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Dithmarschen ( , Low Saxon pronunciation: [ˈdɪtmaːʃn̩], archaic in ) is a district in Schleswig-Holsteinmarker, Germanymarker. It is bounded by (from the north and clockwise) the districts of Nordfrieslandmarker, Schleswig-Flensburgmarker, Rendsburg-Eckernfördemarker, and Steinburgmarker, by the state of Lower Saxonymarker (district of Stademarker, from which it is separated by the Elbe river), and by the North Seamarker.


Marshland in northern Dithmarschen
Wadden sea at Büsum
The district is located on the North Seamarker. It is embraced by the Elbe estuary to the south and the Eider estuary to the north. Today it forms a kind of artificial island, surrounded by the Eider river in the north and the Kiel Canalmarker in both the east and southeast. It is a rather flat countryside that was once full of fens and swamps.

To the north it borders on Nordfrieslandmarker and Schleswig-Flensburgmarker, to the east on Rendsburg-Eckernfördemarker, and in the southeast on Steinburgmarker. Its landward boundaries have remained basically the same since the times of Charlemagne. Land reclamation, however, has almost doubled the size of Dithmarschen as land has been wrested from the sea.

Important towns are Hamburgmarker and Itzehoemarker to the south, Husummarker to the north, and Kielmarker and Rendsburgmarker to the east. The main roads and rail lines in Schleswig-Holstein follow a north-south direction, making Hamburg its most accessible city.

The district has a maximum north-south length of 54 kilometers and an east-west length of 41 kilometers. The highest point, near Schrum in the Geestland, is 78 meters above sea level and the lowest point, near Burg, is 0.5 meters below sea level.

Dithmarschen's landscape owes its character to the North Sea. From west to east Dithmarschen consists of the Wadden Sea, Marsh, Bog, and the Geestland. The North Sea had a higher sea level 6,500 years ago than today and the coastline then ran along the Geestland. About 4,500 years ago, Geestland structures were connected by sand and gravel depositions that formed Spits. Bogs, lakes, and swamps emerged as the area behind the spits no longer flooded. After the first plants (Glasswort) took root, the land transformed first to salt marshes and finally to marshes. These marshes rank among the most fertile of Germany's soils. Vegetable farming in Dithmarschen produces the highest yields in Schleswig-Holstein.

Since about the 8th century, the people of Dithmarschen have been living on Terps for protection from the sea. In the 12th century, they began building Dikes to protect their pastures and fields. Since about the 15th century, they have been reclaiming land from the sea.

Fauna and Flora

Wind influences tree growth

While the Geest has some woods, trees are found in marshlands only in form of wind protection around houses or villages. Traditional are the knicks, tree rows with strong underwood to protect agricultural land from the wind.

In Dithmarschen lay several bogs. A special position is taken with the "Weißes Moor" (White bog), the only bog still existing in quite natural shape in the Schleswig-Holstein marsh land.

Barnacle goose in flight
Part of the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Parkmarker is in Dithmarschen. It is the most important habitat in the district. Here live many molluscs, including Bivalvia and Gastropeda, Worms and Crustacea, are welcome nourishment to bigger species. Especially fish use the Wadden Sea as a "Kindergarten" where they can raise their offspring in a protected environment. Although many species of birds settle permanently in the Wadden Sea, use it as a winter habitat or as a resting place. Typical birds in Dithmarschen are Dunlin, Red Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Lapwings, Charadriidae, Eurasian Oystercatcher, many species of Anatinae- and Gulls, Terns, Sandwich Tern, Pied Avocet, Brent Goose and Barnacle Goose. 200,000 Common Shelducks alone come in August, The shelducks lose their feathers in the Wadden Sea and therefore are for around three weeks unable to fly. It is almost the whole Common Shelduck colony in North Western Europe. Big Salt marsh are at the Friedrichskoog coast and in the Neufeld Bay.

