Storm Tina

The World of Theodor Storm


North Friesland. Its region and location

 (The west coast of Schleswig-Holstein)

Map - North Frisian coast
The Frisian Coastal Regions (Holland and North Germany)
Reproduced and amended from an original map
by kind permission of the North Frisian Institute, Bredtsted.


Map West coast Schleswig-Holstein
The west coast of Schleswig, Husum and the North Sea Tidal Flats. Based on a local map showing the area in c. 1860; drawn by Ruth Knight. © 1999 Denis Jackson.



The North Sea Tidal Flats

Hallig Habel
'Hallig Habel'. Small un-dyked island on the North Sea tidal flats. Photograph reproduced by kind permission of Helga and Klaus Wernicke, Fahretoft.

            'In front of us a grey dot now appeared on the horizon, gradually broadening and finally rising up as a small green island before us.  A winged guard appeared to surround it; as far as the eye could see along the shore, the air was swarming with great white birds rising and falling through each other in ceaseless silent turmoil.  Continually occupying the same space in the air, they were like a huge drifting wreath which appeared to encircle the whole island; their powerful outstretched wings showed like translucent marble against the midday sky. -- It was almost like a fairy tale [. . .] But even so, this was no magic island but a hallig of old North Friesland which had been rent into these smaller islands by the great flood of five hundred years ago; the white birds were herring gulls which glided along the shore above their nesting grounds . . .'

                        Theodor Storm. Eine Halligfahrt, 1871 (trans. A Journey to a Hallig).
Trans. Denis Jackson and Anja Nauck © 1999.

The North Sea tidal flats, known locally as the Wattenmeer, are an area of sand and mudflats exposed for many hours at low tide between the North Frisian Islands and the west coastline of Schleswig-Holstein.  The Wattenmeer with its islands and Halligen (un-dyked islands) covers some 800 square miles (see map).  It is one of the largest continuous areas of mud flats in the world. Mussels, shrimp, a wide variety of fish and many types of vegetation are to be found here. Innumerable flocks of marsh and sea birds, a yearly average of 600,000, use the area as a resting and feeding stop during migration. The area was declared a National Park (Nationalpark Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer) in 1985. The tidal flats feature in many of Storm's Novellen. Eine Halligfahrt (1871) (trans. Journey to a Hallig) describes a journey to one of these un-dyked islands.

(Source: Konrad Grunsky (et al). Nordfriesland. Porträt einer Landschaft ((Husum, 1985) 2nd edition 1990)

Old Husum

The setting for many of Theodor Storm's Novellen and his birthplace. The tall patrician house in the market square at 9. Markt in which he was born ( 14th September 1817 ) still stands today (see Chronology).

'The town lay close to the North Sea, to one side of it lay the broad meadows of the marshland and to the other in my youth the large partly reclaimed heathland . . . the town had a somewhat antiquated character, many houses were still with stepped gables . . .'

(Storm in letter to the young Austrian writer Ada Christen in Vienna 2 March 1873)

'Husum Harbour' (c. 1865). Etching by C. P. Hansen. Reproduced by kind permission of the Theodor Storm Society, Husum. Husum Harbour, c1865
'It is just a small ordinary town, my birthplace; it lies on a flat treeless coastal plain and its houses are old and grey. Yet I've always thought of it as a pleasant place….'
Theodor Storm. In St. Jürgen, 1868
Husum Market c1864 'Husum, Großstraße and market' (c.1864). Old photo by Rudolf Ström, Husum. Reproduced by kind permission of the Theodor Storm Society, Husum.


'Die Stadt' (The Town)

Am grauen Strand, am grauen Meer
Und seitab liegt die Stadt; 
Der Nebel drückt die Dächer schwer,
Und durch die Stille braust das Meer
Eintönig um die Stadt.               

By the grey shore, by the grey sea,
And set apart, lies the town;
The fog lies heavy on the roofs,
And through the stillness roars the sea,
Dully around the town.

