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Barefoot through Germany's tidal flats with a mailbag

The Local · 20 Oct 2010, 15:54

Published: 20 Oct 2010 15:54 GMT+02:00

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Knudsen, a 55-year-old with a bushy beard, looks encouragingly at a small group from Bavaria that has gathered on a seaside dyke ahead of his delivery. Despite the wet and chilly weather, they have met to follow Knudsen on his seven-kilometre delivery route to the tiny island of Hallig Süderoog, where Gudrun and Hermann Matthiesen await their mail.

“Are we ready to go?” he asks, setting off with the group trailing behind.

While other postal workers in the Wattenmeer region use small skiffs and boats to reach people living on nearby islands, Knudsen, outfitted with just a rucksack, compass, mobile phone and watch, is the only one who times his deliveries at low tide to go on foot.

“I take the Matthiesens everything,” he says. “Only when Hermann orders something like a new refrigerator does he have to pick it up himself with a boat.”

Click here for a photo gallery of the Wattenmeer.

The postman also brings fresh food to the couple on the 1.1-kilometre-long island, who gladly welcome him and his followers into their home.

“In winter he is often the only person we see for weeks at a time,” Hermann Matthiesen says.

Knudsen, born on the nearby island of Pellworm, which belongs to the state of Lower Saxony, is hardy and undaunted by the weather in any season. Despite wading through hip-deep water in some parts of his trip, he only wears waterproof boots and trousers in the winter months after November.

“Of course I prefer the walk in summer, but every season has its allure,” he says. “It’s only during storms that I won’t go – that would be stupid.”

During the summer groups of up to 100 people from around the country gather to join Knudsen on his journey.

“I always have to grin when city people show up in long jeans even though shorts have been recommended,” he says. “They’ll chafe, but everyone is responsible for themselves.”

The postman also enjoys the trek alone, when he says the sounds of the Wattenmeer, also known as the Wadden Sea, can best be heard.

Story continues below…

“This is so much more than a job for me,” he says. “It’s a form of relaxation and revival, and keeps me fit.”

But the job, which pays just €5 per hour, is not enough to sustain Knudsen, who also works as a hydraulic technician for the state’s national park protection agency in the coastal area, repairing dykes and building breakwaters.

The Wattenmeer tidal mudflats are feeding grounds to millions of migratory birds and a unique ecosystem honoured as a world natural heritage site by UNESCO in 2009.


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Your comments about this article

16:28 October 20, 2010 by William Thirteen
'They¦#39;ll chafe, but everyone is responsible for themselves.'

Truer words were never spoken...
08:51 October 21, 2010 by Christian Feeger
What a wonderful story and what a beautiful person Knud is. His love for nature is heartwarming, as is his kindly respect for his travelling companions (despite their naivety).

Thank you for sharing this story. There is something in it that speaks of dignity, courage, and goodwill that we all need to be reminded of.

In a world where there is much indifference, contempt and cynicism, clearly Knud, Gudrun and Hermann are decent people who can teach us a lot.

Quality of living is far more than what we earn, how fast the trains go and all of our impressive possessions. It's about knowing who you are and what you can do to make your life count.
08:59 October 21, 2010 by lordkorner
I don't get it,100 people join him on his trip and he doesn't charge them???I did this Wattenmeer trip to Langeoog along with hundreds more all broken in to groups of 40 and we paid 40 ot 50 euro to a guide (apparently its dangerous to go alone)for the pleasure,this guy should talk to a business consultant .
18:04 March 28, 2012 by hh-eilbek
there is an error in this article. The island of Pellworm does not belong to the state of Lower Saxony but to the state of Schleswig-Holstein.

The island of Langeoog mentioned in the comment of "lordcorner" belongs to Lower Saxony.

Question: does the Local accept stories about Schleswig-Holstein? - Which e-mail could I use to transmit such stories? - Is this story protected by a copyright? Could I give this story to the American Schleswig-Holstein Heritage Society (ASHHS) in Iowa?

Please let me know.

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