German Language Blog

German Nationalparks – Part 8: Die Wattenmeer-Nationalparks Posted by on Apr 11, 2016 in Culture, Holidays, Language

Again, I am sorry to disappoint you by not being able to post my weekly post, because I had exams. This should be the last time this happens for quite some time, though! Before my exams, I wrote part 7, on the Sächsische Schweiz.

In the weeks before that, we went to the Bayerischer WaldHarz, Eifel, MüritzBerchtesgaden, and the Schwarzwald. In part 8, I want to talk abut the Wattenmeer!

The National Parks in Germany (Image by Lencer at under license CC BY SA 3.0)

Die Nationalparks des Wattenmeers 

In this post, I want to put together all three Nationalparks that protect the Wattenmeer (Wadden Sea – mudflats). These are the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer (Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea), the Hamburgisches Wattenmeer (Hamburg Wadden Sea) and the Niedersächsisches Wattenmeer (Lower-Saxony Wadden Sea).

I want to put them all three together as they all protect the same area: the Wadden Sea.

What is so special about the Wattenmeer? Why does it need protection? The mudflats and the way the ecosystem there is different than on land makes it special. UNESCO thought so as well, and the Wattenmeer was declared Weltnaturerbe (World Nature Heritage) in 2009.

The first park, Nationalpark Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer, was established in 1985. Suddenly, a huge area of nature was under protection. This was followed by the parks in Niedersachsen in 1985 and Hamburg in 1990. There was some resistance against the parks at the time, as the Frisians that inhabit the coast live from fishing, for example. That, of course, would not be allowed in a Nationalpark, which is there to let nature be nature. Also using Sportboote (sport boats) would not be allowed.

“Ökodiktatur: Nein danke! ‘Gott schuf das Meer, der Friese die Küste'” (Eco-dictatorship: no, thanks! “God created the sea, the Frisian the coast”) – resistance against establishment of the Nationalparks (Image by Dirk Ingo Franke at under license CC BY SA 2.0 de)

As the Frisians stated: “Gott schuf die Welt, die Friesen die Küste” (God created the world, the Frisians the coast). The story goes that when the Ostfriesen (East Frisians) landed on the Gestaden (shores) of the Nordsee (North Sea), the Sea got so scared of them that it fled, and checks every now and then whether they are still there – the tides, Ebbe (ebb) and Flut (flow). Even though the Frisians would like to believe that this is how it happened, the fact is that the way the coast exists today is much due to them anyway. Over many Jahrhunderte (centuries), they created Deiche (dykes) to protect the land behind it from the water, from the many floods. Bit by bit they took more land from the Nordsee, extending to where it is today. 6000 Quadratkilometer (square kilometers) (2316 square miles), or around 12.5% of the area of Lower-Saxony was taken from the Sea and is protected by Deiche. So, if they break, 12.5% of the Bundesland (Federal State) will have severe problems!

So the Frisians did not see the natural protection required for the unique ecosystem that their Deiche helped create, and so they wanted to protect their freedom in the area – but the German state was not impressed, and so the parks were gegründet (established), in international collaboration with the Danish and the Dutch, who also established parks to preserve their Wattenmeer. Because of the legal differences between the German Bundesländer, there are three separate parks for the same area in Germany.

What is special about the Wattenmeer?

Schlickwatt (Mudflats) in the Wadden Sea (Image by Cdling at under license CC BY SA 3.0)

The first feature anyone will notice is the Schlickwatt (Mudflats) that appear during Ebbe. You can walk over this Watt in a so-called Wattwanderung (mudflats hike). I did that once, where we walked from the coast all the way to the island Baltrum! Of course, you only have 6 hours before the water comes back. But it is worth it. It is interesting to see what happens on the bottom of the sea. Most of the protected area consists of sea, and the areas on land consist mostly of Salzwiesen (salt marshes).

Salzwiesen (Image by Dirk Ingo Franke at under license CC BY SA 2.0)

The second feature that will strike you is the size. The Wattenmeer-Nationalparks are the largest parks in Germany, and some of the largest in Europe. This makes protection much more difficult, together with the harsher circumstances. Also other interests in the area aren’t helping. Oil fields are drilled with the existing oil platform Mittelplate A, and other reserves are still available. Needless to say, oil firms would like to drill in the parks. And that obviously disturbs nature. This also counts for wind parks. Although they are mostly on land or off-shore (so beyond the parks), the Stromtrassen (power lines) still run through or over the parks. Fishing is also a rather small, but still existing factor. Krabbenfischen (shrimp fishing) is mostly affected. And, a big one, is tourism. Nationalparks always have some element of tourism, but even before their Gründung (establishment), many people came to visit the Wattenmeer. Because of all these different interests, the Nationalparks were divided into three zones. One with a Nullnutzungszone (“zero use zone”) or Ruhezone (“rest zone”), one as a Pufferzone (“buffer zone”) or Zwischenzone (intermediate zone) and a third as Erholungszone (“recreational zone”). The largest is Zone I, protecting flora and fauna from human interference. To give both humans and nature space, the parks only start 150 meters (500 ft) off the coastline, which leaves this narrow in-between water unprotected.

The zones of the park in Schleswig-Holstein (Image by Begw at under license CC BY 2.5)

Special about the park are the animals living in the park. From birds to fish to seals – they are all there. The image of Seehunde (seals) sunbathing on a Sandbank (sand bank) is typical, and wonderful to see!

Seehunde bathing in the sun on a Sandbank (Image by Baldhur at under license CC BY SA 3.0)

Would you dare to try a Wattwanderung? Would you like to visit the Wattenmeer?

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.