Apart from its tourist use, the North Sea is a major economic factor for Germany and the other adjoining countries. Its use as a route way to Britain even goes back to the Roman Empire. Later, during the reign of the Vikings, the ports here developed into hubs for international trade, something that in turn would become the backbone of the Hanseatic League, of which German coastal cities Hamburg, Lübeck, Wismar, Rostock and others were members, but also a number of towns further inland, located at one of the tributaries.
All countries bordering the North Sea are holding territorial rights to the waters within 12 nautical miles off their shores. There are supranational regulations in place to determine how much fish may be caught in the North Sea by the adjoining nations, as overfishing in the recent past has become one of the major environmental concerns. In addition to fish, the sea also bears other valuable resources and there is a lot of drilling for natural gas and crude oil done. Germany currently exploits two offshore fields, one each for gas and oil. The country has however begun in the 1990s to make use of the strong winds in the area to produce renewable energy and has set up a new offshore wind farm in 2010.
However, undoubtedly the most significant economic meaning of the North Sea area is in tourism. Travelers looking for a vacation spent sunbathing and swimming should be aware that the weather along the coast can best be characterized as “sea climate”, meaning rather cool summers and an almost omnipresent wind. This fact led to beach chair being present everywhere along the shorelines. The air, though, works well for respiratory issues and thus, many towns here bear a spa town designation.
In Germany’s northernmost area, near the Danish border, a causeway brings visitors to Sylt, the most famous of the German islands and the country’s largest in the North Sea. Sylt counts almost seven million overnight visitors each year, a number far superior to those of the adjacent North Frisian islands of Amrum, Föhr and Pellworm, which nevertheless also are well-known tourist destinations. Further south and towards the west, a chain of islands is located a few miles off the shoreline. That chain goes by the name of East Frisian islands and it consists, from east to west, of the islands of Wangeooge, Spiekeroog, Langeoog, Baltrum, Norderney, Juist and Borkum. All of these are also popular vacation spots, especially for family travel.
The same can be said about quite a number of mainland towns along the coast. From east (up north) to west, these are places worth seeing:
Not an actual town, but an area of flat marshland that forms the northernmost point of mainland Germany. The area is a paradise for birders, as it is a large, uninhabited protected habitat. Large numbers of geese and duck species and many other water fowl as a rest and breeding area.
Located a few miles away from the shoreline, the small town of Niebüll is well-known among North Sea tourists as this is the place where the regular and motorail trains to the island of Sylt depart. There is an open air museum in a historic Frisian house showcasing life in the area in the 19th century.
The city, literally translated into “North Beach” is located on a peninsula of the same name which had once been an island before a land connection was constructed in 1987. The town, which has 2200 inhabitants today, was once part of a much larger settlement which was almost completely destroyed by a storm tide in 1634. There are a few historic churches worth seeing in Nordstrand, including St. Vinzenz, whose history goes back to the 13th century.
With a population of 22,000 the largest town in the North Frisia administrative region, Husum is a gateway to the Wadden Sea National Park and has a history that goes back to the first documentary mention in the year 1252. The city has a North Sea museum with exhibitions on the history and nature of the region, a navy and shipbuilding museum and the former home of famous local author Theodor Storm. Most tourists will want to visit the small historic port which is located in the downtown area and seamed by a number of small traditional homes that once belonged to the local fishermen. Husum hosts many festivals throughout the year, most of which are taking place along the water.
One of the best-known German mainland towns at the North Sea coast, St. Peter-Ording is not only a popular family vacation destination with the highest number of overnight stays for the extended area, but also a spa town which sees a fair share of medical tourism thanks to its air quality and its natural sulphur spring. The town, which has about 3800 inhabitants, borders the Wadden Sea National Park. St. Peter-Ording is popular for its dunes, salt marshes and the sandy beach, which is 12 kilometers long and which features a - for the region rather uncharacteristical - forest in the background. Also worth seeing are the stilt houses for which the place has made itself a name and a historic lighthouse. St. Peter-Ording annually hosts high-profile competitions in wind surfing and kite surfing.
The small town of 7100 is located both at the coast and in the Elbe delta area. There are a number of Bed&Breakfasts, campgrounds and private accomodations available in town. Otterndorf has a historic old town with many timbered houses, some of which are dating back to the middle of the 18th century.
Also located in the Elbe delta area, Cuxhaven is one of the most important German fishing port towns. The city lies about halfway between the metropolitan areas of Hamburg and Bremen and at the northernmost tip of Lower Saxony. Among Cuxhaven’s attractions is a castle that partly dates back to the 14th century, an old watertower, several historic churches and a museum that combines artifacts from the history of fishing and from several shipwrecks. The city hosts an annual festival centered around the port.
One of the larger cities in Germany’s northwestern corner with a population of 77,000, Wilhelmshaven at the Jade Bight of the North Sea is home to the country’s largest military facility, namely of the German navy with some 8,000 soldiers and civilians working on several bases. In addition, there are a number of facilities for the petroleum industry as well as an important cargo port, wharfs and shipyards. While Wilhelmshaven is not much of a tourist destination in itself, despite having a few attractions like museum ships, two old mills and two historic castles, it nevertheless draws a lot of visitors from towns in the area as it has the best shopping and culture offerings. There is also the visitor center for the Wadden Sea National Park in town. In October, the city hosts a popular sailing race and throughout the year, a number of music and theatre events can be witnessed.
With the first public record dated to more than 750 years ago, Norden is one of the oldest towns of the region and also has a long tradition as a tourist destination. There are some 25,000 people living here and close to one million overnight stays per year. Norden is located alongside the coast and across the Wadden Sea from the islands of Norderney and Juist. The ferry service between those and the Norddeich station in Norden also brings many thousands of travelers to town. In the town center, a number of historic homes as well as mills and churches can be found.
Emden is the largest city of East Frisia with a population of roughly 50,000. It is located at the delta of the Ems river, at a North Sea bay called Dollart. The city is mainly coined by its seaport which is one of the most important sea transportation hubs for the German manufacturing industry. In addition to the port, several water channels can be found throughout the city. Three museum ships can be visited here, in addition there is a well-known art exhibition at Kunsthalle Emden. Other sights in town include the last remaining town gate dating back to 1635 and a watergate that is unique in Europe due to the fact that it connects four water routes with one another.