During the four-hour guided tour, I was able to appreciate a bit of the history and a lot of the natural beauty as we climbed 184 (yes, I counted!) steps up from the rocky pier. There are no cars or bikes allowed on the island (except for electric service vehicles) and this added to its peaceful ambience.
|One grave for many|
The island was far from peaceful during the Second World War. Soviet prisoners of war were used to build the extensive underground bunker system. I never had enough time to do the underground tour, but the above-ground tour had many ruins related to the war years.
|Northern Gannets breed here|
|Soccer field on east side of island|
The island was almost crushed on April 18th,1945 with bombing by almost one thousand British aircraft. After the bombings, scattered bones from old graves were gathered into one. For two years after that the island was left empty and used for military practice.
Then, again on April 18th, in 1947, one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions—The British Bang or Big Bang—occurred. The Allies had gathered up most of the remaining ammunition stored on the island and blew it up. A huge crater still remains and it's forever changed the shape of the rocky island.
In 1952, the surviving locals were allowed to return and rebuild their island village. We hiked along winding paths past cottage homes with beautiful gardens. Our tour guide was a most affable fellow, obviously proud of his home. Heligoland is a nature refuge where birds stop off during migration and northern gannets breed amongst the ruins of war. Amazing how life begins anew over and over. How I'd love to go back and stay longer. A true treasure.