What is Sylt and why is it terrified of Germany’s €9 holidaymakers?

As excitement grows for the roll out of the €9 transport ticket, the residents of one region are reportedly growing increasingly worried. Here's why Germans are currently having a lot of fun at that region's expense.

Sylt in Germany
Storm clouds descend over the island of Sylt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

Over the past few days, you may have seen the hashtag #Sylt trending on German Twitter and other social media.

Though this may sound like the name of some trendy start-up, Sylt is actually a picturesque North Frisian island just off the coast of Schleswig-Holstein – and it has recently become the subject of approximately a million memes. 

It all started (as it often does) with an article in German tabloid Bild, which implied that residents of Sylt are terrified of ne’er-do-wells descending on this island this summer.

The issue is reportedly the bargain-basement travel ticket that the government has promised to introduce this summer. For just €9 per month, people can get unlimited travel on local and regional trains across Germany. 

READ ALSO: How will Germany’s €9 monthly travel ticket work?

All being well, the deal is set to come in this June and last through August, so it follows that a lot of people will probably be using it for their summer holidays. 

Normally, Sylt is known as a bit of a playground for the famous and affluent. In fact, it’s even been described as the “German Hamptons” in reference to the star-studded neighbourhood north of New York City. 

But the well-heeled island-dwellers of Sylt appear to be concerned that drop in price could bring a rather different crowd to the island than the usual jet-setters. 

“Sylt in fear of the 9-euro holidaymakers!” Bild wrote. “Cheap ticket to the island of the rich and beautiful!” 

Obviously, the internet has totally lost it at the idea of the great unwashed swarming to the exclusive holiday destination, clutching the €9 ticket in their grubby paws. 

READ ALSO: How many people in Germany will use the €9 ticket?

On Twitter, people started imagining some of the terrifying consequences of giving people cheaper public transport over summer.

One Twitter user suggested that the demographics of Sylt may change just a little bit if people with less money were suddenly allowed to go there.

Here’s a sobering ‘before’ and ‘after’ scenario for the residents of the wealthy island. 

Others took an aerial view of the potential consequences of the €9 ticket. Could the crowds on Sylt be even bigger than the ones that turned up for Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009?  

That’s the fear. 

Even German rail operator Deutsche Bahn got in on the action with a Sylt meme based on the Batman film, The Dark Knight rises.

“There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better take cover! Because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever lived so extravagantly while leaving the rest of us with so little…. #Sylt.”

Not to be left out, the DB’s Cargo division sees a role for itself in organising express industrial-scale deliveries of beer helmets, sangria and (very thoughtfully) electrolyte tablets for the hangovers.

They’re even offering an express service to Sylt!

The Bild story also led a few other publications to speculate on what could happen to idyllic island over summer. In an article tagged “class war”, online news portal asked: “Are Fridays for Future and Punks storming Sylt now?”

If these scenes are anything to go by, it looks like there could soon be literal anarchy on Sylt.

Most worryingly of all, Roman Wagner speculated that the €9 ticket could lead to another type of undesirable arriving on the island – one who appears to be checking whether you’re standing exactly 1.5 metres apart from all of your friends. 

(Yes, that’s right, it’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, so you’d better have your Impfpass ready.)

Is Sylt really going to be overrun this summer?

We hate to ruin everyone’s fun, but it’s possible! Sylt is a very popular destination for northern Germans, especially people based around the Hamburg area, and the transports links on and off the island could come under strain.

“We expect increased passenger numbers during the promotional period – both on the trains of the Marschbahn line from Hamburg to Sylt and on the buses on the island,” Moritz Luft, the managing director of Sylt Marketing, told Bild.

Sylt tends to be at capacity through much of summer even in normal years, so the additional traffic on the island could be a genuine concern. But Luft simply advises people to try and travel at off-peak times and avoid bringing bikes to the island that could overcrowd the regional trains.

