Documentary: Reis door het waddengebied

February 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Dear all,

Just after Any Questions ended, a Dutch documentary maker visited Mandø, making a documentary about the Wadden Sea area. It has been shown on Dutch tv in six parts.

Mandø has been shown on the 12th of February. Although a lot of ‘story-telling’ is in Dutch, there are people from the area explaining about the area, talking German or English.

Moreover, it shows nice views of the island and the other islands as well.  

You can see it following the link



September 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   by Irna Hofman

Each time I browse through the post of the artists on this weblog – which has become quite impressive, hasn’t it? – I find bricks. Bricks, that form part of the fundament of Mandø’s identity. The art work layed bare its corner stones.

Sarah her house moved, from one place to another. It was a metaphor for the local identity. One moment expansive, the next it remained small and simple. Nevertheless, the building never collapsed, despite exposure to wind and water. Once it approached the horizon, but it returned, with support of the people.

Liesbeth her work made me again think of the exposure of the island to natural forces. Yet, even more, it showed the interdependency between mankind and nature. There are constant struggles between sea and land. What can be made, how work is influenced, and what remains of it all depends on the availability of different materials, the tides, and the weather circumstances, which also determined the working rhytm of Liesbeth and Haitske.

The musicians gave notice of the intimate sphere, a place to shelter, that certainly is around. Perhaps one cannot notice it immediately. Tomas, Ivan and Petr played their instruments on different places which resulted in different compositions. The intimacy that different buildings can provide – the acoustics of the barn, the church, the mill – yes, there is harmony on this island. Harmony that is not loudly audible nor visible; it is whispering, but it is certainly there.

Dario showed me that each ‘thing’ available can be turned into something enjoyable. To make music, to admire. There are always good sides of something that from first sight seems useless, worthless. Perhaps Dario his work may make people revalue the things that are available to them. They must use everything, and involve everyone, that is nearby.

Tamara shed light on personal story lines and the history of the island. She showed different personal experiences people have with this island. Together they form a background upon which the community is build up today. 

Any Questions? Perhaps these are some answers. Perhaps the art work could make the Mandø boere (the island’s inhabitants) rethink, but foremost make them revalue the characteristics the island has and could give them.

The community is changing, but Mandø is not a burning ship. The fire on the closing event intrigued people, brought them together, and warmed those who were nearby.

The certainty of uncertainty

September 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

by Irna Hofman

The only thing unpredictable on Mandø is the weather.

What is predictable and certain, is who is living where, and how people relate to each other. Daily life is rather predictable. Besides a surprise that the nature may bring, there seems not much to be afraid of. It somewhat opposes to what I wrote last time. Life can be rough out here, but within this small community, life is stable. It is not a utopia, but people know each other and particular roles of people, and relationships between them have become institutionalised over time.

The artists’ work carries a huge factor of unpredictability. That is what people here are not really used to. Uncertain is where concerts will be given, and at what time. The whole project is based on working with what nature brings. Each artist adapts his or her work to the unpredictable circumstances of the moment. Although a note has been spread around which lists most of the events, there are always changes. The art work is so much influenced by particularities of the island that we cannot predict beforehand what is going to be made exactly, when, and where, and subsequently how it might be changed by the water, the sea, or the people.

But, after a week, it seems people are getting used to the unpredictability of our activities. It has become certain that everything is uncertain. It also makes people eager to find out what is going on. We notice that inhabitants (implicitly) appreciate what is taking place.  

‘If you manage here in winter, you can stay here forever’

September 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

By Irna Hofman

 I know I am typical Dutch when talking about the weather. But it is part of Mandø”s daily life.

The weather shows us another side of the island these days.  The wind has strengthened and is going to turn direction, at least, that is what is expected. We face more wind, a grey sky, and the sun has gone.

People on Mandø are used to the changing circumstances. One woman who came to live here last year said: ‘if you manage here in winter, you can stay here forever’. If you can survive the harsh winters, you can cope with all weather conditions one can experience on Mandø.

Mandø is ‘home’, that is what I wrote last time. This home can be characterised as a rough kind of place. It houses a pure life. Life subject to nature. Interdependent with the sea, the tide, the wind, and everything nature brings and takes. It is what people want to experience here. It makes life more challenging, but also more difficult. It is related to the way people approach each other here: they use a kind of tough speak which one should be able to deal with. What may be shocking at first sight as another side: nothing remains hidden. Of course, this is not to say that there are no rumours around. Social control is there, but it is something you find in each (small) community, people say. 

Each October men on the island gather for a day to go hunting on ducks and hares, together with relatives from the main land. Afterwards they have an expansive meal, of course accompanied by some alcohol. It is one of important yearly events, a typical men’s thing. Other events which are traditionally celebrated by men and women separately are birthdays.

