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Next to Helgoland and once connected to it, until a violent storm in 1720 washed away the land bridge, is the neat sand island of Düne. It has a port area with a half hourly ferry service to the little red rock, a small airport for light aircraft to the mainland, a couple of cafés, some quirky colourful accommodation hut units, lots of special wind-cheating personal shelters and a shed load of seals. Mostly it is sand. This is a Cretaceous era outcrop so there are chalk and flints on the beach with the possibility of finding the rare red flint, stones with holes in ('Chicken gods' or Hühnergötter) and fossils as exotic as marine reptile bones, belemnites, ammonites and sea urchins. The wonderful little museum on Helgoland has an array of fossil samples from here which explain the difference between the lifeless sterility of the Triassic sandstones and the coccolithophore life-rich Cretaceous ocean. Once in recorded history there was an upstanding lump of chalk significant enough to have been given a name Witt Kliffe, the white cliff, now celebrated in the name of the little ferry boat.

Keen to scan the beach for washed up red flints, chicken gods and fossils (and rarer amber) I nearly walked straight into the sand coloured seals lying somnambulantly on the sandy beach. Luckily there are volunteer seal-minders whose job it is to keep the dopey public at a strict 30 metre distance from the snoring marine mammals. The seals themselves seemed severely unimpressed by the gawping gathering of biped humans at whatever distance. The only time there was a rush of sleek sealskin to get into the safety of the sea was when a light aircraft approached the island and throttled back to land on the airstrip. Most tourists come here to sunbathe in their little shelters in the summer or twitch over rare birds at the spring and autumn migrations but mainly visit adjacent Helgoland (which has dozens of shops displaying an amazing array of exotic cask and rare single-malt whiskies, rums and gins) on day trips to buy duty-free booze and fags. The air and light formerly attracted painters and a whole school of artists were drawn here in the peaceful times in between the brutality of wars. Poets and writers found natural rapport too in this landscape including the composer of Germany's national anthem. Despite the roles played by the islands in the culture of a unified Germany the islanders themselves were regarded with a degree of mainland suspicion during the crises of the two world wars. This reached a horrific conclusion on the morning of 18 April 1945 when a few brave locals and some junior officers were rounded up by the Gestapo and accused of a conspiracy to capitulate and surrender to the advancing Allies already at Bremerhaven. They were all removed to Cuxhaven ahead of the RAF air raid at midday, tried for treason and many executed. The war ended a few weeks later. These dunescapes have ghosts as well as the eerie wails of seals. There are mermaids tears on the beaches.

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