History of Flensburg

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Germany's most northern city looks back upon more than 700 years of German-Danish history, some of which were rather colourful. Reigned by the Danish for more than 400 years, it is still a gate to the Scandinavian countries and, with its 88 000 inhabitants, is Schleswig-Holsteins third biggest city.

The region around Flensburg was attractive for settlers from very early on. The first community of Danish fishermen built a little tradesmans village around Johannis church at the sheltered end of Flensburg´s Firth before 1200. Two important traffic routes met here, the most important of them being the connection between the north and the south where the motorway A7 is now to be found. When Prince Abel reigned over the region, Flensburg approached the Hanseatic League and gained Lübeck, Stralsund and Wismar as trading partners. The city was granted town ordinances and privileges as early as on 29th December 1284. It was about then that the areas around Nordermarkt with St.Marys and Südermarkt with St.Nikolai´s became increasingly important. They were the centres of a town which quickly grew from a former fishermen´s village into a trading town. Even today´s Kloster zum Heiligen Geist already existed in those days - it used to be a Franciscan monastery.

In 1411 King Erich had the Duburg built for his protection, and in 1443 the Town Hall was built. In 1460, Christian I Of Denmark became the Duke of Schleswig and Earl of Holstein. In those days, Flensburg was experiencing considerable economical growth and had developed into one of the most important trading towns within the Danish kingdom. It almost exclusively consisted of the mile along Holm-Groe Strae-Norderstrae. The merchants used to live in long and narrow houses in the eastern quarters facing the firth, while the craftsmen lived on the other side. Many of the beautiful merchants´ warehouses can still be seen today. They are used as flats and sometimes little businesses are to be found in their basements.

In the 16th century, with its 200 ships, Flensburg became the most important Danish trading city within the Baltic region. In 1525, the Reformation reached the town, and in 1544 King Christian III introduced coinage laws. In 1566 teaching began at the Old Gymnasium (Latin school) and in 1595 the Schrangen and the Nordertor were built. The gate was used to mark the citys northern boundaries for 200 years. Around 1600, Flensburg had some 6000 inhabitants, and in 1602 the Kompagnietor was erected. In addition to the citys economy, art, literature and science flourished until the onset of the Thirty Years´ War (1618-48) and the Northern War (1700-21) destroyed all wealth for a long time.

Towards the end of the 18th century, however, seafaring, ship-building, trade relations and crafts recovered and grew much stronger. In addition to having Norway and the Mediterranean as trading partners, the rum trade with the West Indies became a crucial economical factor. Flensburg owes its fame as a < i>Rum City to this time. The Museum of Seafaring and Rum trade has some very interesting documents from this era on display. Some 300 Flensburg ships sailed the seas then, and refineries, oil-mills, soap and tobacco factories and more than 200 distilleries were established to process the imported and the local products. The first local paper was published in 1766, and between 1852 and 1856 the Südschleswigsche railway was built, connecting Flensburg, Husum and Tönning. It was supposed to become a rival to the Nord-Ostsee canal, but that never happened. In 1886, the first Prussian narrow gauge railway was put into operation and this was still taking the commuters to and from Kappeln in the 1950s.

In the 19th century the neighbouring countries of Germany and Denmark began a long struggle over the valuable borderline region around Flensburg. War memorials at the Sankelmark and in Bilschau, as well as in the battlefields of Bov (DK) and Oeversee still commemorate these fights. The revolt of Schleswig-Holstein against Denmark (1848-51) triggered off a phase during which Flensburg was the capital of Holstein, and after the world economic crisis of 1857 it eventually lead to the German-Danish War of 1864. As a result of this war, Schleswig-Holstein fell under Austrian and Prussian reign. In 1867, Schleswig-Holstein - and with it Flensburg - became a Prussian province, and on September 22nd 1867 the county of Flensburg came into being.

The Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1870, the Diakonissenanstalt opened in 1874, Flensburg´s main post office followed in 1881, and the court and prison in 1882. In 1894, the first power station was put into operation. In 1910 the building of the Naval Academy of Mürwik was completed in its ideal location at Flensburg firth. Ever since, naval officers have been and are still trained there. Defeat in World War I put the citys steady economical growth to an end for a while. In the elections of February 10th and March 14th 1920, the population of Flensburg decided to remain a part of Germany, but the city lost some 9000 hectares of its surrounding region, including 8 communities. From then on Flensburg was a border city with national minorities on both sides of this border. The people stayed in touch, however, and a healthy, rational political co-operation existed, as well as a remarkably versatile variety of shared cultural projects developed around the Danish border. A large number of new schools and libraries, for example, were set up in the region during the few years between the period of inflation and World War II.

Schäferhaus airport was already in operation in 1925 and the railway station followed in 1927. The Deutsches Haus at Berliner Platz was built between 1927 and 1930 to express the Reichs gratitude to the city of Flensburg for staying with Germany. Today, it serves as an event venue for major concerts and other cultural events. Germany´s first central bus station was also finished in Flensburg in 1930, and this has been completely refurbished in recent years. Todays School of Telecommunication in Mürwik was created in 1936/37.

Towards the end of World War II, the government of the Reich sought shelter at the Naval Academy of Mürwik. Admiral Dönitz was in charge and it was from here that he declared Germany´s capitulation. Flensburg´s fate was once again uncertain.

After the war, cultural projects, especially those aimed at young people, were quickly taken up again. The teacher training school opened in 1946, and since 1994 it has been known as Flensburg University. The first post-war youth conference at the Scheersberg took place in 1947. In 1950 the NWDR (now NDR) started broadcasting from Flensburg and the Grenzakademie (border academy) was founded at Sankelmark. In 1952, the KBA (the federal department of driving), where everybodys penalty points are collected, moved from Bielefeld to Flensburg.

The economical problems of the post-war period were dealt with in a determined manner. Angeln was provided with a modern main road and suitable traffic links, and agriculture became the most crucial economical factor within the region. Trade and industries ' especially shipbuilding ' were redeveloped in Flensburg, and tourism also became an increasingly important issue. Modern neighbourhoods with numerous industries, little businesses and services have developed around the Old Town, which provide the population of the entire county with jobs and a considerable living standard. In 1964 the new town hall at Pferdewasser was finished, and in 1968 the Holm became a pedestrian precinct. Until 1976, Nordermarkt and Groe Strae were also part of the pedestrian zone.

The exemplary systematic renovation of the historic Old Town houses was started in the 1970s, and is still in progress. In 1984, Flensburg celebrated 700 years of town ordinances and privileges, and in that same year the Schifffahrtsmuseum (Shipping Museum) was opened. Visitors can admire plenty of beautiful historic buildings and picturesque courtyards with little cafés and businesses today, as well as the original old town centre between Nordermarkt and Südermarkt. The obvious Scandinavian flair and the lovely coastal line along the firth contribute to Flensburg´s unique charm, which simply has to be experienced.