Es rauscht kein Wald, es schlägt im Mai
Kein Vogel ohn' Unterlaß;
Die Wandergans mit hartem Schrei
Nur fliegt in Herbstesnacht vorbei,
Am Strande weht das Gras.
No forest murmurs, nor do birds
Sing constantly in May;
Only the goose on autumn nights,
With its harsh cry, flies by,
On the shore the grasses sway.
 Doch hängt mein ganzes Herz an dir,
Du graue Stadt am Meer; 
Der Jugend Zauber für und für 
Ruht lächelnd doch auf dir, auf dir,
Du graue Stadt am Meer. 
Yet all my heart belongs to you,
You grey town by the sea;
The magic of my youth, evermore
Will rest and smile on you, on you,
You grey town by the sea.

Theodor Storm. 'Die Stadt'. Trans. © Denis Jackson 1999

Husum Approach pre 1807

View of Husum before 1807.

Copy of an oil painting by Albert Johannsen (1890 Husum 1974).

Reproduced by kind permission of the Ludwig-Nissen-Haus Museum, Husum.


'In those days . . . [from our house] . . . in one direction down the long street could be seen the church in the distance, and in the other, the open fields beyond the town.'

Theodor Storm. Pole Poppenspäler, 1874 (trans. Paul the Puppeteer)


From a rising trading town of the 16th and 17th centuries Husum had grown in the 18th and 19th centuries into the small quiet coastal town of Theodor Storm's boyhood, with its numerous guilds and a comfortable patriciate with which his family was closely associated.  Its population was around 4,000. Its heyday as a port was long past, and its importance to the region became that of a market town and an administrative, legal and judicial centre in which Storm himself later as district judge was eventually to play a leading role. The town catered for the rural hinterland, i.e. the wealthy Marschbauern on the rich, lower-lying land, and the Geestbauern on the poorer, higher land. In addition to the local markets and the Whitsun and Michaelmas markets, two cattle markets were held annually. The sailors and dockworkers were complemented by the usual range of craftsmen from dyers and tanners to coopers and smiths. Artisans were still organized in guilds, although non-guild craftsmen were beginning to establish them­selves in the town. One-storeyed, often thatched dwellings, and basement dwellings alternated with the proud patrician houses near the central market square and facing the harbour. The town was frequently flooded until the building of a sluice in 1858 and was without rail links, good, metal­led roads, and good port facilities until mid-way into the century. It was marooned in its own backwardness, a town reliant on a range of traders and merchants, from the larger wholesalers and corn- and cattle­ merchants down to the small shopkeepers and hucksters who sold textiles, ironmongery, household utensils and groceries. The town's incorporation into the Prussian administrative system from 1867 and eventual inclusion into the German Empire in 1871 gave it a new economic lease of life and a new prosperity. The significant social and economic changes to the town and the region are to be found in many of Storm's Novellen.

Source: David A. Jackson Theodor  Storm. The Life and Works of a Democratic Humanitarian. (Oxford, 1992); Olaf Klose. Handbuch der Historischen Stätten Deutschlands. Schleswig-Holstein und Hamburg (Stuttgart, 1976)

The Dykes and Earthworks

Hamburger Hallig
'Hamburger Hallig'. Reproduced by kind permission of Landbuch Verlag, Hannover.

The history of the high dykes and the earthworks (Werften), upon which many farmsteads in the region are built, is equally the history since early settlement times of the Frisian people's constant struggle against a hostile and dangerous element, the North Sea, or Blanker Hans. The low-lying, flat region, only a metre or two above sea level, was, and remains, in constant danger from storms and flooding. The great storms of 1362 and 1634 destroyed much of the region and altered its coastline and islands forever. Hamburger Hallig (see photo) was once part of the much larger island Altnordstrand. Some 6000 people lost their lives and 50,000 cattle were drowned in the storm of 1634. Whole townships were washed away including that of Rungholt (see map) which became the subject of many future legends and ballads in the region. It is said that the bells of the old Rungholt church can still be heard at certain times below the waters of the tidal flats:

Heut bin ich über Rungholt gefahren, I have sailed over Rungholt town today,
die Stadt ging unter vor fünfhundert Jahren. five hundred years ago it was washed away.
Noch schlagen die Wellen da wild und empört, The waves still pound there, wild and harsh,
wie damals, als sie die Marschen zerstört just as before, when they destroyed the marsh.
Die Maschine des Dampfers schütterte, stöhnte, The steamship's engines shake and creak,
aus den Wassern rief es unheimlich und höhnte: From the sea comes a weird and mocking shriek:
Trutz, blanke Hans . . .  Trutz , blanke Hans . . .

