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Flag of Heligoland
Coat of arms of Heligoland
Coat of arms
Heligoland   is located in Germany
Country Germany
State Schleswig-Holstein
District Pinneberg
 • Mayor Jörg Singer (Ind.)
 • Total 1.7 km2 (0.7 sq mi)
Population (2013-12-31)[1]
 • Total 1,356
 • Density 800/km2 (2,100/sq mi)
Time zone CET/CEST (UTC+1/+2)
Postal codes 27498
Dialling codes 04725
Vehicle registration PI, AG
Website .de.helgolandwww

Heligoland (German: Helgoland; Heligolandic Frisian deät Lun ["the Land"]) is a small German archipelago in the North Sea.

Formerly Danish and British possessions, the islands (population 1,127) are located in the Heligoland Bight (part of the German Bight) in the southeastern corner of the North Sea.

These islands are the only German islands not in the immediate vicinity of the mainland and are approximately three hours' sailing time from Cuxhaven at the mouth of the River Elbe.

In addition to German, the local population, who are ethnic Frisians, speak the Heligolandic dialect of the North Frisian language called Halunder. Heligoland was formerly called Heyligeland, or "holy land", possibly due to the island's long association with the god Forseti.


  • Geography 1
  • Climate 2
  • Geology 3
  • Flag 4
  • History 5
    • 19th century 5.1
    • 20th century 5.2
      • World War II 5.2.1
      • Explosion 5.2.2
    • Modern day 5.3
      • Energy supply 5.3.1
      • Expansion plans and wind industry 5.3.2
  • Road restrictions 6
  • Notable residents 7
  • In culture 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
    • Papers 11.1
    • Books 11.2
  • External links 12


1910 map of Heligoland. These islands' coastlines have changed somewhat since this map was created.

Heligoland is located 46 kilometres (29 mi) off the German coastline and consists of two islands: the populated triangular 1 km2 (0.4 sq mi) main island (Hauptinsel) to the west, and the Düne ("dune", Heligolandic: de Halem) to the east. The former is what the place name "Heligoland" is normally used to refer to. Düne is somewhat smaller at 0.7 km2 (0.27 sq mi), lower, and surrounded by sand beaches. It is not permanently inhabited, but is today the location of Heligoland's airstrip.

The main island is commonly divided into the Unterland ("Lower Land", Heligolandic: deät Deelerlun) at sea level (to the right on the photograph, where the harbour is located), the Oberland ("Upper Land", Heligolandic: deät Boperlun) consisting of the plateau visible in the photographs and the Mittelland ("Middle Land") between them on one side of the island. The Mittelland came into being in 1947 as a result of explosions detonated by the British Royal Navy (the so-called "Big Bang"; see below).

The main island also features small beaches in the north and the south and drops to the sea 50 metres (160 ft) high in the north, west and southwest. In the latter, the ground continues to drop underwater to a depth of 56 metres (184 ft) below sea level. Northwest of the island proper Heligoland's famous landmark is found: the Lange Anna ("Long Anna" or "Tall Anna") is a free standing rock column (or stack), 47 metres (154 ft) high.

The two islands were connected until 1720, when the natural connection was destroyed by a storm flood. The highest point is on the main island, reaching 61 metres (200 ft) above sea level.

Although culturally closer to North Frisia in the German district of Nordfriesland, the two islands are part of the district of Pinneberg in the state of Schleswig-Holstein. The main island has a good harbour and is frequented mostly by sailing yachts.


The climate of Heligoland is typical of an offshore climate, being almost free of pollen and thus ideal for people with pollen allergies. Since there is no land mass in the vicinity, temperatures rarely drop below −5 °C (23 °F) even in the winter. At times, winter temperatures can be higher than in Hamburg by up to 10 °C (18 °F) because cold winds from Russia are weakened. While spring tends to be comparatively cool, autumn on Heligoland is often longer and warmer than on the mainland, and statistically, the climate is generally sunnier. The coldest temperature ever recorded on Heligoland was −11.2 °C (12 °F) in February 1956,while the highest was 28.7 °C (84 °F) in July 1994.

