The border between Germany and Denmark has fluctuated hither and thither over the years, reflecting the fact that the cultural divide between Danes and Germans is too diffuse to be adequately reflected as a precise line on a map. Nowadays, the border tracks across the Jutland Peninsula, dividing Schleswig in two.
This is flattish country and the locals like it that way. Hills are seen as an impertinent intrusion that obscure the magnificent skyscapes that are a feature of the region.
The town of Flensburg
Flensburg is a classic border town. Yes, it is German but only ambiguously so. We found ourselves on a local city bus last Sunday that cruised over the border into neighboring Denmark. Cast your eye over the map of Flensburg and you’ll see a medley of place names that are so evidently Danish: Hesttoft, Trammerup and Engelsby. Look at the names on shop fronts and you’ll discern that commerce in this German city is dominated by folk with Danish-sounding names. The Detlefsens (sometimes with a ‘th’ and sometimes with a double ‘ff) and Jensens are very much at home in modern Flensburg just as they were when the city was part of the Kingdom of Denmark.
A mooch through town
The last month on the Baltic coast of Schleswig (on both sides of the border) has been bitterly cold, but it warmed up a little last weekend and even the sea-ice that has choked the eastern fjords north of Kiel relented a little. Open water for a change as Flensburg folk strolled the city’s quaysides over the New Year break. This is a town that has so much going for it. The main north-south drag has happily been pedestrianized, banishing vehicles from the main shopping area. There are hints of a developing Hofkultur (courtyard culture) as cafés and restaurants reclaim the old merchants’ courtyards that lie between the waterfront and the Old Town.
Yet modern planners have inflicted many insults on Flensburg over the years. Was it really necessary to surround the Old Town with such architectural aberrations? The postal depot gets our prize for the greatest monstrosity in Flensburg, yet it has many close rivals.
But, all that said, Flensburg is a still a great spot and home of the famous Flensburg Pilsner beer, locally called ‘Flens’. And the town is a good base for exploring the Schleswig region. It is two hours by train from Germany’s second city, Hamburg, and three and a half hours via direct services from the Danish capital Copenhagen.