Three sand banks, Trischen, Tertius and Blauort are in the sea. They are some of only a few still natural habitats at the German coast and of importance to sea birds and seals. After futile attempts in the 1930s to make them habitable to humans, now they are part of the national park, forbidden to humans. Many birds preferring wet grasslands live in the Eider-Treene Valley.



In medieval times the marshland villages of Dithmarschen enjoyed remarkable autonomy. Neighbouring princes often tried to subject Dithmarschen.

After 1180 Prince-Archbishop Siegfried ceded Dithmarschen, which supposed to belong to his Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen, to his brother Bernhard III, Duke of the younger Duchy of Saxony. In his new position of Duke of Saxony he held the Land of Hadeln around Otterndorfmarker, opposite of Dithmarschen on the southern bank of the river Elbe. Adolf III of Schauenburg, Count of Holstein, at enmity with the Ascanians, had de facto taken a loose possession of Dithmarschen. So it was up to Bernhard to regain the territory, but he failed, he could only force Adolf to accept his overlordship in Dithmarschen.

Prince-Archbishop Hartwig II prepared a campaign into Dithmarschen, religiously belonging to the Archdiocese of Bremen but rejecting Bremian secular princely overlordship. He persuaded Adolf III to waive his claim to Dithmarschen in return for regular dues levied from the to be subjected Dithmarsians. In 1187 and 1188 Hartwig and his ally Maurice I, Count of Oldenburg, heading their troops, invaded Dithmarschen. The free peasants promised to pay him dues, only to mock about Hartwig, once he and his soldiers had left. The Dithmarsians gained support by Valdemar, steward of the Duchy of Schleswig and Bishop of Schleswig. Hartwig, owing dues to Adolf III and the soldiers' pay to Maurice I, was trapped and could not afford to wage a second war.

In 1192 the Bremian Chapter elected Valdemar as its new Prince-Archbishop. Valdemar welcomed his election, hoping his new position could be helpful in his dispute with Duke Valdemar of Schleswig and his elder brother Canute VI of Denmark. Before entering the Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen he won the support of Dithmarschen.

In the 15th century the Dithmarsians confederated in a peasants' republic. Several times nobles and their mercenaries tried without success to subdue the independent ministate. In 1500 the greatest of these battles took place at Hemmingstedt, where the outnumbered peasants defeated the army of Holstein and the Kalmar Union. It was not until 1559 and the "last feud" between the King of Denmark and the Dithmarschers that the peasants were forced to give up their autonomy by the successful invasion of Count Johan Rantzau from Steinburgmarker, one of the best strategists of the time. Since then the coat of arms of Dithmarschen has shown a warrior on horseback, representing a knight of Rantzau. This knight has been identified with St. Georg, the patron of Dithmarschen.

The conquerors — King Frederick II, Duke Adolf, and Duke Johann II — divided Dithmarschen into two parts: the south became a part of Holstein in personal union with Denmark while the north came into the possession of the other Duke of Holstein. From 1773 all of Holstein was united in personal union with Denmark and remained so until 1864, when Schleswig and Holstein were annexed by the Kingdom of Prussiamarker and subsequently made the Province of Schleswig-Holstein.

The Middle Ages in Dithmarschen are held to have continued into the 19th century, when the Kiel Canal was completed, fens began to be drained, and agricultural reforms took place. Within the Bundesland Schleswig-Holstein, the area was divided into the districts of Norderdithmarschen (North Dithmarschen) and Süderdithmarschen (South Dithmarschen) before it was united in 1970 as the district of Dithmarschen.



"Cabbage Days"

The people of Dithmarschen have always displayed great pride in their history. In recent decades many traditions have been revitalized and new events in a traditional fashion have been created. (It may be hard to distinguish activities inspired by tradition and activities fostering tourism in the region.)

Traditional events in many smaller villages include rolandreiten, ringreiten, children's vogelschießen, and klootschieten. In Heide the traditional festival is "Hohnbeer", in Nordhastedtmarker it is "Frunsbeer". In recent decades tourism promotion has focused on the Dithmarschen Cabbage Days that begin with the cabbage harvest. The medieval festival in Heide tries to connect itself to the markets that were held in Heide in the Middle Ages but this festival is actually a latter-day recreation of the late 20th century. In Friedrichstadt and Büsum there are annual trawler regattas.

