Earlier this summer, I’ve been on the German island of Sylt for the next chapter of Family Journeys, the personal project about my own family.
This chapter documents the week my parents spent on the North Frisian island in May 2019. It’s a record of this shared life experience between my parents that shows the small, subtle signs of togetherness — in space, time, moment, and photographic composition.
While the physical book I’ve made for the family goes more in-depth, both in picture selection and writing, I’ve chosen a more classic photo essay format for this display. The following are 24 of my favorite pictures from one week on Sylt, or 6,100 frames made. They cover all aspects of the vacation, from travel to promenade and beach walks, from home time to dining out, and from the special exploration of one of the islet’s nature reserves to dealing with rain.
This first picture is about travel. My parents’ road trips start early, which means breakfasts are left for the road. Here, after a quick breakfast snack at an autobahn rest stop, mom hands dad a cup of coffee. Germany, May 21, 2019.
Mom and dad react to a passing car at an autobahn rest stop on the road from Sylt to Oberhausen. Germany, May 28, 2019.
Mom and dad on their first evening promenade walk of the vacation. Westerland, Germany, May 21, 2019.
Promenade walks in the evenings are one of the routines for my parents. On the left, they end the day with a sunset stroll. And on the right, a few minutes later into the promenade walk, dad fixes mom’s hood. Westerland, Germany, May 23, 2019.
Another one of my parents’ favorite activities on Sylt is a beach walk from Westerland (their settlement of choice) to Wenningstedt. The approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) can be covered in about 45 to 60 minutes, depending on pace and number of breaks to take in the ocean panorma or to gather clamshells and pebbles.
Wenningstedt itself is a smaller settlement than Westerland. The promenade there, however, is home to several restaurants, cafes, and a cultural center.
Above, mom shows dad a text message during their lunch break on the promenade. Wenningstedt, Germany, May 23, 2019.
Summer on Sylt can be quite a chilly, windy, and rainy experience. Above however, the day ended with beautiful light during mom and dad’s walk on the promenade. Westerland, Germany, May 23, 2019.
Left: dad photographs the sunset. Westerland, Germany, May 22, 2019.
Mom and dad prepare for the first beach walk of the vacation. Leaving the promenade, dad secures his hat against the forces of the strong winds. Westerland, Germany, May 22, 2019.
Mom and dad pass a sign that signals the beginning of the dog beach, as a dog walks in the opposite direction, out of the zone where dogs are allowed. Westerland, Germany, May 22, 2019.
Another beach location my parents enjoy is located a few kilometers south of Westerland and requires a short drive.
Left: Having just journeyed through the deep sands of the dunes that connect the parking lot with the beach near Baakdeel, mom and dad pack away their shoes. Rantum, Germany, May 24, 2019.
Right: Dad leads mom on their beach walk near Baakdeel. Rantum, Germany, May 24, 2019.
Mom and dad put on their shoes at the end of the week’s final beach walk. They’ve covered a total of 120 km (75 mi) while on the islet. Westerland, Germany, May 27, 2019.
The physicality of island life demands a calm down here and there. Whether it’s breakfast, coffee break, or evening couch time, Sylt as a shared experience extends into the home away from home.
Home time moments stand as much for togetherness and reveal as deep a sense of place and time as moments out on the beach. Quiet reading, lively conversations, eating, resting, getting ready for another day. It’s all about being together, sharing, and doing something in companionship.
Above, mom and dad relax on the couch at the end of the third day on Sylt. Westerland, Germany, May 23, 2019.
Mom and dad eat dessert at home. Westerland, Germany, May 26, 2019.
In the early stages of a hike across the island to explore the nature reserve Braderuper Heide, mom and dad cross the dunes in the hinterland of the beach between Westerland and Wenningstedt. Above, dad finds a tree branch and shows it to mom. Westerland, Germany, May 25, 2019.
The Braderuper Heide is one of the nature reserves that are as important to Sylt’s character as its beaches.
Starting from Westerland, a hike to and across the reserve can be combined with a beach walk to Wenningstedt as a half-way point. A roundtrip of a mere 20 km (12.5 mi).
Sylter landscapes are spartan. Flat and open. It’s a special land. Sending out calming signals and a warm aura of admiration at the same time as it hints at looming boredom. The island in general, and its reserves in particular, is a place where nature in its purest form can still be experienced.
Left: The Braderuper Heide is Sylt. A spartan landscape that is flat and open, with the occasional hilly dune. Here, mom and dad approach the short ascend up one of those dunes in the distant. Sylt, Germany, May 25, 2019.
Middle: Mom walks across the barren landscape of the Braderuper Heide, passing a lonely tree along the foot path. Sylt, Germany, May 25, 2019.
Right: Moments later, dad passes the same tree as he catches up with mom. Sylt, Germany, May 25, 2019.
After leaving the Braderuper Heide, dad waves at the participants of the Harley Davidson parade that was crossing the island. Sylt, Germany, May 25, 2019.
Having reached the pond in Wenningstedt on their way home from the Braderuper Heide, mom photographs dad fastening his shoelaces. Sylt, Germany, May 25, 2019.
Mom and dad fight the chilly winds during dinner at Gosch. All indoor seats were taken, leaving only the oversized beach chairs in the outdoor dining area. Dining outdoors, by the way, should be seen as the last refuge. The special character of summers on Sylt makes for a rather lofty experience. Temperatures as low as 10 C (50 F), paired with a strong breeze make one think twice about one’s eating pace. List, Germany, May 24, 2019.
Rainy days belong to summers on Sylt. They’re always on the horizon. Always something one needs to keep in the back of one’s mind when planning a trip to the island and an outing once arrived. One rain day per week on the island seems to be the norm. And conditions can change quickly.
Above: While the rain was light in the morning, it had intensified over the lunch break. As mom begins the return walk from Wenningstedt to Westerland, dad is fighting his umbrella. Sylt, Germany, May 26, 2019.
Mom and dad walk in the rain. Sylt, Germany, May 26, 2019.
All pictures and text © 2019 Florian Schoppmeier