Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2023, 12:44 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Germany : Danes and Frisians

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Germany : Danes and Frisians, 2008, available at: [accessed 24 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Danish is spoken by an estimated 15,000 to 40,000 people in South Schleswig, which lies between the Danish border and the river Eider in the state of Schleswig-Holstein. The population is mostly concentrated on the city of Flensburg (Flensborg) at the border with Denmark, where it has a historic presence in the shipbuilding industry. Now Danes are mostly employed in service industries. Standard Danish, Rigsdansk, is the main version, with some speaking South Jutish, Sonderjysk. The Danish minority's political party, the Suedschleswigscher Waehlerverband has one elected state government representative. Party membership is concentrated in the urban and semi-urban working class. Half of the community attend church regularly. There are 44 Danish parishes with 24 pastors and 60 churches.

There are an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 Frisians. There are two branches of the language, North Frisian and Saterlandic. North Frisian is spoken by around. 9,000 people on the North Frisian Islands in the North Sea and on the west coast of the state of Schleswig-Holstein. In the past North Frisians were mostly involved in farming but this has changed to tourism, especially in the islands and increasingly on the mainland. Just over half work in services, a quarter in manufacturing, one-fifth in transportation and trade, and 3 per cent in farming and fishing.

Saterlandic is spoken by 2,000 people of the Saterland community in the Cloppenburg district of the state of Lower Saxony. Its main dialects are those of the villages of Ramsloh, Scharrel and Struecklingen. It is an endangered language.

Historical context

Schleswig and Holstein were ruled by Denmark from the eighth to the nineteenth centuries. In 1864 Prussia annexed the territory. In 1920, following German defeat in the First World War, the public of Northern Schleswig voted to return to Denmark, while those in Central Schleswig voted to remain with Germany. The Second World War reduced the Danish population, because many crossed the border into Denmark; and after the war 1 million German refugees entered the province. In the Nazi era Danish language and culture were repressed.

The Kiel Declaration of 1949 gave Danish schools government funding and established a committee to deal with Danish grievances. The Bonn Declaration protects the use of the Danish language in Germany as German is protected in Denmark.

The earliest mention of Saterlandic Frisian is in 1415. The first literary document in North Frisian is a translation of Luther's catechism from around 1600. Most of the Frisians of Lower Saxony moved there after the end of the Second World War to find jobs in industry. There was little contact between North Frisians, Saterlandic Frisians and the West Frisians of the Netherlands, as the Saterlandic Frisians were thought to have collaborated with the Nazi regime. However, more recently there are international Frisian cultural events coordinated by the Frisian Forum, which was set up in 1998. Various organizations have worked towards a Frisian identity for the North, West and Saterlandic groups.

The constitution of the Land of Schleswig-Holstein safeguards the rights of the Danish and Frisian communities, and both groups have German citizenship. The state of Lower Saxony recognized Saterlandic as a minority language and is committed to its preservation and promotion, following the state's ratification of the European Framework Convention on National Minorities (FCNM).

In 1988 in Schleswig-Holstein the Council for Frisian Affairs was set up and a special advisor for Frisian affairs was appointed in the governor's office.

Current issues

The Danish minority association Sydslesvigsk Forening has a membership of 17,000. It has a Danish educational association, religious organizations, libraries and museums bear evidence of the strong community support for their language and culture. Nearly all parents use Danish with their children, but all are bilingual and German is the main language of social contact outside the family. Danish is an economic asset in the German-Danish border area. Community members would like to see more recognition of their language in public administration, in the media, in public notices and signs. There is an active exchange network with Denmark, supported by the German administration.

The Dansk Skoleforening for Sydslevig (Association of Danish Schools in Southern Schleswig) is responsible for the organization of Danish-medium education schools - mostly at primary and nursery level. The daily newspaper, Flensborg Avis is published mainly Danish (70 per cent).

Friisk is not an official language but it is sometimes used in local council meetings. Some villages have Frisian road signs. Newspaper articles are sometimes published in North Frisian, and there is limited radio programming. The language is taught as an optional subject in most schools in Nord-Friesland, and as a language of instruction in some primary and a few secondary schools. But despite these efforts, it must be said that the number of speakers has decreased during the past three decades.

Most Saterlanders work outside the Saterland due to limited job opportunities. Saterlandic Frisian is under threat as most city-based speakers prefer to use High German and want their children to know this language in preference to Saterlandic. The profile of the culture and language has been raised by the local folk association Seelter Buund. The language is taught in a few primary schools and there is an increase in the number of teachers available to teach in Saterlandic. There is no broadcasting in Saterlandic.

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