          From a nine-verse ballad 'Trutz, blanke Hans' (1883) by Detlef von Liliencron. Trans. Denis Jackson © 1999.

A great storm of 1825 severely flooded and damaged Storm's home town of Husum when a boy, an event he was repeatedly to recall throughout his life. His last and finest Novelle Der Schimmelreiter (1888) (trans. The Dykemaster) dramatically captures the terror of a great storm and the intense bond between the dykes and the North Frisian people in their struggle against the sea.

The need for protection against the sea over the centuries, coupled with the need to reclaim the rich land for agricultural purposes, led to the building, from the early 16th century onwards, of a network of dykes on the islands and the mainland. Some of today's dykes, that stretch approximately 132 kilometres (82 miles) on the mainland and 92 kilometres (57 miles) on the islands, stand at around 10 metres (33 feet) in height to their ridges. In Storm's time the maintenance of the local dyke(s) was the responsibility of a dykemaster (Deichgraf), a leading landowner in the district, and a committee formed from local farmers. Today the dykes are the responsibility of the state.

Sources: Konrad Grunsky (et al.). Nordfriesland. Porträt einer Landschaft (Husum, 1990); Leonie and Eckhard Jedicke. Naturdenkmale in Schleswig-Holstein, Landbuch Verlag, Hannover (1989).

North Frisian Farmsteads

Hof  Peterswarft

"Hof Peterswarft in Ockholm. (Geesthardenhaus).

Photograph reproduced by kind permission of Helga and Klaus Wernicke, Fahretoft."


'Hof Seebüll'.

Reproduced by kind permission of Georg Quedens, Norddorf.

Hof Seebüll

As a protection against the sea early farmsteads and settlements in the region were  built on high earthworks (Werften/Warften) that are still in use today on the mainland and on the North Frisian islands. North Friesland is held to be one of the richest regions for styles of farmstead with no less than four basic forms, all straw- or reed-thatched: the small 'Hallenhaus' in the south-east of the region with its particularly close mixture of family and animal accommodation; the low-structured longhouses; and the huge three- or four-sided 'Geesthardenhaus' and 'Utlandfrisian' houses (see photos), in which the different living quarters are clearly divided one from another by walls and corridors. Such houses are frequently described within the Novellen of Theodor Storm.

'Lundenberg. Farmstead of the dykemaster Iwersen-Schmidt in the Hattstedt marsh'. Watercolour by Julius Grelstorff, 1879.
Reproduced by kind permission of the Theodor Storm Society.

                       The dykemaster's Frisian longhouse could already be seen from afar, for it stood on a high earthwork beside the tallest tree in the village, a mighty ash. The present dykemaster's grandfather, the first dykemaster in the family, had planted a similar tree in his youth on the east side of the door, but the first two plantings came to nothing so, on the morning of his wedding, he planted this third tree which today, with its ever-spreading crown of leaves, rustled here in the incessant wind just as in times gone by.
Theodor Storm. Der Schimmelreiter, 1888 (trans. The Dykemaster)


Haubarg in winter
Haubarg in Winter

 The style of a farmhouse is normally associated with a particular district or region, although there are variations. The 'Haubarg' (or Hauberg) is especially characteristic of the Eiderstedt region with its huge low-pitched thatched roof under which was accommodated not only the farmer's extensive living quarters for his family, servants and farmhands, but also an immensely large, high central rectangular area, the Vierkant, often described as being as high as a church, for the storage of the hay harvest. On three sides of the central Vierkant are the threshing floors and quarters for the animals. The unique structure of the 'Haubarg', introduced by the Dutch, lay in its economic function: in particular to support the intense cereal production from the seventeenth century onwards, given the richness of the reclaimed land through dyking. Such a house is described in Storm's Novelle Auf dem Staatshof (1859) (trans. On the Estate). Fine examples ofsuch houses as local museums can be seen today: the 'Hauberg' in Witzwort in Eiderstedt, the 'Hallenhaus' in Husum and the 'Utlandfrisian' in Niebüll-Deezbüll. The expansive Open Air Museum in Kiel (Das Schleswig-Holsteinische Freilichtmuseum) has a wide variety of such farmsteads and their interiors from many parts of the region on open view to the public.