Owing to the mild climate, figs have reportedly been grown on the island as early as 1911,[2] and a 2005 article mentioned Japanese bananas, figs, agaves, palm trees and other exotic plants that had been planted on Heligoland and were thriving.[3] There still is an old mulberry tree in the Upper Town.

Climate data for Heligoland, 1961–1990
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Daily mean °C (°F) 2.5
Average precipitation mm (inches) 56.0
Mean monthly sunshine hours 46.5 79.1 120.9 177.0 241.8 237.0 223.2 220.1 147.0 99.2 54.0 40.3 1,686
Source: German Meteorological Service[4]
Climate data for Heligoland, 1990–2014
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Daily mean °C (°F) 3.6
Average precipitation mm (inches) 56.5
Mean monthly sunshine hours 44.9 64.4 125.3 182.4 231.9 225.4 227.6 204.7 141.6 98.3 48.5 37.1 1,632


Lange Anna

The island of Heligoland is a geological oddity; the presence of the main island's characteristic red sedimentary rock in the middle of the German Bight is unusual. It is the only such formation of cliffs along the continental coast of the North Sea. The formation itself, called the Bunter sandstone or Buntsandstein, is from the early Triassic geologic age. It is older than the white chalk that underlies the island Düne, the same rock that forms the white cliffs of Dover in England and cliffs of Danish and German islands in the Baltic Sea. In fact, a small chalk rock close to Heligoland, called witt Kliff[6] (white cliff), is known to have existed within sight of the island to the west until the early 18th century, when storm floods finally eroded it to below sea level.

Heligoland's rock is significantly harder than the postglacial sediments and sands forming the islands and coastlines to the east of the island. This is why the core of the island, which a thousand years ago was still surrounded by a large, low-lying marshland and sand dunes separated from coast in the east only by narrow channels, has remained to this day, although the onset of the North Sea has long eroded away all of its surroundings. A small piece of Heligoland's sand dunes remains—the sand isle just across the harbour called Düne (Dune). A referendum in June 2011 dismissed a proposal to reconnect the main island to the Düne islet with a landfill.[7]


Current flag of Heligoland

The Heligoland flag is very similar to its coat of arms—it is a tricolour flag with three horizontal bars, from top to bottom: green, red and white. Each of the colours has its symbolic meaning, as expressed in its motto:

German Low German North Frisian English

Grün ist das Land,
rot ist die Kant,
weiß ist der Sand,
das sind die Farben von Helgoland.

Gröön is dat Land,
rood is de Kant,
witt is de Sand,
dat sünd de Farven van't Helgoland.

Grön es det Lunn,
road es de Kant,
witt es de Sunn,
det sen de Farven van't Hillige Lunn.

Green is the land,
Red is the cliff,
White is the sand,
These are the colours of Heligoland.

1 lit. "edge" or "coast"

There is an alternative version in which the word Sand ("sand") is replaced with Strand ("beach").


Flag of the British Administration of Heligoland, 1807–90
Birds-eye view, Heligoland, c. 1890–1900
Prehistoric cist grave from Heligoland, now in Berlin's Neues Museum
Heligoland about 1929/30

The German Bight and the area around the island is known to have been inhabited since prehistoric times. Flint tools have been recovered from the bottom of the sea surrounding Heligoland. On the Oberland, prehistoric burial mounds were visible until the late 19th century and excavations showed skeletons and artefacts. Moreover, prehistoric copper plates have been found under water near the island; those plates were almost certainly made on the Oberland.[8]

In 697, Radbod, the last Frisian king, retreated to the then-single island after his defeat by the Franks—so it is written in the Life of Willebrord by Alcuin. By 1231, the island was listed as the property of the Danish king Valdemar II. Archaeological findings from the 12th to 14th century suggest the processing of copper ore on the island.[9]

It is usually said that the name Heligoland in origin means "Holy Land" (cf. modern Dutch and German heilig, "holy").[10] However, 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica describes this theory as "doubtful", suggesting instead an etymology of "Hallaglun, or Halligland, i.e. 'land of banks, which cover and uncover.' "[11]

Traditional economic activities included fishing, hunting birds and seals, wrecking and—very important for many overseas powers—piloting overseas ships into the harbours of Hanseatic League cities such as Bremen and Hamburg. Moreover, in some periods Heligoland was an excellent base point for huge herring catches. As a result, until 1714 ownership switched several times between Denmark and the Duchy of Schleswig, with one period of control by Hamburg. In August 1714, it was captured by Denmark, and it remained Danish until 1807.

