Hello and welcome to Heligoland Museum, an institution with a long history. In the 19th century, the Brandenburg bird-watcher and artist Heinrich Gätke fell in love with the island and amassed an extensive collection of local plant and bird life. His research led to the formation of the Königlich Biologische Anstalt, the Royal Biological Institute in 1892. This was followed seven years later by the founding of the Nordseemuseum – the North Sea Museum, this institution’s predecessor.
The deep-sea island of Heligoland measures point seven of a square kilometre or 173 acres and is chock-full of history. The large-scale model in the museum hall provides a good general view of the red rock. That’s roughly what the island looks like today, though its size, shape and configuration has changed again and again. Originally, there was just the rock and a narrow slice of lowland. But new land was created by building breakwaters and depositing soil.
Perhaps you’ve already taken a walk and noticed the island’s undulating landscape and the various levels between upland and midland. These are war wounds, caused by the massive RAF bombing campaigns carried out during and after the Second World War. The scars of a turbulent history that swept across this small island with great force like yet another storm.
The islanders have endured a lot, including enemy occupation and foreign domination. In the 19th century, Heligoland was transformed from Europe’s largest nest of smugglers into an elegant bathing resort. It was a showcase undertaking for the last German Emperor, and a setting favoured by a cultural elite that espoused a liberal spirit – inspired by the sense of vastness conveyed by the island. In all this, the islanders always remained true to themselves, with their own language and cosmopolitan spirit.
The museum explores this eventful history – here in the Nordseehalle, and outside in the museum courtyard, with its lobster huts and outdoor displays. With the audio guide, we’ll be by your side as you make your way around the museum.
All depictions: © Nordseemuseum Museum Helgoland