Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wattwanderung





Last night I went out in the watt with Herr Heinzel. We were looking for the wall of a wooden house. What I learned was a lot more about the ''lost cities''.

So... a little background history: Before there were dikes on the coast, there was little seperation between where land ended and water started. At high tide the water would overrun the marshes and fields. At low tide the ocean bottom would lie exposed for several kilometers. The rich nutrients of the sea nourished the fields daily and just like the Nile river in Egypt made it's inhabitants rich... so did the North sea on Netherland and German coast.

Apart from the Mediteranian coast, the North and Baltic sea's were the only large bodies of water known in the world at one time. In much the same way that the Mediteranian cultures traded with each other and fought with each other, so did the Northern cultures. The North Sea was essentialy the Northern Mediteranian. The most well known of these cultures were the Vikings. Other groups of people included the Celtic cultures, Fresians, and breakaway Viking outposts that became their own people, such as the Normans (in France... where William the Conqueror came from for anyone that knows a little bit about British history).

Here in East Frisia, where I live, the people carried on a busy life supported by rich agriculture, fishing, and trade. By the time the middle ages gripped Europe in an age of so called ''darkness'' with serfs and lords, wars, and the rise of the Church, the Frisians were enjoying a form of freedom, democracy, and a wealth that surpassed most of greatest kingdoms of Europe at that time.

So now you may ask... what happened to make East Frisia so POOR? Well... the Frisians were both blessed and cursed by the daily tides. The tides brought them everything they needed, but that also meant that the people had to create hills on which to live upon for protection from particularily high water and bad storms. Therefore, the people decided to build dikes. First they surounded individual towns and villages, particularily the ones that lived the closest to the coast. After a time, the entire coastline became enclosed by the so-called ''golden ring'' (although in my opinion, better described as a GREEN ring since dikes are covered by grass). What was originally intended as a symbol of ''man conqueroring nature'', became in effect, the opposite. The land could no longer be nourished by the sea because the sea was locked out and no number of manmade canals, ditches, and trenches could make up for what nature did naturally.

... the land started dying.

The people also continued to fight against the sea, having to rebuild their dikes, sometimes further out trying to gain more land and sometimes retreating with their dikes, loosing entire villages and fields. And because their fields were becoming poorer, the East Frisians became more and more a people of the sea and depended upon trade. But, bad luck struck again and the shallow Frisian coast became unaccessable as ships became bigger, leaving the East Frisians literally stranded at high water. And what happened to the West Frisians, the people of what are now the Netherlands? Simple... their harbors are deeper. And they didn't lock up their coast so tightly, rather, they built bigger hills and used dikes as barriers, not as a fence.

So now, back to what I was doing yesterday in the Watt... we were looking for a wooden structure of a house. After 2 hours, I discovered a vast land covered in a layer of slick. Some parts still have the turf only inches underneath. There are remnents of forests- more than 1000 year old tree roots laying in the mud as if they died only a couple of months ago. The stone foundations of churches, cathedral size for their day and time lie scattered across the landscape, intersected by the scars of ice flows and channels of water racing away out to sea. We climbed onto banks of shells, many being former garbage dumps on the edge of town and picked up bone fragments and pottery shards. Everywhere are signs of life. Tiny jellyfish populate these waters in unimaginable numbers, as well as crabs, oysters, and various assortments of mussels.

And at long last... we found our wooden structure, what looked to me like a raft, or some sort of wooden weaving fallen over into the mud. What was supposedly a part of a wall. (If guess if you stuffed the cracks full of grass, you could have quite a nice little hut, probably not that different than the hut that Herr Heinzel and his science class built in the school courtyard) Surrounding this wooden structure were little wooden posts sticking everywhere out of the ground. So in the end, we were successful in our quest!

Coming home I stank like sea water and rotten, black mud (the original turf and everything underneath doesn't get oxygen because the slick is so think, so it turns a tar black color) and my sneakers are next to destroyed (I didn't like them anyway!). But I learned a lot and had tons of fun. And it feels good to be able to piece together so many things of which I have been trying to learn this year! (Ps... if you click on my picutres, it makes them bigger!)

2 comments:

David said...

Cool! Sounds fun! I wish i had miles of endless mud to play in haha!

Grandpa V. said...

I remember when your mother would have had a hissyfit if you were playing in the mud !