Schleswig-Holstein is the northernmost state of Germany. It borders Denmark and has coasts on both the North and Baltic Seas.
|North Sea Coast (Nordfriesland, Dithmarschen)|
The coast and islands are some of the most popular destinations in Northern Germany. Head out into the Wadden Sea to explore a World Heritage Site stretching all the way into Denmark and the Netherlands.
|Kiel Bay (Flensburg, Schleswig-Flensburg, Rendsburg-Eckernförde, Kiel, Plön)|
The north of the region still retains some Danish flair even with some Viking sites still visible. Other highlights are Kiel with its maritime heritage and Holsteinische Schweiz with the most mountainous parts of this flat state.
|East Holstein (Ostholstein, Lübeck, Lauenburg)|
Lübeck, once the headquarters of the Hanse, is the heart of this region which is overall a gateway to the Baltic Sea and Scandinavia.
|South Holstein (Steinburg, Pinneberg, Neumünster, Segeberg, Stormarn)|
Not just Hamburg's northern suburbs, this region includes some interesting places off the beaten path.
- 1 Kiel — the capital, an important seaport and the beginning of the Kiel canal, the busiest one in the world
- 2 Flensburg — the German city closest to Denmark (7 km south of the border) infamous among Germans for the traffic violations registry being kept there
- 3 Husum — a tourist resort and gateway to the North Frisian Islands, with many cultural features
- 4 Itzehoe — the city with the lowest elevation in Germany: it is 3 m below the sea level
- 5 Lübeck — the large port city with abundant heritage of its Hanseatic past, also known for delicious marzipan; it was a city state prior to 1935
- 6 Neumünster — the fourth-largest city in this Bundesland, with a large textile industry museum
- 7 Ratzeburg — famous for its rowers who use the nearby lakes and its beautiful old town on the island
- 8 Sankt Peter-Ording — one of Germany's prime beach and windsurfing destinations
- 9 Schleswig — a city with roots in the Viking Age
- North Frisian Islands — Beaches, lighthouses and seafood.
- Ditmarschen — a flat area of mostly reclaimed land, with spectacular skies and lots of holiday apartments known (in singular) as Ferienwohnung or Fewo. It is a place where many Germans vacation and is a great place for a slice of Germany as the Germans live it. What's interesting in terms of history is that Ditmarschen does not have a historical aristocracy, being a land of, usually well-to-do farmers. Today Ditmarschen is Germany's leading provider of cabbage.
- Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park — a UNESCO World Heritage site along the region's coast and including the North Frisian Islands
- 1 Fehmarn — an island in the Baltic Sea. It's on one of the main routes between Northern Germany and Scandinavia.
This is one of the flattest parts of Germany and it is culturally very close to Denmark, and to other Nordic countries. Schleswig belonged to Denmark until the war of 1864 when it came under Prussian and later German control. After World War I Schleswig was divided into a northern (Danish) and a southern (German) part; however a Danish minority remains on the German side and vice versa. Some of Germany's most popular vacation destinations are in Schleswig-Holstein, and every year millions of Southern Germans come here to enjoy the landscape, the beaches and the unique climate that is supposedly a cure against many ailments. While big cities are notably absent, Kiel and Lübeck both have their charms, especially the Hanseatic heritage of Lübeck. The Nationalpark Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and draws a lot of visitors for its unique nature.
The "Schleswig Holstein question" and the road to German Unity
The "Schleswig-Holstein question" as it was known at the time was one of the most intractable diplomatic quandaries of the mid-19th century. While Schleswig and Holstein were both under the administration of the Danish king and had been for centuries, there were several complicating factors: Holstein had different inheritance laws from Denmark proper and Schleswig, which meant that upon the childless death of the Danish king (which just so happened to appear imminent in the mid-third of the 1800s) the two would fall to different branches of the convoluted European nobility. There was, however, an old law saying the two territories were to be "forever unseparated" (op ewig ungedeeld) and many of the locals — be they Danish-, German- or Frisian-speaking or any multilingual combination thereof — wanted the two territories to remain together. However, nationalistic ambitions of both Danes and Germans included all of the territory in their plans and Germans tended to dominate in Holstein while Danes dominated in Schleswig. The issue was so complicated that a British prime minister said "There are three people who understand the Schleswig-Holstein question. Prince Albert, who is dead, a German professor who has gone insane and I who have forgotten all about it".