Common shrimp

Traditional dishes include dithmarscher mehlbeutel, schwarzsauer, buttermilk soup with klüten, kale soup, and bread pudding with common shrimps. Since the late 19th century cabbage has become an important dish as well. In northern Germany Dithmarschen is well known for its Dithmarscher beer from the brewery Karl Hintz in Marne.


High German is by now the dominant language but Low German in its Holsteinisch version still has a place in informal conversation. Until the 1960s Low German was the prevailing language of everyday communication. Most Dithmarschers born before 1960 still consider Low German their mother tongue. Low German is more common in rural regions than in urban regions and more likely to be spoken by older Dithmarschers.

The best known author of "high literature" in Low German was Klaus Groth from Heide. The best known Low German speaker in Germany today is probably Wilhelm Wieben, former anchorman of the popular German news Tagesschau, who now produces Low German audio books. Only two episodes of the popular crime television show Tatort carried subtitles for its German audience. One of these episodes centered its plot in Dithmarschen: the Low German in the dialogue was thought to be too difficult for a generic German audience to follow!


Marne church and city hall
The Dithmarschen landscape was long dominated by churches. Palaces were never built in the farmers' republic. The few castles that were constructed played only minor roles and have long since been reduced to groundworks. In contrast, churches were symbols of not only spiritual but also worldly power. The medieval republic organised itself into Parishes ("Kirchspiele") centered on churches. A Dithmarschen church was not just a sacral building; it was also the primary place for political meetings. Administration of spiritual and political matters was done by the same people in the same place, so little need for representative secular buildings arose. Political and religious life in Dithmarschen remained undivided until Schleswig-Holstein's integration into Prussia in 1867.

In the flat marshland of Dithmarschen, church towers can often be seen from more than 10 kilometers away. Churches are built on the highest point of the Terpen in the center of villages such as Wesselburenmarker, Marnemarker, and Wöhrdenmarker. Village streets run toward the central church, giving these villages a distinct medieval character. It is likely that older houses were removed to make room for these churches. In the Geest, the village church stands on the medieval rim of the village or with other houses within it; the settlements of the Geest existed before their churches were built and there was no special need to protect these churches from flooding.

The most important church of Dithmarschen was the so-called Meldorf Cathedral. Between the 9th and 11th century it was the only church in Dithmarschen and one of the few north of the Elbe River. In the Middle Ages the place around this church was the most important meeting place in Dithmarschen and Meldorfmarker itself was the only settlement to develop a distinct urban structure. Even after the political center moved to Heide, the Meldorf cathedral remained the most important religious site in Dithmarschen. The Reformation in Dithmarschen began there in 1524.

Today's church was built in the 14th century. While the outside was mainly rebuilt in the 19th century, inside one can still see Gothic architecture from the years 1250 to 1300. The paintings are among the most magnificent in Schleswig-Holstein, giving an impression of the former wealth of the farmers' republic.

St. Jürgen church in Heide began as a chapel built in the 15th century. Due to conflicts in Dithmarschen, Meldorf lost its role as central meeting point. The people of northern Dithmarschen began to meet in 1447 "auf der Heide" ("on the heath"); later, the Council of the 48—representatives of the most important families and the central decision body of Dithmarschen—met at St. Jürgen. The core of the long, single-nave church is still the 15th-century building. Its outer appearance is dominated by a late-renaissance three-story tower added by Johann Georg Schott in 1724.

St. Bartholomäus in Wesselburen was also built in 1737/1738 by Johann Georg Schott. He constructed the baroque building from the remains of older churches after Wesselburen burned down in 1736. Its onion dome is highly unusual for Northern Germany. Also notable are the 12th century church in Tellingstedtmarker and the churches in Hemme and Büsummarker, which display the traditional coat of arms of the "Geschlechter" inside.


