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Sylt Tide Flats

Ultimately, he would take us about a quarter of a mile from the shore (because things happen quickly when the tide returns, walking unsupervised on the Waddensee is not recommended). Despite being unable to understand much of Herr Storm's presentation, we found it to be an absorbing two hours. His practiced eye caught subtle signals of what was beneath the surface, and his quick shovel unearthed an amazing variety of mud dwellers: not only clams, mussels, and crabs, but also giant black worms and near-microscopic beings, including a star-shaped, button-size creature that slithered across our palms.

The pièce de résistance, however, was the second mussel. The first, Herr Storm eased open with a pocket knife and, fully aware of the "Oooo, how gross" facial expressions of most of his audience, brought the she'll to his lips and let its contents slide down his throat. After plucking a second from a shovel full of mud, he rinsed it in a shallow tide pool, popped the she'll and offered it around. With no immediate takers, his gaze swung to the Amerikanischer and a canny little smile spread across his face. It was an offer that could not be refused. For his country, the Amerikanischer ate the mussel and smiled back.

In addition to having a sense of humor, Frisians are good-hearted. A few months after 9/11, the citizenry invited 50 New York City firefighters and their families to Sylt, picking up the tab for air, hotel, meals, and sightseeing.

Most of the island's visitors are Germans, mostly from the north, especially Hamburg. Americans are seldom seen. Travelers who seek traditional European culture-museums, great churches, the arts-won't find it here. Still there are things to see. The Altfriesisches Haus, once the home of a whaling captain, preserves Frisian lifestyle as it was in 1740. Alte Landvogtei, the Old Governor's Residence, dates to 1649 and is one of the island's oldest buildings. An odd attraction is the bird traps, Vogelkogen, which in the 18th and 19th centuries were used to lure tens of thousands of wild ducks to the island. They were killed and then exported to the mainland. The practice ended more than 100 years ago, but you can still visit the traps.

Of perhaps greater interest is Whisystrasse, the nickname given to Strönwai in Kampen, a road lined with bars and clubs that in summer attracts the beautiful people and their flashy cars.