During the 1848 revolutions, hotheads on both sides caused a war over Schleswig-Holstein that was however abandoned with no clear winner when the political situation in Prussia changed. Sixteen years later, Prussia used rather similar reasons to start another war, defeating Denmark with their Austrian allies even though the Danes made use of the old "Danewirke", a defensive fortification that had been built to fight Charlemagne, one last time. Austria and Prussia partitioned Schleswig and Holstein between them. In 1866, two years after the war, Bismarck deliberately escalated a conflict with Austria regarding the administration of Schleswig and Holstein into another short but decisive war which left Prussia the dominating German-speaking power. Austria reformed into Austria-Hungary, and Prussia launched a war on France in 1870-71 that resulted in the founding of the German Empire.
A historical novel about this period is Royal Flash; it was made into a film.
Post-war Schleswig Holstein
After World War II, Schleswig-Holstein became one of the regions of Germany that took in the highest number of refugees compared to its prewar population. Lübeck, which had lost its status as a self-governing city state within Germany under a 1935 Nazi law, tried and failed to get its old status back through a suit at the constitutional court.
Post-war Schleswig-Holstein politics have become particularly bitter, as the left and right blocs are of similar size and viciously opposed to each other. In the 1987 electoral campaign Uwe Barschel, Schleswig-Holstein prime minister and member of the centre-right Christian Democrats, used a number of dirty tricks to discredit his Social Democratic opponent Björn Engholm. Barschel was caught in the act, and after giving his "word of honour" that he was innocent, died under mysterious circumstances in Geneva. His death was ruled a suicide, but to this day speculations as to murder or the backgrounds of his death are rampant - the amateurish investigation of local police did not help matters. Engholm meanwhile had to resign later because he'd known more earlier than he admitted. In 2005 Heide Simonis, the long-time state prime minister from the Social Democratic Party, failed to get elected in the parliament because a still unknown member of her proposed coalition refused to vote for her for unknown reasons. The "Grand Coalition" that was formed instead was incredibly acrimonious: it broke down in 2009, leading to snap elections that year. The 2009 election produced a majority in parliament that had received fewer votes than the opposition due to an interpretation of unclear sections of the electoral law later held to be unconstitutional. This led to new elections in 2012 that were mandated by the courts to remedy the issue. The 2012 election threw out the CDU-FDP coalition and replaced it with SPD led government as the seats in parliament now more accurately reflected the votes. After the 2017 election a CDU-FDP-Greens "Jamaica" (named for the colours of the flag of that country) coalition formed government, propelling Robert Habeck to the national leadership of his Green Party.
German. Most people understand English. The northern part of the region contains Danish and North Frisian minorities, thus making it possible to use those languages in addition to German in many situations. Some — especially older people in rural areas — also speak Plattdeutsch, a northern German dialect that is so similar to Dutch that it is considered mutually understandable by some. Standard German with a moderate Plattdeutsch tinge to it is called Missingsch (from Meißen, as in "Meißner Kanzleisprache", i.e. standard German) and often mistaken for real Plattdeutsch. You will commonly hear Missingsch as a sort of folkloristic tourist attraction, but many people actually speak it in their daily lives, as Plattdeutsch is losing more and more ground.
Hamburg Airport (HAM IATA) has excellent connections by train to many destinations in Schleswig-Holstein and the Schleswig-Holstein Ticket (see below) is valid on regional trains to and from Hamburg as well, thus making it one of the best entry points to the region for travellers arriving by plane.
Lübeck Airport (LBC IATA) has a handful of domestic flights marketed under the brand "Lübeck Air".
The island of Sylt also has an airport (GWT IATA), which in the summer sees many flights from domestic German airports and Zurich Airport. The airport is of limited use, however, for tourists wishing to go beyond the North Frisian Islands, as travelling to anywhere in the continental part of Schleswig-Holstein requires changing trains and often travelling as far as Hamburg. There is also an airport at Sonderborg, Denmark which is useful for travel to Flensburg and surroundings.
There are many boat services from Scandinavia. From the Danish Jutland you can get to Schleswig-Holstein by car. Kiel and Travemünde (close to Lübeck) are the main baltic ports, whereas the cities on the North Sea Coast of Schleswig-Holstein have mostly ferries to various German islands, including Heligoland. If you want to arrive from the west by boat, your most practical options are probably Hamburg or even some ports in the Netherlands (for connections to the British mainland). Taking a boat to Denmark and then a bus or train from there might also be an option, but the Danish railway network is rather sparse by European standards even though major investment in it is a political priority for all major Danish parties and already being undertaken.