The daily living room (Dörnsch) of a North Frisian farmhouse, with oven (Beilegeofen) and Dutch wall tiles.

Friesisches Museum Niebüll-Deezbüll.

The interiors of the old Frisian farmhouses set them particularly apart from others in the country. Richly tiled both for decoration and insulation, and uniquely furnished, they perfectly convey the culture of the period and the strong character of the people. They reflect the North Frisian closeness to both the land and the sea, of days long gone when whaling was a major local industry and when farming brought immense wealth and prosperity to parts of the region. Descriptions of the colourful interiors of many of the old houses are to be found throughout Storm's Novellen.

The Pesel (guest room) in the house of the Kommandeurs Lorenz de Hahn.
Reproduced by the kind permission of Verlag Boyens & Co., Heide.

Next day Tede Haien and his son stepped into the dykemaster's spacious living room. The visitor's eye was delighted by walls decorated with glazed tiles; some showed a ship under full sail, others an angler by the shore or a cow ruminating before a farmhouse. This permanent wall-covering was interrupted by an imposing recessed box-bed, its doors now closed, and a wall cupboard through the glass doors of which all kinds of china and silverware could be seen. Beside the door to the adjoining guests' room, set into the wall behind a pane of glass, was a Dutch striking clock.

Theodor Storm. Der Schimmelreiter, 1888 (trans. The Dykemaster)

Sources Harry Kunz; Fiete Pingel; Thomas Steensen. Nordfriesland von A bis Z. (Bredstedt, 1998); Alfred Kamhausen. Bauernstuben (Neumunster, 1984); Rolf Kuschert. Der Rote Haubarg (Husum, 1991)


Traditional Costume (Volkstrachten)

Most exhibitions or displays of old paintings of the North Frisian region never fail to show, in addition to its unique landscape, the beautiful traditional costumes of the period. Dating back centuries and worn by young and old alike on the islands and mainland at festivals, or at particular village or family events, they colourfully reflect the local tradition of the time. In one way or another their descriptions feature in many of Storm's Novellen.


'Traditional costume of young girls on the islands of Föhr and Amrum'.

Oil painting by Christian Carl Magnussen, 1864. Reproduced by kind permission of Dr. Konrad Grunsky, Stiftung Nordfrieslands, Husum

Traditional costume c1864


Traditional costumes (group)

'Group from the North Frisian mainland'.

Oil painting by Carl Ludwig Jessen, 1903. Altonaer Museum in Hamburg-Norddeutsches Landesmuseum.

Reproduced by kind permission of the museum.


'Traditional costume from the village of Ostenfeld'.

From the 1861 file of F. C. Lund. Costume often worn to market in Husum and mentioned in the works of Theodor Storm.

Often passed down from generation to generation many of the old costumes and head dresses can still be seen in the region to day, either in their original form or altered to meet present day needs.  Each district or island has its own distinctive dress, some plainer or more colourful than others, but all presenting an intense pride in the specific district, island or village of the wearer.  In recent times there has been a renaissance in traditional costume, and dance groups in particular have been instrumental throughout Schleswig-Holstein in its revival. Many new and equally attractive styles have emerged throughout the region during the last decades.

Traditional costume (3)

Sources: Hildamarie Schwindrazheim Volkstrachten in Schleswig-Holstein (Heide, 1976); Trachten. Schleswig-Holstein 7+8/95 (Husum, 1995); Thomas Steensen. Das große Nordfriesland-Buch (Hamburg, 2000); Nordfriesischer Verein Trachten in Nordfriesland (Breklum, 1995)

The Languages

The North Frisian language is the most important feature of identity for its people - it is 'the key to the land'. Few places, however, can present such linguistic diversity as in this small region. In the northern part five languages are found side by side within a very small area: High German and High Danish; Low German (Platt Deutsch) and South Jutish (Low Danish, Sønderjysk ); and Frisian, in addition to the many rich dialects found further south among the islands and Halligen and on the mainland. The diversity of languages, however, incorporates the great cultural richness of North Friesland. All speakers of Frisian also speak High German, most of them Low German and quite a few even Low Danish and High Danish. Great efforts have been made over many years to record and preserve these minority languages and dialects and Frisian is taught in many local schools. Central to this work is the organisation and activities of the North Frisian Institute in Bredstedt (Nordfriisk Instituut) and the University of Kiel in which there has been a chair of Frisian since 1978 and a North Frisian Dictionary Centre founded in 1950.

