The IslandTradition

On Sylt, tradition is treasured and plays a major part in the life of the islanders today.


One of the most beautiful customs upheld by local groups is the performance of old dances in traditional costume, an event that never fails to draw an audience. What may seem somewhat exotic in our modern times used to be as ordinary as jeans and a T-shirt. The traditional costumes had their heyday in the 18th century, when the general wealth brought in by seafaring was also mirrored by people’s dresscode: men were clad in silk and velvet, and women wore gowns with gold coins sewn onto them for their weddings.

When the so-called Galgen (gallows) are put up in the east of the island, it is not because some criminal’s last hour has struck. The only thing swinging from the gallows is a small brass ring, which the Ringreiter (ring rider) has to spear on a lance at full gallop. The best rider is crowned Ringreiterkönig (Ring Rider King). This tradition, reminiscent of medieval tournaments, is kept up by eight clubs, five men’s and three women’s.

Every year on 21 February, the islanders celebrate their ancient local festival, the Biikebrennen. For miles around, the evening sky glows with bonfires made of big woodpiles. The origins of Biikebrennen lie in the dim and distant past. As a pagan sacrificial rite, the fires were meant to appease the gods and symbolized the belief in the powers of nature. In later times, the flames were intended to drive out the winter and bid a shining farewell to Sylt’s sailors. Nowadays, many tourists join the fiery spectacle, and afterwards everyone comes together in the island’s restaurants to have the traditional dish of kale.

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