In 1993 Schleswig-Holstein's latest Fachhochschule (comparable to a Polytechnics) was established in Heide. There are 800 students studying economics, electrical engineering, information technology, international tourism management, and law at the Fachhochschule Westküste (Fachhochschule West Coast). The Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kielmarker has an outpost in the Büsum-based Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum Westküste (Research and Technology Center West Coast), which researches coastal geology, coastal geography, and coastal protection.

In 2004, 17,900 students were studying in Dithmarschen schools. In the district there are six Gymnasiums, three Fachgymnasiusms, two vocational schools, and 44 schools for primary education.


The Dithmarschen economy consists mainly of tourism, agriculture, and energy. Tourism is concentrated in the north in Büsummarker and in the south in Friedrichskoogmarker. Most tourists come as families to enjoy the North Sea beaches. A significant number of tourists also come for bicycle trekking. Almost all the approximately two million tourists each year come from Germany.

The unemployment rate was 11.6% in September 2004. After the Hartz concept was implemented and new statistical methods were adopted, the unemployment rate rose to 17.4% in January 2005. The unemployment rate was far above the average for Schleswig-Holstein (12.7%) and the rest of Germany. The most important employers in the district are Bayer in Brunsbüttel (1,000 employees), the Sparkasse Westholstein (600), the Royal Dutch Shell refinery in Hemmingstedt (570), the Sasol chemistry works in Brunsbüttel (570), the printing company Evers in Meldorf (560), and the Beyschlag manufacturing plant in Heide. The Bundeswehr has a school for non-commissioned officers in Heide.

In recent years the number of people who live in Dithmarschen but work in Hamburgmarker and its surroundings has steadily risen. In 2002 9,200 people drove to work outside the district, including 1,700 who commuted to Hamburg.


Wind turbines close to Poppenwurth
Old nodding donkey, Hemmingstedt
Hemmingstedt refinery

Commercial wind farming in Germany began in Dithmarschen. Germany's first wind park was opened 1987 in Kaiser-Wilhelm-Koogmarker, the experimental GROWIAN ("Große Windkraftanlage" - big wind turbine) stood there from 1983 to 1987. As of 2008 the tallest wind turbine in the world is the experimental Enercon E-126 near Emdenmarker.

In Dithmarschen stand around 800 wind turbines, almost all of them in marshland. That means that 5% of all German wind turbines stand on 0.15% of its area. Except for Büsum, where a small airport prevents their erection, and the nature reserve at Speicherkoog, the whole coastline is lined by wind turbines. In 2003 they produced around KWH of energy, which is about half the energy demand of Dithmarschen. According to E.on-Hanse, the local energy company, in the same time it paid 59 million Euro for the energy, 3 to 5 million Euro were paid to farmers on whose land the turbines stand. The income through taxes for the district is around 4 million Euro each year. Because commercial wind farming in Germany began in Dithmarschen, many wind turbines are relative old and produce only a small amount of electricity. For people interested in wind turbines this makes an interesting contrast, though, since it is possible to see many working varieties of wind turbines standing close to each other.

The offshore oil field Mittelplate close to the coast produces 2 million tons of petroleum, around 54% of German production. The refinery in Hemmingstedt processes around 4 million tons of oil each year, partly from Mittelplate and partly from oil delivered through the Brunsbüttel port. Another oil field between Heide and Hemmingstedt was active until 1991. The nuclear power plant in Brunsbuttel is one of the oldest in Germany. It also has the most reported accidents and the longest periods of nonproductive downtime. It is supposed to close down in 2008.


Büsum beach
The main tourist attractions in Dithmarschen are the North Sea and the Wadden Sea National Parkmarker. The district owns about 10 kilometers of green beaches; Büsummarker also provides an artificial sandy beach. In 2003, 205,382 tourists spent 1,173,205 nights in Dithmarschen, most of them in Büsum (756,630 nights), which is ranked before Friedrichskoogmarker (75,654) and Büsumer Deichhausenmarker (33,811). Tourism has declined slightly over the last few years but not as much as tourism on the Schleswig-Holstein Baltic coast. Recent competition with the former Warsaw Pact states and their Baltic coasts has had less impact on Dithmarschen because their coastal formations are quite different.