Sources: Thomas Steensen The Frisians in Schleswig-Holstein (Bredstedt, 1994). Konrad Grunsky (et al). Porträt  einer Landschaft (Husum, 1990)

The Churches

St Magnus church interior
"Interior of St Magnus church in Tating, Eiderstedt."

No visit to North Friesland is complete without a visit to the many beautiful churches on the islands and on the mainland, the rich interiors of which reflect the local traditions and cultures of the Frisian people at their best. Sensitively coloured in lively blues, greens and whites, they reveal not only the region's deeply held beliefs dating back centuries - the first parish in Tating was founded in 1100 and the first church built in 1200 -- but in some on the islands the dramatic history of its great whaling period. A colourfully decorated gallery opposite a high ornamental pulpit,  often displaying whaling or Biblical scenes, is a feature of many of the small churches. Such church interiors were frequently used as settings for Theodor Storm's Novellen:

          So in quite good spirits I climbed the steps to the pulpit, and as I raised my eyes I saw in a pew in the gallery opposite a pale face which was easily recognisable in spite of the balusters.  I then began my sermon [ . . . ]
There was hardly a murmur to be heard in the full church; young men and old looked up at me, and the women sat in their pews with devotion on their faces. Beside me the sand in the hour-glass seeped away; but I did not notice it, nor did I know how I reached the end of my sermon: 'Lord, Lord! Call her forth with Thy loving voice: for a table stands prepared, where she might receive Thee, Thy salvation and Thy grace. Amen.'
And when after the Lord's Prayer I glanced across at the balustrade, I saw the large dark eyes in the pale face turned fixedly towards me.
'Draw her, O Lord, with Thy voice!'  I prayed again, and then went down to the vestry to dress myself in the vestments that were still in use at that time.
When I then stepped in front of the altar, the candles in the tall candelabra on it were already burning and members of the congregation were pushing forward from the pews; men and women, young and old; yet while I divided the body of our Lord and offered up the communion cup to each mouth, there was a constant cry in my heart: 'Lord, bring her too, her too to Your table!' But the silvery tones of her voice still constantly floated above the singing of the congregation. Then it fell silent as the last communicants neared the altar, and I heard a light step come down the stairs from the gallery. -- But there were still others who desired salvation; an old man and woman, supported by their grandchildren, came feebly forward and looked up at me with dull eyes; and when I offered them the communion cup their trembling lips could hardly hold its rim.
They were led away; then there she stood in front of me, Renate; pale, with lowered eyes and dressed in a black robe, a small black cap on her brown hair.  I was seeing her here for the first time in almost two years; I hesitated, then my heart was  overcome, and as I took the Host from the paten and laid it between her lips, I prayed: 'Lord, sanctify my soul!'  Then I said: 'Take! eat! This is my body which is given for you!'
I turned to the altar and took the communion cup.  But as I brought it to her lips, I saw a grimace on her lovely face and how she shuddered at the wine which was in it. I then spoke the sacramental words: 'This is my blood which is shed for you!'  And she inclined her head towards the almost empty cup; whether her lips touched it I was not able to see.  But as I looked to one side -- for what reason, I could not say -- I became aware of the Host lying in the dirt on the floor; her lips had rejected it and the toe of her shoe trod on the bread she had received as our Lord's body.
My whole body trembled and the cup almost slipped out of my hand. 'Renate!' I cried softly; out of extreme fear this cry broke free of my lips: 'Renate!'
I saw a shiver pass over the girl's lovely figure, but then, without looking up, a white handkerchief clasped in her hand, she turned away, and during the congregation's closing hymn I saw her walk slowly down the long aisle.

Theodor Storm. Renate (1878). Trans. © Denis Jackson 2000

Sources: Harry Kunz et al. Nordfriesland von A bis Z (Bredstedt, 1998); Hans-Walter Wulf Eiderstedt (Hamburg, 1999).


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