dam but cars and vans can be carried on special motorrail trains. At Westerland station (which retains a 1920s atmosphere) we had a well-cooked lunch and then walked through the hustling resort to the promenade, where we listened to live music while relaxing with drinks on a terrace.
Most of the excursions were done with a Schleswig-Holstein Ticket which, even for individuals, gave good value for money. It did not include our tram fares in Schwerin or bus fares in Rendsburg – but in the latter case a staffed bus station was very useful as we could find out via a real person!