food / travel

The German Hamptons? Along The Wind-Swept Shores Of Sylt

Germany’s jet set loves this island and yet we have it almost all to ourselves. What makes Sylt so special?

On the beach at Westerland, Sylt
On the beach at Westerland, Sylt
Inga Griese

SYLT — Everyone says that this is a very German island. Well, that's not all there is to it.

The people of Sylt don't just speak a dialect; they have their own language called Söl'ring. And they are proud of it.

The word "car" is wain in Söl'ring and it should not be confused with the German word for "wine." And you should definitely not mix the two on this island. It's worth noting that both those words are integral to the myths associated with the island of Sylt.

The reason why cars are important on this island is self-explanatory. After all, cars are important in the German psyche. It's been a display of status on this island ever since the ‘50s, when you drove the best car you were able to afford.

A view on Sylt — Photo: Christian Thiessen

In high season, it seems that Sylt has more SUVs than cows and the entirety of the island becomes one big showroom of luxury cars. But don't mix alcohol and cars. It is not the ‘70s, when you could DUI in a car down the dunes with a bunch of bare-breasted girls and sleep the hangover off on the beach while deepening your tan.

But maybe it was just a thing the jet set did. Back then, little Karl, the intellectual among the legendary restaurant owners of Kampen, Sylt's most stylish spot, said that the "jet set is like the northern lights, it flickers brightly and then simply vanishes. It is an illusion."

And yet it is an integral part of it. German newspaper Spiegel wrote in 1966: "Nowhere else is the German middle class able to get closer to the upper strata of society and study their way of life and nowhere is the upper class closer in their lifestyle to the middle classes than here."

Sylt is German, yes. But that is not intentional. But it should not be surprising either that the locals in Sylt sometimes don't want people who don't belong to the island.

Why is Sylt a German hot spot? The island has played host to many an international movie star, American ambassadors, even to Roman Polanski who shot a blockbuster film here. He wanted the atmosphere of the Hampton's in New York but was not allowed to enter the U.S.

Most foreigners have never heard of Sylt with the exception of the marketing staff of international luxury brands. But in the summer, the island's airport is choked with private jets and not all of them sport a German registration.

If you want to explain to Anglophone foreigners where you are spending your summer you would say: "You know, an island in the North Sea. The German Hamptons. Just smaller. Same vegetation. Most expensive place in the country." Or to Italians, you might say, "the German Capri." And so on.

Maybe it's the fact that the ceilings are too low in holiday homes here, the building regulations too strict for a certain clientele. Maybe the winds are too strong for perfectly-styled hair, the weather too fluid, the ambience wrong for tiny summer dresses and high-heeled sandals. You can't even pose properly on a yacht because all of a sudden, the tides change and the yacht is stuck in the silt. Lopsidedly.

But how else do you explain what not even every German understands? Sure the fresh air is probably really healthy, but the high winds! And who, I ask you, drives to places like the Italian village of Portofino just for the air?

Most people who set foot on the island for the first time are immediately infected with the virus and there is no cure for it. The mixture of fresh air, light, nature, shopping, fine-dining, partying, being a part of something or just simply getting away from it all, spending money without feeling ashamed, walking along the 40 kilometer-long beach for hours on end with the children, the dogs or just by yourself. This is what the sea does to you. That is what Sylt does to you.

And where else can you be as safe as here? The first tourists to visit the island were mostly artists, the rest just followed in their wake. Societal freedom is not the same it once was but it's still present here.

So grab your cashmere sweater or your matching Adidas tracksuits, zip up and get out. Sylt is only a bit of a jet set destination. It embraces all strata of society on its little luxury cruise ship of an island with stunning views. There's no need to understand it, just feel it. That's enough.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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