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History of Schleswig-Holstein


[shles-wig-hohl-stahyn; Ger. shleys-vik-hawl-shtahyn]
is the northernmost of the 16 Bundesländer in Germany.

The former English name was Sleswick-Holsatia, the Danish name is Slesvig-Holsten, the Low German name is Sleswig-Holsteen, and the North Frisian name is Slaswik-Holstiinj.

Historically, the name can also refer to a larger region, containing both present-day Schleswig-Holstein and the former South Jutland County in Denmark.


Schleswig-Holstein lies on the base of Jutland Peninsula between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea.

The former Duchy of Holstein constitutes the southern part of Schleswig-Holstein, whereas Southern Schleswig constitutes the northern part. Furthermore , the Duchy of Lauenburg and the former Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck in the southeast of the state are part of today's Schleswig-Holstein.

The former Duchy of Schleswig (Slesvig) or Southern Jutland (Sønderjylland) has been divided between Denmark and Germany since 1920. Northern Schleswig, today part of the Danish Region Syddanmark, earlier South Jutland County, was ceded to Denmark after a referendum following Germany's defeat in World War I.

Schleswig-Holstein borders on Denmark in the north, the North Sea in the west, the Baltic Sea and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the east, and Lower Saxony and Hamburg in the south. Kiel is the capital of the Bundesland.

In the western part of the state there are lowlands with virtually no hills. The North Frisian Islands, as well as almost all of Schleswig-Holstein's North Sea coast, form Schleswig-Holstein's Mud Flats National Park (Nationalpark Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer) which is the largest national park in Central Europe and is unique. Germany's only high-sea island Heligoland is situated further out in the North Sea. The Baltic Sea coast in the east of Schleswig-Holstein is marked by bays, fjords and cliff lines. There are rolling hills (the highest elevation is the Bungsberg at 168 metres) and many lakes, especially in the eastern part of Holstein called the Holsteinische Schweiz ("Holsatian Switzerland") and the former Duchy of Lauenburg. Fehmarn is the only island off the eastern coast. The longest river besides the Elbe is the Eider; the most important waterway is the Kiel Canal which connects the North Sea and Baltic Sea.

See also List of places in Schleswig-Holstein. Schleswig-Holstein is divided into eleven Kreise (sg. Kreis; district):

  1. Dithmarschen
  2. Lauenburg (formally: Herzogtum Lauenburg)
  3. Nordfriesland
  4. Ostholstein
  5. Pinneberg
  6. Plön

  1. Rendsburg-Eckernförde
  2. Schleswig-Flensburg
  3. Segeberg
  4. Steinburg
  5. Stormarn

Furthermore, there are four urban districts that do not belong to any district:

  1. KI - Kiel
  2. HL - Hansestadt Lübeck
  3. NMS - Neumünster
  4. FL - Flensburg


The official language is German. Low German, Danish, and North Frisian enjoy legal protection or state promotion. Historically, Low German, Danish and Frisian were spoken. Low German is still used in many parts of the state and a pidgin of Low and standardised German is used in most areas, while Danish is used by the Danes in Southern Schleswig, and Frisian by the North Frisians of the North Sea Coast and the Northern Frisian Islands. The North Frisian dialect called Heligolandic (Halunder) is spoken on the island of Heligoland. High German was introduced in the 16th century, mainly for official purposes, but is today the predominant language.


Schleswig-Holstein combines Dansk and German aspects of culture. The castles and manors in the countryside are the best example for this tradition. The most important festivals are the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, an annual classic music festival all over the state, and the Nordische Filmtage, an annual film festival for movies from Scandinavian countries, held in Lübeck. The annual Wacken Open Air festival is considered to be the largest heavy metal festival in the world. The state's most important museum of cultural history is in Gottorp castle in Schleswig. The old city of Lübeck is a world heritage site.


The term "Holstein" derives from Old Saxon, Holseta Land, meaning "the land of those who dwell in the wood" (Holz means wood in modern Standardised German). Originally, it referred to the central of the three Saxon tribes north of the Elbe river, Tedmarsgoi, Holcetae, and Sturmarii. The area of the Holcetae was between the Stör river and Hamburg, and after Christianization their main church was in Schenefeld.