19th century

British Administration of Heligoland
Britische Verwaltung von Helgoland
Colony of the British Empire


Flag of Heligoland


Government Colony
 •  1807-1820 George III first
 •  1837-1890 Victoria last
Lieutenant Governor/Governor[12]
 •  1807-1814 Corbet James d'Auvergne first
 •  1888-1890 Arthur Cecil Stuart Barkly last
Historical era Napoleonic Wars New Imperialism
 •  Treaty of Kiel 1807
 •  Heligoland–Zanzibar Treaty 1890
Today part of  Germany
Postage stamp showing Queen Victoria and denominated in Hamburg schillings. From 1875 its postage stamps were denominated in both sterling and gold marks.

On 11 September 1807, during the Treaty of Kiel (14 January 1814). Thousands of Germans came to Britain and joined the King's German Legion via Heligoland.

The British annexation of Heligoland was ratified by the Treaty of Paris signed on 30 May 1814, as part of a number of territorial reallocations following on the abdication of Napoleon as Emperor of the French. The prime reason at the time for Britain's retention of a small and seemingly worthless acquisition was to restrict any future French naval aggression against the Scandinavian or German states.[14] In the event no effort was made during the period of British administration to make use of the islands for naval purposes. This was partially for financial reasons but mainly because the Royal Navy considered Heligoland to be too exposed as a forward base.[15]

In 1826, Heligoland became a seaside spa and soon it turned into a popular tourist resort for the Hanoverian upper-class. The island also attracted artists and writers, especially from Germany and even Austria who enjoyed the freedom of the benignly ruled (British) island, including Heinrich Heine and August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben. It was a refuge for revolutionaries of the 1830s and the 1848 German revolution.

Britain gave up the islands to Germany in 1890 in the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty. The newly unified Germany was concerned about a foreign power's controlling land from which it could command the western entrance to the militarily-important Kiel Canal, then under construction, as well as other naval installations in the area, and traded for it. A "grandfathering"/optant approach prevented the Heligolanders (as they were named in the British measures) from forfeiting advantages because of this imposed change of status.

Heligoland has an important place in the history of the study of ornithology, and especially the understanding of migration. The book Heligoland, an Ornithological Observatory by Heinrich Gätke, published in German in 1890 and in English in 1895, described an astonishing array of migrant birds on the island and was a major influence on the future studies of bird migration, in Britain in particular.

20th century

Under the German Empire, the islands became a major naval base, and during the First World War the civilian population was evacuated to the mainland. The first naval engagement of the war, the Battle of Heligoland Bight, was fought nearby in the first month of the war. The islanders returned in 1918, but during the Nazi era the naval base was reactivated. Lager Helgoland, the Nazi labour camp on Alderney, was named after the island.

Werner Heisenberg (1901–75) first formulated the equation underlying his picture of quantum mechanics while on Heligoland in the 1920s. While a student of Arnold Sommerfeld at Munich in the early 1920s, Heisenberg first met the Danish physicist Niels Bohr. He and Bohr went for long hikes in the mountains and discussed the failure of existing theories to account for the new experimental results on the quantum structure of matter. Following these discussions, Heisenberg plunged into several months of intensive theoretical research, but met with continual frustration. Finally, suffering from a severe attack of hay fever, he retreated to the treeless (and pollenless) island of Heligoland in the summer of 1925. There he conceived the basis of the quantum theory.

In 1937, construction began on a major reclamation project (Project Hummerschere) intended to expand existing naval facilities and restore the island to its pre-1629 dimensions. The project was largely abandoned after the start of World War II and was never completed.