The roughness of  life which largerly disappeared from the Western European countryside is still prominent here. What is a rural area today in the Netherlands? There are no stretched, vast natural spaces left. Urban areas have swallowed the countryside. 

On this island the inhabitants find the freedom and challenge they prefer. ‘On the main land people might complain about my dogs, my way of life’, one man told me. He spends his days hunting and fishing, and drinking some beers. The isolated character of the island does not bother him, though implicitly he indicates he likes people dropping by. It is the proximity of life which brought and holds him here. He lived for years in New Zealand where he worked on an oil platform, and on Antarctica, counting whales. His health made him to come back to Denmark, on Mandø, where he has his roots. Here he can find some of the pureness which he enjoys so much.

I think this also explains why people from this area are attracted to Greenland, apart from the colonial ties. Being subject to nature and face the insecurity that it brings. It made me think of the movie ‘Brokeback Mountain’.                  

 ‘It makes people realize that they do not have it all in own hands’. Actually it is related to the social cohesion I wrote about earlier. A kind of life people value on Mandø. Distance in daily life, but for survival people know they need each other.

Family Ties

September 6, 2010 § Leave a comment


                                                                                                                                                                                                   by Irna Hofman

Mandø is home. Home is where the heart is. It is my home, that is what people say. Difficult to give it more words. Mandø is the nature, the sea, and the tide. Life on Mandø is difficult without having a car at your disposal. The tractor busses driving to and from Ribe are solely purposed for tourists. 

Mandø is part of people’s childhood. The school was closed in the 1980s, and since that time children are brought to school on the main land by their parents. This kind of role turns the other way around some decades later: elderly are brought to and from the main land by their children to visit health care centres and other public facilities.

What happens in between? Once part of the working population many people from Mandø find work on the main land, nearby or further away. Some even migrate to Greenland for some years. The majority of them however returns to the island: married and coming back to the roots. Each family owns some bordered square metres on the graveyard surrounding the old church, where they all are to be burried. Some surnames can be found a number of times.

Houses are kept in the family through inheritance. A woman I visited told me her house is partially owned by her two children, one of which shall live in the house after her. Her grandparents farmed there and her parents moved in after. Then she came to live there with her husband after they had retired. The house is still more or less in its original style. The old pictures on the wall prove that.                                                                                          

Children appear to be a kind of security to preserve the island culture and its facilities. Without the generation living here now, it would already have turned into a place with merely summer houses and tourists places. Family bonds are crucial. There are families where people share breakfast each morning on a central place. Perhaps you could say the seemingly loose contacts between the island’s inhabitants are juxtaposed with the strong family ties.

The glue that holds society together

September 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

                                                                        by Irna Hofman

‘The glue that holds society together’.

That is how Putnam (1993, 1995 in Portes, 2000) defined social capital.                                                                                      

Well, how about this glue on Mandø?   

Social capital, the stock of social capital actually, determines the extent to which a society has strength for collective action, and the capacity to cooperate. By positive interaction and communication and mutual interests the stock increases and strengthens community bonds, builds trust. By the same token, negative experiences, such as conflicts devaluate the glue.

On Mandø, collective action is there in case of emergency. A serious accident which happened this year bound inhabitants together. However in daily life bonds are loose. Like one lady told me, in case of storm, people certainly help each other. ‘Aber am Alltag bekriegen wir den ander’.

A first glance of the island, after two days, gives me the impression that there is only little cooperative capacity or willingness to cooperate on Mandø. Overall, without focussing on particular individuals or families, life can be characterised as ‘living apart together’. From my first impression, inhabitants can roughly be divided into different groups:

  • People depending on tourists for income: the lady managing the Mandø centre, the several other people owning shops with souvenirs, the shop with food, the men owning the tractor busses. Most of these people have historical roots here and are born on the island.
  • People living permanently on the island, but are independent of visitors. They are farmers (four households), or pensioners, or people having other sources of income. Children go to school on the main land, which is a difficulty because traveling back and forth is determined by the tide. Therefore older children go to boarding schools and come back only in the weekends.                                   
  • People coming here regularly and prefer to have a rest, not to be disturbed by too many tourists. Most of them have a summer house: the majority of families owns a house which is inherited and given over from one generation to the next. As an outsider it is hardly possible to buy a house. Permanent renting rarely takes place. Many of the house owners are seasonal inhabitants: they have a permanent residence on the main land. 

The different groups each attach own values to the island, to its nature, and have own, sometimes (actually quite often) opposing preferences and ideas of future development of the island. A shared identity which could function as a vehicle to develop the island seems to be absent.

What should a common future look like? And, what could follow from a dialogue with the artists? More to follow in the coming week…