How'd these Germans get to Alaska? They took the fabled Northwest Passage

BARROW, Alaska -- It's not that easy for hundreds of outsiders to suddenly sneak up on Barrow, considering how the northernmost town in the United States has neither a port nor a road to help them get here. Newcomers pretty much have to arrive on a big noisy plane.

Which is why nearly everyone in this historic Inupiat community was surprised last fall when they woke up to find about 400 German tourists walking around town. How the heck did they get here?

The answer?

They sailed from Europe to Barrow the short way -- via the suddenly ice-free Canadian Arctic -- after the fabled Northwest Passage opened completely last summer for the first time in recorded history.

"Yes, that was a surprise," North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta said Thursday, standing on the Barrow airport tarmac.

But not just for the townspeople. Commanders with the U.S. Coast Guard stationed far to the south in Juneau and Kodiak were surprised as well.

"They said, 'What Germans? What cruise ships?' " Itta recalled with a laugh. "And I said, 'They're here.' "

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