States of Germany: Schleswig-Holstein

Germany is a federal republic divided into 16 states. These states are called Bundesland(pl. Bundesländer) and each one of them has their fair share of places to visit and things to do. This series of posts titled “States of Germany” seeks to explore each state one by one and tell you a little bit about them. Feel free to post about things I have missed out on.


Schleswig-Holstein's location in Germany (left) and its coat of arms (right).

Schleswig-Holstein’s location in Germany (left) and its coat of arms (right).

This week, I will post about the northernmost German state: Schleswig-Holstein. This state is known for its vast coastline with the North Sea on one side and the Baltic Sea on the other. Because of that, there is a significant nautical theme to the culture and way of life. The state comprises the historically German Holstein with the formerly Danish Southern Schleswig region. This is demonstrated in the state Coat of Arms as well which is halved with the blue Danish lions on a field of yellow on the left and the silver nettle leaf of Holstein on the right on a field of red. Legend has it that the lions used to face the other way but Otto von Bismarck had them switched around so that their bums wouldn’t be toward the Holstein side.

Kiel is the capital of  Schleswig-Holstein.

Kiel is the capital of
Schleswig-Holstein.

Kiel – located on the Baltic Sea coastline forms the capital of the state of Schleswig-Holstein. It’s a small city* of about 250,000 people. Since the whole state is sparsely populated, with a total population of 2.8 million, it’s no wonder that the capital does not have as many people as other bigger German cities. Another remarkable fact about Kiel is that it is at the mouth of the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal  known as the Kiel Canal which links the Baltic Sea to the North Sea through the Hamburg port area. It opened in 1895 and is still regarded as a feat of engineering.

The famous Holstentor is located in Lübeck.

The famous Holstentor is located in Lübeck.

The state of Schleswig-Holstein can be broadly divided into the southern (Holstein) and northern (Schleswig) parts. The parts bordering the state of Hamburg in the immediate south of Schleswig-Holstein are part of the Hamburg Metropolitan Area. These regions are sparsely populated and a significant number of people living here work in Hamburg due to the close proximity. Moving north-east, we hit the city of Lübeck which is the state’s second largest city by population. It is one of Germany’s historically richest cities and was one of the founding cities of the Hanseatic League. Lübeck is also famous for the landmark Holsentor gate. This gate was located on the boundary of the old city center.

This is Fehmarn. Wanna go there now, don't ya?

This is Fehmarn. Wanna go there now, don’t ya?

Moving north, the region of Ostholstein located on the Baltic Sea. In this region, there are many famous holiday spots such as Timmendorfer Strand, Heiligenhafen and the island of Fehmarn in this region. Moving west, the regions of Plön and Rendsburg-Eckenfurde bring us to the more or less center of the state of Schleswig-Holstein. This region is mostly farmland and coastal areas. Further south and south-west are the regions of Steinburg and Dithmarschen. These regions composed primarily of marshland and not many people live in these regions. You might have started getting the picture of how much land and how less people live in this state. A noteworthy mention is the presence of sheep in this region and generally the whole of Schleswig-Holstein.

The North Sea coast off Nordfriesland.

The North Sea coast off Nordfriesland.

Along the North Sea cost, as we move north the region of Nordfriesland materializes. Both Dithmarschen and Nordfriesland have mudflats and very little beaches. The most famous mudflats are the Wadden Sea mudflats where it is possible to hike in low tide and squish through the mud. These mudflats stretch into Schleswig-Holstein from Lower Saxony. Nordfriesland is host to a number of islands, the most famous being Sylt. This island is a famous hangout for German celebrities. A collection of 10 islands off the coast of Nordfriesland is called Halligen. These islands have no protective dykes and are prone to floods. Because of that, the houses are built on ‘artificial dwelling hills’. Not many people live on these islands and their main source of income is through tourism. Very interestingly, during low tide, it is possible to walk from one island to another. You basically walk over mudflats. No other region of Germany has this unique ecosystem and culture, so if you are in Schleswig-Holstein this is a must do.

To the east of Nordfriesland, bordering Denmark is the region of Schleswig. This region is home to Germany’s northernmost city: Flensburg. Interesting fact about Flensburg: this is where the German national traffic violation database is located. Another name for this database is Verkehrssünderkartei or traffic sinner’s card file. Flensburg – the city of surprises, as I am calling it now – is also where most of the Danish minority in Germany lives. This minority is one of only four recognized national minorities in the country.

A typical beach in Schleswig-Holstein.

A typical beach in Schleswig-Holstein.

Time for the list of things to do when in Schleswig-Holstein. Without further ado, here you go:

  1. See off cruise ships from the docks in Kiel. It might be funner if you visit during the Kieler Woche (Kiel Week). That way you get to enjoy the festivities.

    The Windjammerparade (Tall Ships' Parade) is the highlight of Kiel Week.

    The Windjammerparade (Tall Ships’ Parade) is the highlight of Kiel Week.

  2. Since you’re already there, buy some fresh fish from the fishermen at the docks.
  3. Check out the historic city of Lübeck and don’t miss the Holstentor.
  4. Enjoy a day at the beach and maybe keep an eye out for a celebrity on Sylt.
  5. Visit at least two Halligen and walk from one to the other.
  6. Watch the ships passing through the Kiel Canal. Better yet, ride through the canal yourself. Details here.
  7. Go to Flensburg: the City of Surprises**.

    A typical lighthouse on the coast.

    A typical lighthouse on the coast.

  8. Travel to the island of Helgoland and visit the Lange Anna rock formations.
  9. Schleswig-Holstein is dotted with lighthouses. Visit at least 5.

If you want to know more about Schleswig-Holstein, and the peculiar habits of the north Germans, visit Liv Hambrett’s blog.

*By Pakistani standards, that is.

**Patent pending.

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2 thoughts on “States of Germany: Schleswig-Holstein

  1. Pingback: States of Germany: Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania / Mecklenburg-Vorpommern | A Pakistani in the Bundesrepublik

  2. Pingback: The Pearl of the North: Plön Castle | A Pakistani in the Bundesrepublik

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