Bernd Buchholz (FDP), Schleswig-Holstein’s Transport Minister, also emphasised that the roll-out of new double-decker coaches would mean significantly more seats could be provided on the Marschbahn.

Obviously there are a tonne of other wonderful places in Germany that tourists can go to with the €9 ticket. We’ve covered a few them here:

How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

But if you are set on going to Sylt, don’t be put off from visiting the island this summer – while you still can. 

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UPDATE: When will Germany’s €49 ticket start?

Germany announced a €49 monthly ticket for local and regional public transport earlier this month, but the hoped-for launch date of January 2023 looks increasingly unlikely.

UPDATE: When will Germany's €49 ticket start?

Following the popularity of the €9 train ticket over the summer, the German federal and state governments finally agreed on a successor offer at the beginning of November.

The travel card – dubbed the “Deutschlandticket” – will cost €49 and enable people to travel on regional trains, trams and buses up and down the country.

There had been hopes that the discount travel offer would start up in January 2023, but that now seems very unlikely.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s €49 ticket

Martin Burkert, Head of the German Rail and Transport Union (EVG) now expects the €49 ticket to be introduced in the spring.

“From our point of view, it seems realistic to introduce the Deutschlandticket on April 1st, because some implementation issues are still unresolved”, Burkert told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland on Monday. The Association of German Transport Companies, on the other hand, said on Wednesday that they believe the beginning of May will be a more realistic start date.

The federal and state transport ministers have set their sights on an April deadline, but this depends on whether funding and technical issues can be sorted out by then. In short, the only thing that seems clear regarding the start date is that it will be launched at some point in 2023. 

Why the delay?

Financing for the ticket continues to cause disagreements between the federal and state governments and, from the point of view of the transport companies, financing issues are also still open.

The federal government has agreed to stump up €1.5 billion for the new ticket, which the states will match out of their own budgets. That brings the total funding for the offer up to €3 billion. 

But according to Bremen’s transport minister Maike Schaefer, the actual cost of the ticket is likely to be closer to €4.7 billion – especially during the initial implementation phase – leaving a €1.7 billion hole in finances.

Transport companies are concerned that it will fall to them to take the financial hit if the government doesn’t provide enough funding. They say this will be impossible for them to shoulder. 

Burkert from EVG is calling on the federal government to provide more than the €1.5 billion originally earmarked for the ticket if necessary.

“Six months after the launch of the Deutschlandticket at the latest, the federal government must evaluate the costs incurred to date with the states and, if necessary, provide additional funding,” he said. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany’s €49 travel ticket is far better than the previous €9 ticket

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn has warned that the network is not prepared to cope with extra demand. 

Berthold Huber, the member of the Deutsche Bahn Board of Management responsible for infrastructure, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that a big part of the problem is the network is “structurally outdated” and its “susceptibility to faults is increasing.” 

Accordingly, Huber said that there is currently “no room for additional trains in regional traffic around the major hub stations” and, while adding more seats on trains could be a short terms solution, “here, too, you run up against limits,” Huber said.

So, what now? 

Well, it seems that the federal states are happy to pay half of whatever the ticket actually costs – but so far, the federal government has been slow to make the same offer.

With the two crucial ministries – the Finance Ministry and the Transport Ministry – headed up by politicians from the liberal FDP, environment groups are accusing the party of blocking the ticket by proxy. 

According to Jürgen Resch, the director of German Environment Aid, Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Transport Minister Volker Wissing are deliberately withholding the necessary financial support for the states.

Wissing has also come under fire from the opposition CDU/CSU parties after failing to turn up to a transport committee meeting on Wednesday. 

The conservatives had narrowly failed in a motion to summon the minister to the meeting and demand a report on the progress of the €49 ticket.

“The members of the Bundestag have many unanswered questions and time is pressing,” said CDU transport politician Thomas Bareiß, adding that the ticket had falling victim to a “false start”.