World War II

The area was the setting of the aerial Battle of the Heligoland Bight in 1939, a result of British bombing attempts on German Navy vessels in that area. The area's waters were frequently mined by British aircraft.

During World War II the civilian population remained on the main island and were protected from Allied bombing in rock shelters. Following the island's penultimate air raid, on 18 April 1945, using 969 Allied aircraft, the island was evacuated. Most of the 128 casualties during the WWII period were anti-aircraft crews.

Bombing and mining of Heligoland during World War II
Date/Target Result
11 March 19 March, 24 August 1944 No. 466 Squadron RAAF conducted minelaying operations.[16]
18 April 1944 No. 466 Squadron RAAF conducted bombing operations.[16]
29 August 1944 Mission 584: 11 B-17 Flying Fortresses and 34 B-24 Liberators bomb Heligoland Island; 3 B-24s are damaged. Escort is provided by 169 P-38 Lightnings and P-51 Mustangs; 7 P-51s are damaged.[17]
3 September 1944 Operation Aphrodite B-17 63954 attempt on U-boat pens[18] failed when US Navy controller flew aircraft into Düne Island by mistake.
11 September 1944 Operation Aphrodite B-17 30180 attempt on U-boat pens[18] hit by enemy flak and crashed into sea.
29/30 September 1944 15 Lancasters conducted minelaying in the Kattegat and off Heligoland. No aircraft lost.[19]
5/6 October 1944 10 Halifaxes conducted minelaying off Heligoland. No aircraft lost.[19]
15 October 1944 Operation Aphrodite B-17 30039 *Liberty Belle* and B-17 37743 attempt on U-boat pens[20] destroyed many of the buildings of the Unterland.
26/27 October 1944 10 Lancasters of No 1 Group conducted minelaying off Heligoland. 1 Lancaster minelayer lost.[19] and the islands were evacuated the following night.
22/23 November 1944 17 Lancasters conducted minelaying off Heligoland and in the mouth of the River Elbe without loss.[19]
23 November 1944 4 Mosquitoes conducted Ranger patrols in the Heligoland area. No aircraft lost.[19]
31 December 1944 On Eighth Air Force Mission 772, 1 B-17 bombed Heligoland island.[21]
4/5 February 1945 15 Lancasters and 12 Halifaxes minelaying off Heligoland and in the River Elbe. No minelaying aircraft lost.[19]
16/17 March 1945 12 Halifaxes and 12 Lancasters minelaying in the Kattegat and off Heligoland. No aircraft lost.[22]
18 April 1945 969 aircraft: 617 Lancasters, 332 Halifaxes, 20 Mosquitoes bombed the Naval base, airfield, & town into crater-pitted moonscapes. 3 Halifaxes were lost. The islands were evacuated the following day.[23]
19 April 1945 36 Lancasters of 9 and 617 Squadrons attacked coastal battery positions with Tallboy bombs for no losses.[23]


From 1945 to 1952 the uninhabited Heligoland islands were used as a bombing range. On 18 April 1947, the Royal Navy detonated 6,700 tonnes of explosives ("Big Bang" or "British Bang"), creating one of the biggest single non-nuclear detonations in history.[24] While aiming at the fortifications, the island's total destruction would have been accepted.[25] The blow shook the main island several miles down to its base, changing its shape (the Mittelland was created).

20-Pf-Commemorative stamp Deutsche Bundespost to commemorate the 1952 restoration of Helgoland

On 20 December 1950, two students and a professor from Hubertus zu Löwenstein occupied the island and raised various German, European and local flags on the island.[26] The students were arrested by the British military and brought back to the mainland. The event started a movement to restore the islands to Germany, which gained support by the German parliament. On 1 March 1952, Heligoland was returned, and the former inhabitants were allowed to return.[27] The first of March is an official holiday on the island. The German authorities had to clear a huge amount of undetonated ammunition, landscape the main island, and rebuild the houses before it could be resettled.

