Danish Germany

Worth a read from the Economist:

“About 50,000 Germans who identify themselves as Danes live in Schleswig-Holstein (population: 2.8m). Their forefathers stayed after Prussia and Austria snatched the place from Denmark in 1864. The border was redrawn by plebiscite in 1920. After 1945 Germany and Denmark agreed to recognise the rights of minorities on both sides (a precondition for Germany’s entry into NATO). Denmark finances 50 Danish schools plus other cultural institutions (including a daily bilingual newspaper, Flensborg Avis). Most students go to university in Denmark. Schleswig-Holstein helps pay for the schools and exempts the SSW from the rule that parties need at least 5% of the vote to win seats in the legislature.”


  • Drumlins Rock

    Borders are always more complicated than we think.

    The House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg originates in that area I believe, I wonder how their Danish is?

  • Mister Joe

    And borders do change, of course. Unfortunately, usually as the result of a war. So no repartition here.

  • Mick Fealty

    There’s two Schelswigs, northern and southern. The northern part elected to return to Denmark, where Tønder is still a major centre of German culture and language and the southern part to stay with Germany.

    I know of a Danish speaking hockey team in Flensburg, but they are very much a minority in southern Schleswig.

    Denmark also has German speaking schools which roughly take a third local German speaking Danes, a third are boarders from other parts of Denmark who want their kids to be fluent German speakers, and a third Germans from across the border.

    I understand that one of the difficult cultural shifts the German students in the Danish German schools have to deal with is the informality of the Danish system not least in the relationship between teachers and pupils where the informal ‘du’ is used in preference to the formal ‘sie’.

    I think I read somewhere that the numbers of those who self identify as Danish Germans fluctuates considerably in relation to various incentives. But there’s loads more on Wikipedia.

  • IJP

    Dewi / Mick

    My blog from two weeks ago gives some background:


    I spent some time in the area in 2007.

  • Dewi

    Thanks Ian. Of interest also is the “new wave” of German settlers in Denmark – reversing historic trends.

  • Drumlins Rock

    so am I right in saying after partition Germany protected the minority needs, and didn’t see them reduced to a mere fraction of their former numbers?

  • Barnshee

    “so am I right in saying after partition Germany protected the minority needs, and didn’t see them reduced to a mere fraction of their former numbers””

    What can you mean?

  • DC

    I don’t think Europe has much to offer re making improvements in cultural relations across Ireland, the Ireland situation comes with its own set of unique circumstances, just like Germany and Denmark have theirs.

    Sure, to the eye there might be nice little takes on cultural reciprocity between Germany and Denmark, but the history of all of that is much much different. At the time of these deals being cut Germany was much stigmatised and the USSR was bearing down all over much of western Europe, very unique set of circumstances making cultural reciprocity a necessity given the bigger (opposing?) forces bearing down over both countries.

    However, of more relevance to NI, I did read that Germany and Poland are working together to come up with a shared history textbook, now that is progressive – could you ever imagine Britain and Ireland sitting down to do this, or the ‘north and the south’ of Ireland.



  • DC

    Also, I imagine that republicans would like to see N Ireland go the way of Prussia, than that of Denmark.

    Germanic lands were taken back into Slavic hands after the war, the modern day Prussian read-across for Ireland would be to have those six northern counties back in Celtic hands.

  • IJP

    No “read across” of that nature makes even the slightest sense.

    The issue is more to do with how community relations are supported, how fluctuating identities can impact on politics and electoral outcomes, and how basic common sense is often a good way to ensure stability.

    Bluntly there is also the reality that people caught on the “wrong side of the border” can still get on with life without being feared by the majority, if all sides approach it sensibly.

  • DC

    Yes it was tongue in cheek regards Prussia because those Germans living there were expelled and re-populated with Russian folk in East Prussia and Poland took over the rest.

    Still doesn’t mean republicans might not be into that kind of situation.

  • DC

    Mind you, Ian, when I dropped by your blog in the past you never seemed that hot on Irish culture manifesting itself in things such as road signs and gaelic spread throughout certain council areas, neither were you one for having an Irish language Act, is that a step too far in that it would ruin rather than keep up stable community relations?