Entrance fees for beaches raise heated controversy in the district. Büsum (around 1,000,000 beach visits each year) and Friedrichskoog (300,000) impose a fee. However, most smaller villages nearby do not.

The tourism industry in Dithmarschen is trying to diversify tourist attractions. Fitness and health play an increasing role in German life, so tracks and roads for bicycles and inline skates are being built. Part of the North Sea Cycle Route crosses through Dithmarschen. In the east of Dithmarschen, ecological travel by canoe or kayak along the Eider is promoted. Policy makers and tourism agencies also emphasize the cultural and historical roots of the district.

Coat of arms

The district coat of arms displays a knight of Holstein. This coat of arms was unpopular for many years in Dithmarschen because it was the sign of conquerors. These arms were used by governors but were not accepted by the people. In 1930, when these ancient hostilities had become irrelevant, this coat of arms was re-introduced in slightly different forms by both South Dithmarschen and North Dithmarschen. When both districts were united in 1970, the arms of South Dithmarschen became the symbol of the newly merged district.

Towns and municipalities

Wesselburen Skyline

Towns and municipalities in Dithmarschen developed from the old Parishwaes that were independent political divisions in the medieval farmers' republic. These parishes existed as primary political divisions until the 19th century. Only Meldorf was able to develop an urban structure during the Middle Ages.

In more recent times Heide became a rival to Meldorf. Wesselburen and Wöhrden had some importance as central villages of the rich northern marshland.

After Schleswig-Holstein was annexed by Prussia in 1867, some villages became towns and therefore administratively left their old parishes: Meldorf in 1869, Heide in 1878, Marne in 1891, and Wesselburen in 1899. The old village of Brunsbüttel and the newly-founded Brunsbüttelkoog united in 1970 to become the town of Brunsbüttel.

Parishes were finally dissolved and single villages became independent during the Nazi period. For efficient administration, municipalities are united in Ämtern, which for historical reasons are named Amt Kirchspielslandgemeinden (Amt Parish's Country Municipalities).

The largest town by population is Heide. Büsum has a special role as tourist resort. Although a member of an Amt, its summertime population swells to become the largest in the district.

In socio-geographics the difference between marshland and the higher, dryer uplands has played an important role. The fertile marshland was historically rich while the uplands were poor but less prone to flooding. The two most important towns, Heide and Meldorf, were built on the safe geest but directly adjacent to marshland where people could have their fields.

