The historic settlement areas in present-day Schleswig-Holstein
is the state's capital and largest city.
field in Schleswig-Holstein — agriculture continues to play an important role in parts of the state.
Schleswig-Holstein's islands, beaches, and cities are popular tourist attractions (here: Isle of
The term "Holstein" derives from
Old Saxon Holseta Land, (Holz and
wood in modern Standardised German and in literary English, respectively). Originally, it referred to the central of the three
Saxon tribes north of the
River Elbe: Tedmarsgoi (
Holstein and Sturmarii (
Stormarn). The area of the tribe of the Holsts was between the
Stör River and
Hamburg, and after
Christianization, their main
church was in
Saxon Holstein became a part of the
Holy Roman Empire after
Saxon campaigns in the late eighth century. Since 811, the northern frontier of Holstein (and thus the Empire) was marked by the
The term Schleswig comes from the city of
Schleswig. The name derives from the
inlet in the east and vik meaning inlet in
Old Norse or settlement in
Old Saxon, and linguistically identical (
cognate) with the "-wick" or "-wich" element in place-names in
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
Bavaria vis-à-vis the
Holy Roman Emperor. Around 1100, the
Duke of Saxony gave Holstein, as it was his own country, to
Adolf I of
Duchies in the Danish realm
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 Schleswig War in 1864. For many centuries, the
King of Denmark was both a Danish Duke of
Schleswig and a German Duke of
Holstein. 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 order of succession as the one chosen in the Kingdom of Denmark. In the church, following the reformation, German was used in the southern part of Schleswig and Danish in the northern part. This would later prove decisive for shaping national sentiments in the population, as well as after 1814 when
mandatory school education was introduced. The administration of both duchies was conducted in German, despite the fact that they were governed from Copenhagen (from 1523 by the German Chancellary which was in 1806 renamed Schleswig-Holstein Chancellary).
German national awakening that followed the
Napoleonic Wars gave rise to a strong popular movement in Holstein and
Southern Schleswig for unification with a new
Prussian-dominated Germany. This development was paralleled by an equally strong Danish national awakening in Denmark and Northern Schleswig. This movement 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 (the dominant language in almost a quarter of Schleswig had changed from Danish to German since the beginning of the 19th century).
constitution for Holstein was not seriously considered in
Copenhagen, since it was well known that the political
élite of Holstein were more conservative than Copenhagen's. Representatives of German-minded Schleswig-Holsteiners demanded that Schleswig and Holstein be unified and allowed its own constitution and that Schleswig join Holstein as a member of the
German Confederation. These demands were rejected by the Danish government in 1848, and the Germans of Holstein and southern Schleswig rebelled. This began the
First Schleswig War (1848–51), which ended in a Danish victory at
In 1863, conflict broke out again when Frederick VII died without legitimate issue. According to the
order of succession of Denmark and Schleswig, the crowns of both Denmark and Schleswig would pass to Duke Christian of
Glücksburg, who became
Christian IX. The transmission of the duchy of Holstein to the head of the (German-oriented) branch of the Danish royal family, the
House of Augustenborg, was more controversial. The separation of the two duchies was challenged by the Augustenborg heir, who claimed, as in 1848, to be rightful heir of both Schleswig and Holstein. The promulgation of a common constitution for Denmark and Schleswig in November 1863 prompted
Otto von Bismarck to intervene and
Austria declared war on Denmark. This was the
Second War of Schleswig, which ended in Danish defeat.
British attempts to mediate in the
London Conference of 1864 failed, and Denmark lost Schleswig (Northern and Southern Schleswig), Holstein, and
Lauenburg to Prussia and Austria.
Province of Prussia
Contrary to the hopes of German Schleswig-Holsteiners, the area did not gain its independence, but was annexed as a province of Prussia in 1867. Also following the
Austro-Prussian War in 1866, section five of the
Peace of Prague stipulated that the people of Northern Schleswig would be consulted in a
referendum on whether to remain under Prussian rule or return to Danish rule. This condition, however, was never fulfilled by Prussia. During the decades of Prussian rule within the
German Empire, authorities attempted a germanization policy in the northern part of Schleswig, which remained predominantly Danish. The period also meant increased industrialisation of Schleswig-Holstein and the use of Kiel and Flensburg as important
Imperial German Navy locations. The northernmost part and west coast of the province saw a wave of emigration to America, while some Danes of North Schleswig emigrated to Denmark.
Plebiscite in 1920
Following the defeat of Germany in
World War I, the Allied powers arranged
a plebiscite in northern and central Schleswig. The plebiscite was conducted under the auspices of an international commission which designated two voting zones to cover the northern and south-central parts of Schleswig. Steps were taken to also create a third zone covering a southern area, but zone III was cancelled again and never voted, as the Danish government asked the commission not to expand the plebiscite to this area.
In zone I covering Northern Schleswig (10 February 1920), 75% voted for
reunification with Denmark and 25% voted for Germany. In zone II covering central Schleswig (14 March 1920), the results were reversed; 80% voted for Germany and just 20% for Denmark. Only minor areas on the island of
Föhr showed a Danish majority, and the rest of the Danish vote was primarily in the town of Flensburg.
Results of the 1920 plebiscites in North and Central Schleswig (Slesvig)
|Zone I (Northern Schleswig), 10 February 1920
|Northern part of District of
|Northern part of District of
|Zone II (Central Schleswig), 14 March 1920
|Southern part of District of
|Southern part of District of
|Northern part of District of
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
In 1937, the Nazis passed the so-called
Greater Hamburg Act (Groß-Hamburg-Gesetz), where the nearby Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg was expanded, to encompass towns that had formally belonged to the Prussian
province of Schleswig-Holstein. To compensate Prussia for these losses (and partly because Hitler had a personal dislike for
), the 711-year-long independence of the Hansestadt Lübeck came to an end, and almost all its territory was incorporated into Schleswig-Holstein.
State of Federal Germany
World War II, the Prussian province Schleswig-Holstein came under British occupation. On 23 August 1946, the military government abolished the province and reconstituted it as a separate Land.
Because of the
forced migrations of Germans in 1944 to 1950, the population of Schleswig-Holstein increased by 33% (860,000 people).
 A pro-Danish political movement arose in Schleswig, with transfer of the area to Denmark as an ultimate goal. This was neither supported by the British occupation administration nor the Danish government. In 1955, the German and Danish governments issued the
Bonn-Copenhagen Declarations confirming the rights of the ethnic minorities on both sides of the border. Conditions between the nationalities have since been stable and generally respectful.