  • bernie

    I happen to live in the “Danish Quarter” of Hamburg, Altona, more specifically the neighbourhood of Ottensen, which was annexed to Prussia in 1867 after the Second Schleswig War. Some locals still fly Danish flags from their homes and there was (until a couple of years ago) a very active, but half tongue-in-cheek, movement to have the district returned to Denmark (the same party that wanted the Wall rebuilt and all pensioners relocated to the East). Some Danish nationalists still smart about the whole Schleswig-Holstein mess, especially when you consider that their second largest city at the time, Altona, was simply taken from them. The Hamburg elite historically never liked the idea of a foreign harbour lying so close and competing with their own… in fact the etymology of Altona is “All Zu Nah,” meaning “All too Near!” Anyway, Aarhus had to be developed by the Danes as a North Sea access port in response to the loss!

    There’s still evidence of Danishness here, such as the distinct cottages in Övelgönne and the sail-maker shops tucked into the Hinterhofs in Old Ottensen. When the Prussians took control, old Bismarck wanted to affirm his vision of a unified Germany by making a showcase of Altona. There is still much evidence of this, such as the plush Pallmaille, a stately avenue which connects Altona to the city of Hamburg through the former no-man’s-land of Sankt Pauli. The Altona and Hamburg railways were finally joined up in 1871, despite being only 3 miles apart. And work commenced on a Rathaus built to impress and a park (Platz der Republik) to dazzle. Nothing could be more telling of raw Prussian conviction than the statue of Kaiser Wilhelm on his horse outside the completed Rathaus which features, before the plinth, a victorious and heroic manifestation of the God of Prussia towering over and protecting the meek female forms of the sister-Goddesses of Schleswig and Holstein:


    When Bismarck died, a massive (and somewhat grotesque) memorial was commissioned of a 35-meter-high Otto himself standing above the eastern-end of the Reeperbahn, clutching a giant Teutonic-looking sword, wearing armour, and peering out to the North Sea… and straight down his nose at Altona.


    Altona remained a separate city until the Nationalist Socialists made the Greater Hamburg Act in 1938, consolidating several towns and cities, including Altona, Wandsbek, Harburg and Barmbek, into the unified metropolis of today which contains some 4.3 million people.

    Nonetheless, today one is more likely to hear Turkish, English, Spanish or Polish than any Danish, or in some cases German, spoken on the streets and in the bars of Ottensen.

    It’s a cosmopolitan hub with one of Europe’s oldest Chinatown’s (though now dwindled). Such is the extent of the city that one can take the S3 local train from Altona Bahnhof and within half an hour be in the suburbs of Buxtehude, or Stade, where Plattdeutsch, a different language, is spoken. Go further still, down the Elbe and towards the islands, you will start to hear Frisian, which rings to the ear almost like English, but is the link to Danish, which is the next language up the coast. All regional languages receive cultural funding and state support. I was most impressed recently with the number of bookstores in the tiny city of Emden selling exclusively Plattdeutsch literature.

    Centuries ago, as Altona and Hamburg bustled with Hanseatic trade, the harbours were flush with Scandinavian sailors, mostly Danes naturally, who brought their own seafaring culinary style and infused it with Hamburg’s local provisions. The result was Labskaus, a kind of meat and potatoe mush with beetroot, gherkins, pickled herrings, and a fried egg on top, something that anyone who visits the area should absolutely try. So popular was the dish a couple of hundred years ago that it became something of a craze in foreign cities the sailors introduced it to, most notably Liverpool, where its name was shortened from Labskaus to Scouse… and the name stuck. Such cultural cross-pollination can only stand as an example of our collective European heritage, surely.

    Anyway, I’m not looking to cause argument or settle one, just to inform. It’s nice here in Ottensen, I believe it to be one of the best places to live in Europe, and there’s an interesting history. Nobody seems too bothered that this place used to be part of Denmark, because we’re all Europeans now…

  • Framer

    It would have been very different if northern Schleswig-Holstein had been kept in a political limbo within Denmark and told to concentrate only on the things that divided its citizens, pending some future change in borders.

  • Mick Fealty


    That’s a great local account!! Welcome to Slugger (at long last!!)..

    The Danes have accommodated themselves to history better than most former European powers. Their education system is profoundly influenced by the deeply liberal precepts of Nikolai Grundtvig.

    Consequently, they have a strong sense of where there’s a strong consonance between their own national interest and that of their neighbours, and when they part.

