North Friesland. Its region and location
(The west coast of Schleswig-Holstein)
Theodor Storm. Eine Halligfahrt, 1871 (trans. A
Journey to a Hallig).
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)
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).
'Die Stadt' (The Town)
Theodor Storm. 'Die Stadt'. Trans. © Denis Jackson 1999
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 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:
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).
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.
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 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.
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)
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 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)
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:
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).