Crossing the shallows off the German Bight on a cold December day can feel like a ferry ride off the edge of the world due to long stratus clouds stretching far beyond the horizon. The North Sea’s memory churns past the boat with stories of lost fishermen, forgotten tribes and transient histories. As the wind turbines that line the Netherland shore fade into Seuss-like lollipop flowers, the two hour ride from Emden to the Island of Borkum through the Westereems strait begins under short sun and long shadows.
On board passengers settle comfortably indulging canine companions, chasing toddlers, drinking machiattos and leisurely starting good reads. Some are returning home from mainland visits, some are making the journey to see hearty island residents and some are bound for weeks in the therapeutic high see climate.
The island of Borkum is the westernmost of the eight Frisian Islands belonging to Germany and part of an archipelago that begins in The Netherlands and trails east to Denmark. Fifty kilometers offshore, Borkum boasts it is the “Nordseeinsel mit Hochseeclima” (the North Sea island with high sea climate). It is known for its “kur kultur”. The invigorating sea salt atmosphere is good for respiratory and skin conditions and is said to be as refreshing as sparkling champagne.
Ask a local when they have summer and you might hear “VÃ?Â¶rig Joor wer t’n Dunderstach” (last year it has been on a Thursday). It is not an island that offers easy beach days under endless sunshine. Instead Borkum offers a typical maritime climate of stormy, rainy, cold and humid weather where history meets ocean-spray and steeps in deep, spicy cups of tea.
The dynamics of extremes that produce the island’s atmosphere have evolved into one of the best new leisure centers of the North Sea. Perched on the ocean’s edge, protected by sea walls and dunes, is an extraordinarily fresh and pure experience unique to the island. Gezeitenland (Land of the Tides) brings all of the island’s elements together in a world of saunas, steam rooms and salt pools. Its lure is enough to bundle up, don wet weather gear and fight pelting winter winds and rain just to arrive at its door.
It stands like a beacon in the comforting shape of a lighthouse. Colorful, light and warm, Gezeitenland is spanned by glass walls and open air verandas. Inside is an organic design where pools flow in and out of the building and winding stairs lead to cozy, quiet nooks.
The facility is divided into specific areas for different recreation activities. The Erlebnisdeck occupies the main floor and translates literally to event deck. Here is an expanse of lap pools, diving areas, slides and even a man made wave machine. Swimmers can duck under an external wall and emerge in an outside pool overlooking the ocean. The brave leave the water and stand in the cold air just for the thrill of jumping back into the pool. The Erlebnisdeck is enjoyed by all ages but is not the spot for quiet escape. This can be found in either the Wellnessdeck or the Saunadeck.
On the Wellnessdeck one is tempted by massages like the PantaiBelleVisage “mit warme Ã?Â?lung und KrÃ?Â¤uterstempel” (with warm oil & herb). Immersion baths offer varieties such as “Meersalz” (sea salt), “RosenblÃ?Â¼ten” (rose bloom) or “OrangenblÃ?Â¼ten” (orange bloom). Cleansing seawater inhalations are a specialty and for the ultimate sensory escape try the “Floatingmuschel” (floating muscle). No matter what treatment you choose, you will loose yourself amid candles and soothing aromas in a world of memorable and luxurious pampering.
Although delightful, the spa experience of the Wellness deck pales in comparison to the best part of Gezeitenland. The true integration of the island’s atmosphere, water and wellness occurs on the Saunadeck. Here the cold elements of nature are quietly challenged by tranquil saunas, sunny chaises, citrus treats and ocean views. Each sauna offers a unique sensory indulgence.
Tucked in a corner, almost missed, is the Aromasauna where rosequartz and natural stone hangs in a suspended tray from a wood slat ceiling. Tiny LED lights speckle the walls slowly shifting colors and round portholes offer views to the beach and boardwalk where waves wash jetties and families stroll by.
In the Panoramasauna the sea view is welcomed by floor to ceiling glass windows. In this ultrahumid room, water bubbles quietly over stone, the sun streams in and one can sit and scan the bay for windsurfers, skinny dippers and seals.
Important to sauna relaxation is the mix of extremes and there are many ways to cool down on the Saunadeck. There are the gentle foot baths and showers. There is an ice machine producing on demand. And for the hearty, there is a frigid ice cold dunk in a pool of North Sea water which chases the breath from your lungs. After rinsing and cooling, there are cozy chaise lounges ready waiting with soft comforters and sunbeams to doze in.
What cannot be missed on the Saunadeck is the ultimate Aufgusssauna, an enclosed room set outside on an open deck with 180 degrees of beach views. Each hour, on the hour, the Aufgusssauna is ceremoniously visited by the Badmeister (bath master). The badmeister will enhance the sauna experience to an intensity that is unparalleled. Contrary to my first instinct, “aufguss” does not mean “off gas” but instead to “pour on”. The badmeister brings to the sauna specialty aromas including kiwi, citrus, and eucalyptus. The liquid scents are ladled from a wooden bucket and poured over hot stones. The steam is swirled through the air by whipping towels intensifying scent and heat. The badmeister then stands before each guest snapping a towel to ensure the aufguss effect is complete. Your body reacts to the whirling scents and heat and will tell you when it has had enough. To fulfill the aufguss experience stroll around the decks in the cool ocean breezes and if you’re lucky you might find yourself cooling off in an invigorating mid-winter snow.