Flensburg (Low Saxon: Flensborg, North Frisian: Flansborj, South Jutlandic: Flensborre) is an independent town in the north of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Flensburg is the centre of the region of Southern Schleswig. After Kiel and Lübeck it is the third largest town in Schleswig-Holstein.
In May 1945 Flensburg was the seat of the last government of Nazi Germany, the so-called Flensburg government led by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, which was in power from 1 May (Hitler's death) until its dissolution on 23 May.
In Germany, Flensburg is known for
Flensburg had been founded at the latest by 1200 at the innermost end of the Flensburg Fjord by Danish settlers which were soon joined by German merchants. In 1284, its town rights were confirmed and the town quickly rose to become one of the most important in the Duchy of Schleswig. Unlike Holstein, however, Schleswig did not belong to the German Holy Roman Empire. Therefore, Flensburg was not a member of the Hanseatic League, but it did maintain contacts with this important trading network.
Historians presume that there were several reasons for choosing this spot for settlement:
From time to time plagues such as bubonic plague, caused mainly by rat fleas (Xenopsylla cheopis, a parasite found on brown rats), "red" dysentery and other scourges killed a great deal of Flensburg's population. Lepers were strictly isolated, namely at the St.-Jürgen-Hospital (Helligåndshspital, built before 1290), which lay far outside the town's gates, where the St. Jürgen Church is nowadays. About 1500, syphilis also appeared. The church hospital "Zum Heiligen Geist" ("To the Holy Ghost") stood in Große Straße, now Flensburg's pedestrian precinct.
A Flensburger's everyday life was very hard, and the old roads and paths were bad. The main streets were neither paved nor lit at night. When they got really bad, the citizens had to make the dung-filled streets passable with wooden pathways. Only the few upper-class houses had windows. In 1485, a great fire struck Flensburg. Even storm tides beset the town at times. Every household in the town kept livestock in the house and the yard. Townsfolk furthermore had their own cowherds and a swineherd.
Early modern times
After the Hanse fell in the 16th century, Flensburg was said to be one of the most important trading towns in the Scandinavian area. Even as far away as the Mediterranean, Greenland and the Caribbean, Flensburg merchants were active. The most important commodities, after herring, were sugar and whale oil, the latter from whaling off Greenland. Only the Thirty Years' War put an end to this boom time as the town was becoming Protestant and thereby ever more German culturally and linguistically, while the neighbouring countryside remained decidedly Danish.
In the 18th century, thanks to the rum trade, Flensburg had yet another boom. Cane sugar was imported from the Danish West Indies (now the US Virgin Islands) and refined in Flensburg. Only in the 19th century, as a result of industrialization, was the town at last outdone by competition from nearby cities such as Copenhagen and Hamburg.
The rum blended in Flensburg then became a secondary industry in West Indian trade, and as of 1864 no longer with the Danish West Indies, but rather with Jamaica, then ruled by the British. It was imported from there, blended, and sold all over Europe. There is nowadays only one active rum distillery in Flensburg, "A. H. Johannsen".
History as a German town
Between 1460 and 1864, Flensburg was, after Copenhagen, the second biggest port in the Kingdom of Denmark, but passed to the Kingdom of Prussia after the Second Schleswig War in 1864. There is still, however, a considerable Danish community in the town today. Some estimates put the percentage of Flensburgers who belong to it as high as 25%; other estimates put that percentage much lower. The SSW political party representing the minority usually gains 20-25% of the votes in local elections, but by no means all of its voters are Danes. Before 1864, more than 70% belonged to what is now the minority, witnessed even today by the great number of Danish surnames in the Flensburg telephone directory (Asmussen, Claussen, Jacobsen, Jensen, Petersen, etc.). The upper classes and the learned at that time, however, were German, and since 1864, the German language has prevailed in the town.
On 1 April 1889, Flensburg became an independent city (kreisfreie Stadt) within the Province of Schleswig-Holstein, and at the same time still kept its status as seat of the Flensburg district. In 1920, the League of Nations decided that the matter of the German-Danish border would be settled by a vote. As a result of the plebiscite, and the way the voting zones were laid out, some of Flensburg's northern neighbourhoods were ceded to Denmark, whereas Flensburg as a whole voted with a great majority to stay in Germany.
In return for this great pro-German majority, the town of Flensburg was given a large hall, the "Deutsches Haus", which was endowed by the government as "thanks for German loyalty".
During the Second World War, the town was left almost unscathed by the air raids that devastated other German cities. However, in 1943, 20 children died when their nursery school was bombed, and shortly after the war ended, an explosion at a local munitions storage site claimed many victims.
In 1945, Admiral Karl Dönitz, who was briefly President (Reichspräsident) of Nazi Germany once Adolf Hitler had appointed him his successor and then killed himself, fled to Flensburg with what was left of his government where they were arrested and deposed at the Navy School in Mürwik by British troops. Flensburg was thereby, for a few weeks, the seat of the last Third Reich government, and also Germany's capital.
Since the Second World War
After the Second World War, the town's population broke the 100,000 mark for a short time, thereby making Flensburg a city (Großstadt) under one traditional definition. The population later sank below that mark, however.
In the years after the Second World War, there was in South Schleswig, and particularly in Flensburg a strong pro-Danish movement connected with the idea of the "Eider Politics". Their goal was for the town, and indeed all or most of Schleswig – the whole area north of the river Eider–-to be united with Denmark. In the years following 1945, Flensburg's town council was dominated by Danish parties, and the town had a Danish mayor.
The town of Flensburg profited from the planned location of military installations. Since the German Reunification, the number of soldiers has dropped to about 8,000. Since Denmark's entry into the European Economic Community (now the European Union), border trade has played an important role in Flensburg's economic life. Some Danish businesses, such as Danfoss, have set up shop just south of the border for tax reasons.
In 1970, the Flensburg district was expanded to include the municipalities in the Amt of Medelby, formerly in the Südtondern district, and in 1974 it was united with the Schleswig district to form the district of Schleswig-Flensburg, whose district seat was the town of Schleswig. Flensburg thereby lost its function as a district seat, but it remained an independent (district-free) town.
Until the middle of the 19th century Flensburg's municipal area comprised a total area of 2 639 ha. Beginning in 1874, however, the following communities or rural areas (Gemarkungen) were annexed to the town of Flensburg:
Population figures are for respective municipal areas through time. Until 1870, figures are mostly estimates, and thereafter census results (¹) or official projections from either statistical offices or the town administration itself.
¹ Census results
The Daily Dispatch: February 29, 1864
The Schleswig Holstein war. The latest accounts state that the Danes had evacuated Schleswig and the Dannework, and fallen back on Flemburg, the Germans pursuing. A Hamburg dispatch of the morning of the 6th, says:
‘ No news from the Theatre of war had been received. It was believed that the Prussians prevent its transmission. Siwere fighting is supposed to be going on, as numbers of wounded are constantly being taken to Hendsburg.
A Hamburg dispatch, of the afternoon of the 6th, gives a report that the town of Schleswig had been evacuated by the Danes and occupied by the Allies. Another dispatch says that this statement may be considered authentic. There is nothing known as to the capture of Missunde.
’ The Daily Dispatch: February 29, 1864. Richmond Dispatch. 2 pages. by Cowardin & Hammersley. Richmond. February 29, 1864. microfilm. Ann Arbor, Mi : Proquest. 1 microfilm reel ; 35 mm.