    That area of Germany must be a fascinating place to live since it’s a sort of Lutheran conjunction between Scandinavian communitarianism and more mainstream European pre-occupations…

    I always liked Ruth Dudley Edwards description of Northern Ireland as an interface between northern and southern Europe sensibilities…

    Eek, like Germans and Greeks all living side by side…

  • Dewi

    Super stuff Bernie…Labskaus eh…


    And I always thought it was Welsh…..

  • Drumlins Rock

    Mick, it maybe makes you realise that “tidy ethnic borders” are much more sinister than messy grey ones, Turkey & Greece always struck me as such a one.

  • Framer

    A German responds to Bernie –

    Well, Ottensen is a nice part of Altona indeed, and the influence of Denmark can still be felt there.
    But there is a little error in the text and a misunderstanding:
    Hamburg has not more than 1,8 mio. residents these days.
    Altona and the whole of Schleswig-Holstein, which is the state north of Hamburg, has always been German. However, the duke of Schleswig was king of Denmark. That’s why this state was both part of the Roman Empire of German Nations (and after the Napoleon Wars of the German Federation) and part of Denmark.
    In 1864 it came completely to Prussia, and later after the German Empire was founded in 1871 became part of Germany as such: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Schleswig_War
    After WW I there was a referendum in various counties north and south of the border drawn in 1864. Some opted for Germany, others for Denmark. So the border moved a bit south. There is still a Danish minority in the North of Germany. Flensburg, Germany’s most northern city, has a Danish mayor. There is also a Danish Party in Schleswig-Holstein which is exempted the 5%-limit to enter parliament in Kiel. This party will from next week on be part of the coalition government of Schleswig-Holstein.
    I guess, the writer is not Irish. An Irishman would have been more precise about history.
    What would have interested me: What happened to the sailors both Danish and German on shore? Could they rely on booze and a blow job like the sailors of San Francisco during and after WW II?
    All the best from Hamburg, where the harbor is still bustling.

  • DC

    Framer, I imagine that stuff shouldn’t be too hard to get around Hamburg docks.

  • Dewi

    Still delighted at that lobscows stuff – far more interesting than Hamburg blowjobs…

  • bernie

    @Framer you caught me out on some facts there, truly, but I wasn’t too far off, just wrong 😉

    The city proper is 1.8 or 2.2 million depending who you’re asking, but the metro area, which I was referring to (although I said metropolis, creating confusion) is quoted as about 4.3 million, but that stretches from Cuxhaven to Lüneburg, so this is quite a large area indeed.


    I see where I went wrong with the years, maybe a mistake in the English Wiki? (Section: History. End 3rd paragraph).


    From the little I have read while writing this, I can see there was meant to be a plebiscite for the Schleswig-Holstein regions following Danish succession, but this was all thrown out the window with the onset of the Franco-Prussian War. Is there a good English book on Hamburg history you can recommend? I recently read Simon Winders “Germania”, but he does harp on about cathedrals a lot, keeping the historical thread was difficult.

    I am indeed Irish, just basing a lot of my historical information on the know-it-alls I meet sometimes in the neighbourhood bars. I can occasionally be found down at the Hafenbahnhof Altona, a former train station directly on the harbour which is now a drinking hole. I always thought it interesting that the Altona-Kiel railroad, operational from 1844, did not connect to Hamburg until 1871, and thought this a significant indicator of how Altona was quite independent from the Hansestadt next door. Incidentally, this tiny old train station, the end-terminus of the Altona-Kiel line, was the final staging point for many millions of Scandinavians emigrating to the Americas.

    The nearest bar to my home is the Ö1 Bistro at the river end of the Hohenzollernring. The building is in fact an old customs house from when the area was still Danish administered. Following unification, the customs was decommissioned, of course, and the building was made into Hamburgs first new public toilet, or “Öffentliche Toilette Eins.” The name was shortened to Ö1 when they reopened as a bar… so now I can say I’m off to the public toilet for a drink… Here’s some pics of the old customs-house/public-toilet now-bar:


    So far as German and Danish sailors on shore, there were (and still are) plenty of Scandinavian seaman’s associations/churches/hostels and such strung all along the northern bank of the Elbe, and the lawlessness of the Kiez could always be counted on to my knowledge, being outside the old city walls… But that’s a thread sure to pop up on Slugger some day if politicians ever decide to clean up St. Pauli!

    Anyway, I should get back to research on Hamburg history if I am to properly impress visitors, and get my facts right 😉