(Population on September 30, 2005)
Independent towns
  1. Brunsbüttelmarker (13.789)
  2. Heidemarker (20.716)
Ämter Kirchspielslandgemeinden
  1. Averlakmarker (640)
  2. Brickelnmarker (212)
  3. Buchholzmarker (1.115)
  4. Burg Dith.marker1 (4.364)
  5. Dingenmarker (714)
  6. Eddelakmarker (1.462)
  7. Eggstedtmarker (836)
  8. Frestedtmarker (401)
  9. Großenrademarker (529)
  10. Hochdonnmarker (1.249)
  11. Kudenmarker (664)
  12. Quickbornmarker (199)
  13. Sankt Michaelisdonnmarker (3.728)
  14. Süderhastedtmarker (874)
  1. Büsummarker1 (4.880)
  2. Büsumer Deichhausenmarker (345)
  3. Friedrichsgabekoogmarker (71)
  4. Hedwigenkoogmarker (271)
  5. Hellschen-Heringsand-Unterschaarmarker (169)
  6. Hillgrovenmarker (86)
  7. Norddeichmarker (430)
  8. Oesterdeichstrichmarker (273)
  9. Oesterwurthmarker (274)
  10. Reinsbüttelmarker (427)
  11. Schülpmarker (489)
  12. Strübbelmarker (96)
  13. Süderdeichmarker (536)
  14. Warwerortmarker (284)
  15. Wesselburenmarker2 (3.112)
  16. Wesselburener Deichhausenmarker (142)
  17. Wesselburenerkoogmarker (151)
  18. Westerdeichstrichmarker (908)
  1. Barkenholmmarker (189)
  2. Bergewöhrdenmarker (36)
  3. Dellstedtmarker (801)
  4. Delvemarker (737)
  5. Dörplingmarker (611)
  6. Fedderingenmarker (277)
  7. Gaushornmarker (213)
  8. Glüsingmarker (119)
  9. Grovenmarker (128)
  10. Hemmemarker (514)
  11. Hennstedtmarker1 (1.880)
  12. Hollingstedtmarker (338)
  13. Hövedemarker (64)
  14. Karolinenkoogmarker (132)
  15. Klevemarker (452)
  16. Krempelmarker (663)
  17. Lehemarker (1.160)
  18. Lindenmarker (876)
  19. Lundenmarker (1.655)
  20. Norderheistedtmarker (144)
  21. Pahlenmarker (1.168)
  22. Rehm-Flehde-Bargenmarker (609)
  23. Sankt Annenmarker (355)
  24. Schalkholzmarker (595)
  25. Schlichtingmarker (239)
  26. Süderdorfmarker (396)
  27. Süderheistedtmarker (542)
  28. Tellingstedtmarker (2.493)
  29. Tielenhemmemarker (178)
  30. Wallenmarker (37)
  31. Welmbüttelmarker (465)
  32. Westerborstelmarker (98)
  33. Wiemerstedtmarker (165)
  34. Wrohmmarker (732)
  1. Hemmingstedtmarker (2.989)
  2. Liethmarker (396)
  3. Lohe-Rickelshofmarker (1.942)
  4. Neuenkirchenmarker (1.044)
  5. Norderwöhrdenmarker (287)
  6. Nordhastedtmarker (2.753)
  7. Ostrohemarker (963)
  8. Stelle-Wittenwurthmarker (486)
  9. Weddingstedtmarker (2.321)
  10. Wesselnmarker (1.352)
  11. Wöhrdenmarker (1.334)
  1. Diekhusen-Fahrstedtmarker (734)
  2. Friedrichskoogmarker (2.522)
  3. Helsemarker (964)
  4. Kaiser-Wilhelm-Koogmarker (364)
  5. Kronprinzenkoogmarker (965)
  6. Marnemarker1, 2 (6.018)
  7. Marnerdeichmarker (341)
  8. Neufeldmarker (646)
  9. Neufelderkoogmarker (144)
  10. Ramhusenmarker (163)
  11. Schmedeswurthmarker (215)
  12. Trennewurthmarker (269)
  13. Volsemenhusenmarker (368)
  1. Albersdorfmarker (3.588)
  2. Arkebekmarker (250)
  3. Bargenstedtmarker (925)
  4. Barltmarker (844)
  5. Bunsohmarker (871)
  6. Busenwurthmarker (331)
  7. Elpersbüttelmarker (915)
  8. Epenwöhrdenmarker (808)
  9. Gudendorfmarker (425)
  10. Immenstedtmarker (97)
  11. Krumstedtmarker (556)
  12. Meldorfmarker1, 2 (7.655)
  13. Nindorfmarker (1.165)
  14. Nordermeldorfmarker (649)
  15. Odderademarker (325)
  16. Offenbüttelmarker (283)
  17. Osterrademarker (462)
  18. Sarzbüttelmarker (735)
  19. Schafstedtmarker (1.343)
  20. Schrummarker (77)
  21. Tensbüttel-Röstmarker (692)
  22. Wennbüttelmarker (77)
  23. Windbergenmarker (841)
  24. Wolmersdorfmarker (345)
1seat of the Amt Kirchspielslandgemeinde; 2town


Dithmarschen is currently twinned with Restormelmarker, a borough in the British county of Cornwall. The main link is between St Austell and Newquay and Heide. However there are a lot more people who also make use of the twinning!

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