Westerland (on Sylt) and Lübeck have Intercity and occasional ICE stops. For most destinations it is best to change in Hamburg (when coming from the west or south) or Lübeck (when coming from the east). The tiny village of Büchen, which found itself a railroad border crossing twice in the tumultuous history of Germany is still served by the occasional ICE and passed through by many more. Unfortunately there's not much beside changing trains and marveling at the strangely oversized train station to occupy you during lengthy layovers. Regional travel is best done with the Schleswig-Holstein ticket starting at €28 for one person and €3 for every additional member of the group up to five in total. The Schleswig-Holstein ticket is valid for one day from 09:00 to 03:00 (weekend days 00:00 to 03:00 the following day) the next day on almost all regional trains as well as most local buses.
The long-distance bus market opened around 2012/13 in Germany, and prices and routes are still changing. As with most modes of transportation, prices are cheapest when booked online and several days in advance. If you want to take a bike, you have to give advance notice, as capacity is limited. For more on details and companies see: Intercity buses in Germany. Some operators serve a handful of popular beach resorts, but this region is largely rural, and connecting services to Denmark are usually loaded onto a ferry instead of taking the roundabout way through Schleswig and the sparsely populated Jutland.
Compared to other regions of Germany, more rail lines have been shut down, leaving many towns unconnected, still by international standards the state has an extensive public transportation service, provided by different train and bus companies. No town in Schleswig-Holstein has a tram network (Kiel shut its trams down in 1985, one of the last German cities to do so) which can lead to crowded and slow buses in Kiel, Lübeck or Flensburg. The Deutsche Bahn website and those of the regional traffic association nah.sh can be used to search for connections.
As the landscape is mostly flat, riding a bicycle is an excellent way of getting around Schleswig-Holstein, especially for short to medium distances. A popular tour is boat-spotting along the Kiel Canal (the busiest in the world) by bike, which has the added charm that even moderately ambitious cyclists are able to keep up with the moderate speed of most boats along this route.
- The old town of Lübeck
- The North Sea coast
- The Kiel canal, the busiest in the world
Visit Ditmarschen and eat the fabulous seafood. Try Friedrichskoog for great fish restaurants.
Schleswig-Holstein has several so called border shops that are dedicated to selling consumer goods to tourists and truck drivers from Denmark and Sweden. They are located along the German-Danish border and on the island of Fehmarn. The border shops are probably the best place in Germany to find candy, soda, cider, beer, liquor and other things produced in Denmark and Sweden at lower prices than in their home market. This is due to the lower excise taxes in Germany, even though the gap is closing in. The deposit-refund systems in the three EU-countries are not compatible, so a proforma export declaration must be submitted and photo-ID must be presented when buying beverages that normally have a deposit paid in Germany. These deposit-refund exempt beverages are only permitted for export to Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, have to be brought out of Germany on the same day and will not be sold to Germans. Calle, Citti and Fleggaard (websites are in Scandinavian languages only).
Shrimp: in Büsum, you can buy small boiled shrimp by the liter. Spend a happy communal time peeling them and eat them on black bread, with a fried egg over the top. An excellent Abendbrot (dinner) or snack!
While beer is consumed here as well, it is more of a Southern German thing with Northern Germany preferring liquor such as Korn (made from grain). Nonalcoholic beverages include tea (especially in Frisian areas) water and soft drinks. With very few exceptions (mostly on the islands and clearly noted if it is the case) tap water is safe for human consumption.
As in most parts of Germany crime is one of your lesser safety concerns, unless you are unlucky or careless. However, a big safety issue claiming the lives of many people every year is the sea: bathing in the North Sea is only allowed during certain hours of the day. There is a reason for this: The drag of the tides can drown the most prolific swimmer. If you want to go swimming make sure beforehand that it is safe. Another popular activity that has some safety issues is Wattwandern (hiking in the mudflats left during low tide); with a guide this is a low risk, fun activity, but without a guide, it is illegal and potentially deadly. Fog can appear suddenly over the sea and the natural channels that bring the floodwater back in can rise to three metres and more, cutting your way back off. In short: Don't go out into the Watt without a qualified guide in your group.
- Mecklenburg Vorpommern
- There is regular ferry service from Lübeck/Travemünde to several destinations in the Baltic