Other communities have long feared “Versyltung”

To live where others go on vacation – many people dream of this. What if there is no more living space in the dream house, even for those who have lived there for generations?

The island of Sylt, one of Germany’s most popular holiday destinations, is slowly running out of space. The community of Sylt in the center of the island, which also includes the town of Westerland, is particularly affected.

The fact that there are now almost as many permanent homes as holiday homes shows that the local population is “displacing”, says Sylt’s deputy mayor, Carsten Kerkamm (CDU), in an interview with FOCUS online.

In his eyes, for a community to function, it needs more than just tourism. Teachers, cashiers, postmen, nurses – everyone must find a place on the island and be able to afford to live there.

Tourism not only burdens the inhabitants of the island of Sylt, but also the environment

The “problem of alienation” becomes increasingly clear “the more you realize that it is no longer locals who build and manage accommodation facilities, but foreigners – more and more also impersonal investment funds”, said Birte Wieda of the German Agency of the Press.

“The people of Sylt themselves have not benefited from overtourism for a long time.” In 2020, Wieda founded the citizens’ network “Merret’s enough – for the love of Sylt”, which is dedicated to sustainable tourism on the island.

Because many tourists not only burden the local residents, but also the environment. Sylt consists of 50 percent nature reserves. More tourists means not only more cars, but also more trash left carelessly on the beach.

With a new accommodation concept, which was unanimously decided by the city council in mid-March, the problem should now be a thing of the past. Credo is more qualitative instead of mass tourism. Construction of new holiday homes is no longer permitted. At the same time, it should be checked whether the existing living space is being used as specified in the development plan.

‘We don’t want to rob anyone of their livelihood’: Existing holiday apartments allowed to stay on Sylt

Anyone who fears that the Sylt community wants to part with its tourists need not worry: “The approved status of the holiday apartments will remain,” explains Deputy Mayor Kerkamm.

At the same time, vacation homes that are still unapproved will be allowed, provided state building regulations are met. We don’t want to rob anyone of their livelihood, said the local politician.

It is unclear how many holiday apartments there are in the municipality of Sylt. Uwe Mantik from the Lübeck-based consulting firm Cima assessed it in conversation with “NDR”that there are 11,000 permanent homes for every 7,500 vacation rentals.

In the implementation strategy, which was decided in mid-March, the inventory must be recorded and documented in detail. This can be a long process because the building laws in Germany are complex.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that it was defined what distinguishes a permanent home from a vacation home. There are also separate regulations for purely residential areas, mixed-use areas and commercial areas.

“The goal is to prevent new excesses”

However, it is clear to the local council that “small and very small owners must be protected in particular”, as Kerkamm points out. For example, anyone who bought a granny flat with planning permission in the 1990s and rented it out as a holiday home for decades should be allowed to continue to do so.

“The goal is to prevent new excesses and create a tolerable level of vacations and permanent housing,” says Kerkamm. The task now is to review the 122 development plans of the municipality.

According to Mayor Nikolas Häckel (independent), this could take up to five years. So far, the accommodation concept only applies to the community of Sylt, but not to other communities on the island such as Hörnum or List.

Other communities in Germany are also afraid of “Versyltung”

At the same time, the fear of “eyebrows” is also widespread elsewhere. Because the North Sea and the Baltic Sea are becoming more and more popular as holiday destinations.

For example in St. Peter-Ording (district of North Friesland), where more and more hotels and guesthouses are being built while the construction of permanent housing is at a standstill. Those who work in the tourism industry often have to travel for a long time or dig deep into their pockets for rent.

“We miss people who don’t live here,” chairman Jürgen Ritter (independent) told “NDR”. He worries that “the village will eventually bleed.” But the problem of holiday homes is not just in the north.

The Alps also attract many visitors. Here, too, there are locals who can no longer find affordable housing, while vacation homes and second homes sit empty throughout the off-season. In Füssen, a small town near the Zugspitze, every fifth apartment is a holiday apartment or second home.

“Prices are rising enormously, whether renting or buying,” explained Mayor Maximilian Eichstetter (CSU) last year. “Bavarian Radio”. “In exchange, of course, we also have the local problem that we as locals can no longer afford.

“We don’t want to act when it’s too late”

In Berchtesgaden they didn’t want to let it get that far. As early as 2019, the municipality issued a statute prohibiting the conversion of primary residences into secondary residences. “We didn’t want to look and then act when it’s too late,” explained Mayor Franz Rasp (CSU) to “BR”. “That’s why we said: It is not possible for the living space to be unused!

The wave of lawsuits that the community had expected did not materialize. Instead, the number of second homes in the community has fallen by a fifth. “This is above our expectations,” Rasp said.

Meanwhile, Birte Wieda and her colleagues from Merret’s Enough hope that other communities on Sylt will follow suit and join the new accommodation concept.

Their website states: “Sylt is back on top. This development could be a game changer for resorts and other communities. Siltrification is not luck. You can oppose this development. But you have to want it.”

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