The term Schleswig takes its name from the city of Schleswig. The name derives from the Schlei inlet in the east and vik meaning inlet or settlement in Old Saxon and Old Norse. The name is similar to the place-names ending in the "-wick" element along the Northumberland coast in the United Kingdom.

The Duchy of Schleswig or Southern Jutland was originally an integral part of Denmark, but was in medieval times established as a fief under the Kingdom of Denmark, with the same relation to the Danish Crown as for example Brandenburg or Bavaria vis-à-vis the Holy Roman Emperor. Saxon Holstein became a part of the Holy Roman Empire after Charlemagne's Saxon campaigns in the late eighth century. Around 1100 the Duke of Saxony gave Holstein, as it was his own country, to Count Adolf I of Schauenburg.

Schleswig and Holstein have at different times belonged in part or completely to either Denmark or Germany, or have been virtually independent of both nations. The exception is that Schleswig had never been part of Germany until the Second War of Schleswig in 1864. For many centuries, the King of Denmark was both a Danish Duke of Schleswig and a German Duke of Holstein, the Duke of Saxony. Essentially, Schleswig was either integrated into Denmark or was a Danish fief, and Holstein was a German fief and once a sovereign state long ago. Both were for several centuries ruled by the kings of Denmark. In 1721 all of Schleswig was united as a single duchy under the king of Denmark, and the great powers of Europe confirmed in an international treaty that all future kings of Denmark should automatically become dukes of Schleswig, and consequently Schleswig would always follow the same line of succession as the one chosen in the Kingdom of Denmark.

The German national awakening following the Napoleonic Wars led to a strong popular movement in Holstein and Southern Schleswig for unification with a new Prussian-dominated Germany. However, this development was paralleled by an equally strong Danish national awakening in Denmark and northern Schleswig. It called for the complete reintegration of Schleswig into the Kingdom of Denmark and demanded an end to discrimination against Danes in Schleswig. The ensuing conflict is sometimes called the Schleswig-Holstein Question. In 1848 King Frederick VII of Denmark declared that he would grant Denmark a liberal constitution and the immediate goal for the Danish national movement was to ensure that this constitution would not only give rights to all Danes, i.e., not only in the Kingdom of Denmark, but also to Danes (and Germans) living in Schleswig. Furthermore, they demanded protection for the Danish language in Schleswig since the dominant language in almost a quarter of Schleswig had changed from Danish to German since the beginning of the 19th century.

A liberal constitution for Holstein was not seriously considered in Copenhagen, since it was a well-known fact that the political élite of Holstein had been far more conservative than Copenhagen's. This proved to be true, as the politicians of Holstein demanded that the Constitution of Denmark be scrapped — not only in Schleswig but also in Denmark. They also demanded that Schleswig immediately follow Holstein and become a member of the German Confederation, and eventually a part of the new united Germany. These demands were rejected and in 1848 the Germans of Holstein and Southern Schleswig rebelled. This was the beginning of the First War of Schleswig (1848–51) which ended in a Danish victory at Idstedt. Elements of this period were fictionalized in Royal Flash, the second of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels.

In 1863 conflict broke out again as King Frederick VII of Denmark died leaving no heir. According to the line of succession of Denmark and Schleswig, the crowns of both Denmark and Schleswig would now pass to Duke Christian of Glücksburg (the future King Christian IX); the crown of Holstein was considered to be more problematic. This decision was challenged by a rival pro-German branch of the Danish royal family, the House of Augustenburg (Danish: Augustenborg) who demanded, as in 1848, the crowns of both Schleswig and Holstein. The passing of a common constitution for Denmark and Schleswig in November 1863 then gave Otto von Bismarck a chance to intervene and Prussia and Austria declared war on Denmark. This was the Second War of Schleswig which ended in a Danish defeat. British attempts to mediate failed, and Denmark lost Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg to Prussia and Austria.

Following the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, section five of the Peace of Prague stated that the people in northern Schleswig should be granted the right to a referendum on whether they would remain under Prussian rule or return to Danish rule. This promise was never fulfilled by Prussia.

