A book report based on

The Frisians in Schleswig-Holstein, Thomas Steensen, 1994

North Frisians live between the rivers Eider and Wiedau, and on islands in extreme northwest Germany. They inhabit a unique landscape that is strongly influenced by the North Sea. The mud flats, which extend off the mainland and comprise over 617 sq. miles, rank among the greatest in the world and are characterized by a diversity of foreshore, plains, sands, and streams. The mainland consists of a largely diked marsh in the west and sandy heathland in the east which also has woods and remnants of former moor and heath. Today’s District of North Frisia encompasses 2048 square kilometers (791 square miles).

North Frisia (dark shade) in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

The determining factor in Frisian history is the sea. Winning and losing land was more decisive for the development of North Frisian than military battles. Due to the rising sea level, the Frisians began to build dikes during the 11th century. Since dikes protected the fertile marshland, agriculture was able to flourish. The overall length of the sea dike, which today is usually over 8 meters (26 ¼ feet) high, gives a good impression of the size of such a bulwark; on the North Frisian mainland it totals no less than 132 km (82 miles), on the islands another 92 km (57 miles). In addition, there are various sleeping dikes that have moved into a second, third or fourth row. Almost no other man-made structure in Europe competes with the dikes of the North Sea coast in terms of size and man-hours required to erect them. Dike engineering as well as other skills (the production of Frisian salt gained from peat from the mud flats, for example) brought periods of great prosperity. But often those heydays were brought to a close by disastrous storm tides. Both the great Mandranke in 1362, when, above all, the legendary trading center of Rungholt ceased to exist, and the one in 1634, when the island of Strand, an important part of North Frisia, was destroyed, stand out as momentous catastrophies.

East Frisia and West Frisia (in Oldenburg, Germany) are farther south and in the Netherlands. There is no South Frisia. North Frisia is farming and stock-breeding country with 75% of it used agriculturally. Approximately 400,000 tons of grain are harvested annually. Cows, pigs, sheep, and horses are raised. Tourism is an important industry in modern times with about 1 million tourists per year visiting the unique landscape of Nordfriesische/Nordfriisk (North Frisia/North Friesland).

High German is taught in all German schools – therefore spoken all over Germany. Many dialects exist, however, including in Schleswig-Holstein Low German (Platt Deutsch) and North Frisian which comprises ten linguistic areas (sub-dialects). From Bredstedt south to Hattstedt, Middle and South Goesharde were spoken. South Goesharde died out in ca. 1980. From Hattstedt south to the Eider River, Low German has been spoken since the 17th century. North Frisian has been mostly a spoken language but is now taught in some schools as an elective course.

The Teuton division of the Indo-European (Aryan) languages include Goths, Germans, Frisians, Flemings, Dutch, Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Icelanders, English, and Scotch. Today there are approximately 10,000 who speak Frisian. All of them also speak High German, most of them Low German, and quite a few even Low Danish or High Danish. A North Frisian slogan is Rüm hart – klaar kiming (wide heart – clear horizon). Another, Liiwer düüdj as slååw (Better dead than a slave). Efforts to preserve and promote the Frisian language and culture continue today. The Nissenhaus Museum in Husum caputures the history and culture of the area. Nordfriisk Instsituut (North Frisian Institute Association) in Bredstedt has a library and archive more specific to the Frisian heritage.

Were the Germans who emigrated to eastern Iowa German or Danish? Perhaps neither – they might have been Frisian. Never a country, Frisia exists as a sub-culture in Germany and in the Netherlands. North Frisia associations tried for recognition as an independent state or as a national minority within Germany, stating in 1926: “We North Frisians are German-minded. We feel we have been related to Schleswig-Holstein and German culture for centuries. Within this cultural framework we would like to retain our ethnic identity. We want to preserve our language in school and church within the Frisian linguistic area ….”. The National Socialists (Nazis) squelched the effort, even made it illegal to talk about it. Today North Frisians want simply to preserve the language and culture. They are considered a Volksgruppe (ethnic group).

In the 20th and 21st centuries there is a Danish minority in South Schleswig and a German minority in North Schleswig. The Auswanderung (emigration) to America happened in the last half of the 19th century and early in the 20th. Without explanation here of the border changes, most of our immigrant ancestors (Schleswig-Holstein to Wyoming IA) were Danish (from Denmark) or German including Frisians who identified with Germany from the mid 19th century mostly due to language and culture, or a blend of same. Migrations and inter-marriage have mixed things up. Your ancestral ethnicities are perhaps best determined by their birthplaces and learning what peoples lived in that place.

Theodor Storm (1817-1888) of Husum wrote Der Schimmelreiter, considered to be a North Frisian “national” epic. Some of his work can be found online, like the poem Die Stadt (The Town) in High German, allowing us to imagine the grey seaside Husum. Eine Halligfahrt (Passage/Journey to a Hallig) describes the North Frisia area in romantic terms. A hallig is an undiked island which is flooded during storms with high seas. Some halligen (plural of hallig) have inhabitants.

Carl Ludwig Jessen (1833-1917) became famous as “the Frisian painter”, his works an expression of Frisian life. Hans Peter Feddersen (1848-1941) was a painter whose main theme was the North Frisian landscape. Christian Carl Magnussen (1821-1896) painted portraits and folklore of North Frisia.

This book report was a combination of direct quotes and my impressions. Also noted: Husum received its charter in 1603 and existed even earlier. Page 7 has some history of the border and government changes which I will use in a seperate study.    JN

North Frisian farmstead