Heligoland has no shortage of history. In order to discover, or even rediscover, that history, it’s sometimes well worth extending the search to the sea. That’s where local man Klaus Köhn came across this block of granite. He was out in a boat, off the west coast of the island, when he discovered what turned out to be the foundation stone of the Preußenmauer, the Prussian wall, bearing a date of 1903.
When Heligoland became part of Germany in 1890, it marked the beginning of a military build-up. Emperor Wilhelm the Second wanted to develop the island as a naval fortress. As heavy artillery was being installed on the plateau, concerns were raised about the base of the cliff. At a distance of 50 kilometres or 31 miles from the mainland, the island is exposed to the full force storms on the high seas.
The plan was to build a wall around the entire island, to protect the coastline from being undermined by the sea. It was quite the engineering challenge. Sample structures were erected to establish the shape of wall best suited to breaking the waves. In 1903, the first test wall was built between two bays on the west side of the island.
From 1910, the Prussian wall was extended along the west coast of the island, running south to north and paid for by the kingdom of Prussia, to which Heligoland had been assigned. Emperor Wilhelm the Second never managed to complete the project. Work on the wall continued during the Second World War, and the structure was finally destroyed by heavy British bombing.
Today, a newly built wall extends along the island’s western side and provides crucial coastal protection for the red rock.
All depictions: © Nordseemuseum Museum Helgoland