Following the defeat of Germany in World War I, the Allied powers arranged a referendum in northern and central Schleswig. In northern Schleswig (10 February 1920) 75% voted for reunification with Denmark and 25% voted for Germany. In central Schleswig (14 March 1920) the results were reversed; 80% voted for Germany and just 20% for Denmark, primarily in Flensburg. No vote ever took place in the southern third of Schleswig. On 15 June 1920, northern Schleswig officially returned to Danish rule. The Danish/German border was the only one of the borders imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I which was never challenged by Adolf Hitler.

After the Second World War, the Prussian province Schleswig-Holstein came under British occupation. On August 23, 1946, the Military Government abolished the province and reconstituted it as a separate Land.


The coat of arms shows the symbols of the two duchies united in Schleswig-Holstein, i.e., the two lions for Schleswig and the leaf of a nettle for Holstein. Supposedly, Otto von Bismarck decreed that the two lions were to face the nettle because of the discomfort to their bottoms which would have resulted if the lions faced away from it.

The motto of Schleswig-Holstein is "Up ewich ungedeelt" (Middle Low German: "Forever undivided", modern High German: "Auf ewig ungeteilt"). It goes back to the Treaty of Ribe in 1460. See History of Schleswig-Holstein.

The anthem is usually referred to with its first line "Schleswig-Holstein meerumschlungen" (i.e., "Schleswig-Holstein embraced by the seas") from 1844.


List of Minister-presidents of Schleswig-Holstein

  1. 1945–1947: Theodor Steltzer
  2. 1947–1949: Hermann Lüdemann
  3. 1949–1950: Bruno Diekmann
  4. 1950–1951: Walter Bartram
  5. 1951–1954: Friedrich-Wilhelm Lübke
  6. 1954–1963: Kai-Uwe von Hassel (CDU)
  7. 1963–1971: Helmut Lemke
  8. 1971–1982: Gerhard Stoltenberg (CDU), see List of Honorary Citizens of Schleswig-Holstein
  9. 1982–1987: Uwe Barschel (CDU)
  10. 1987–1988: Henning Schwarz (CDU)
  11. 1988–1993: Björn Engholm (SPD)
  12. 1993–2005: Heide Simonis (SPD)
  13. 2005– : Peter Harry Carstensen (CDU)

2005 state election

See also: Schleswig-Holstein state election, 2005

A state election was held on February 20 2005. Although the SPD-Green coalition, led by Heide Simonis, no longer commanded a majority of the Landtag, the SSW announced that, although it would not enter an official coalition, it saw more common ground with the SPD than the CDU. Premier Heide Simonis proceeded to form a Red-Green coalition with the assumption of SSW backing.

On March 17 2005, Simonis failed to win a Landtag vote for the premiership, with the secret ballot tying 34–34. It is not known who the abstainer was, but this prevented the formation of a Red-Green coalition. The SPD was forced to negotiate a grand coalition with the CDU, acceding to the CDU's demand that CDU leader Peter Harry Carstensen replace Simonis as Minister-president.

Party Party List votes Vote percentage (change) Total Seats (change) Seat percentage
Social Democratic Party (SPD) 554,844 38.7% −4.4% 29 −12 42.0%
Christian Democratic Union (CDU) 576,100 40.2% +5.0% 30 −3 43.5%
Free Democratic Party (FDP) 94,920 6.6% −1.0% 4 −3 5.8%
Alliance '90/The Greens 89,330 6.2% +0.0% 4 −1 5.8%
South Schleswig Voter Federation (SSW) 51,901 3.6% −0.5% 2 −1 2.9%
National Democratic Party (NPD) 27,656 1.9% +0.9% 0 +0 0.0%
Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) 11,376 0.8% −0.6% 0 +0 0.0%
Family 11,774 0.8% +0.8% 0 +0 0.0%
Grays 7,523 0.5% +0.3% 0 +0 0.0%
All Others 9,203 0.6% −0.5% 0 +0 0.0%
Totals 1,434,627 100.0%   69 −20 100.0%


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