Modern day

Heligoland lighthouse, control station of the Bundeswehr and network tower

Heligoland is now a holiday resort and enjoys a tax-exempt status, as it is part of the EU but excluded from the EU VAT area and customs union. Consequently, much of the economy is founded on sales of cigarettes, alcoholic beverages and perfume to tourists who visit the islands.

There is also a search and rescue (SAR) base of the DGzRS, the Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger ("German Maritime Search and Rescue Service") on Heligoland.

The ornithological heritage of Heligoland has also been re-established, with the Heligoland Bird Observatory, now managed by the Ornithologische Arbeitsgemeinschaft Helgoland e.V. ("Ornithological Society of Heligoland") which was founded in 1991.

Energy supply

Before the island was connected to the mainland network by a submarine cable in 2009, electricity on Heligoland was generated by a local diesel plant.

Heligoland was the site of a trial of GROWIAN, a large wind turbine testing project. In 1990, a 1.2 MW turbine of the MAN type WKA 60 was installed. Besides technical problems, the turbine was not lightning proof and insurance companies would not provide coverage. The wind energy project was viewed as a failure by the islanders and was stopped.[28][29] The submarine cable in use now has a length of 53 kilometres (33 mi) and is one of the longest AC submarine power cables in the world and the longest of its kind in Germany.[30] It was manufactured by the North German Seacable Works in a single piece and was laid by the barge Nostag 10 in spring 2009. The Heligoland Power Cable, which is designed for an operational voltage of 30 kV, reaches the German mainland at Sankt Peter-Ording.

Expansion plans and wind industry

Plans to re-enlarge the land bridge between different parts of the island by means of land reclamation came up between 2008 and 2010.[31] However, the local community voted against the project.[32][33]

Since 2013, a new industrial site is being expanded on the southern harbour. E.ON, RWE and WindMW plan to manage operation and services of large offshore windparks from Heligoland.[34][35][36] The range had been cleaned of ammunition rests.[37]

Road restrictions

The Heligoland police van
The Heligoland ambulance

There are very few cars on Heligoland. There is a special section (§50) in the German traffic regulations (Straßenverkehrsordnung)[38] prohibiting the use of automobiles and bicycles on the island. No other region in Germany has any exceptions to the general regulations in the StVO, although other North Sea islands, such as Baltrum, have also banned the public from using cars and motor-bikes.

Except for the local ambulance van and the small firetrucks, the only motor vehicles on the island are electrically powered and used primarily for moving material. Kick scooters are sometimes used as substitutes for bicycles.

The island received its first police car on 17 January 2006. Until then the island's policemen moved on foot and by bicycle, being exempt from the bicycle ban.

Notable residents

In culture

See also


  1. ^ "Statistikamt Nord – Bevölkerung der Gemeinden in Schleswig-Holstein 4. Quartal 2013] (XLS-Datei) (Fortschreibung auf Basis des Zensus 2011)".  
  2. ^ Adolphi, Klaus (March 2008). "Neues zur Flora von Helgoland". Braunschweiger Geobotanische Arbeiten (in German) 9: 9–19.  Citing Kuckuck, P. (1911). "Reife Feigen und subtropische Pflanzen auf Helgoland. I" (PDF). Die Heimat (in German) (Kiel) 21: 19–24. 
  3. ^ Saße, Dörte (26 August 2005). "Helgoland und Sansibar: Die ungleichen Schwestern".  
  4. ^ "Langjährige Mittelwerte: 1961–1990" (in German).  
  5. ^ " CLimate Robot Helgoland/Düne". 
  6. ^ """Nautical chart "Helgoland. Europäisches Segel-Informationssystem. Archived from the original on 5 August 2008. Retrieved 27 July 2008. 
  7. ^ "Helgoländer stimmen gegen Inselvergrößerung".  
  8. ^ Ritsema, Alex (2007). Heligoland, Past and Present.  
  9. ^  
  10. ^ Heligoland, Past and Present, p. 39, Alex Ritsema
  11. ^ "Heligoland". 10 June 2006. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ The London Gazette: no. 16064. p. 1192. 12 September 1807. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  14. ^ Ashley Cooper, page 40 "History Today" January 2014
  15. ^ Ashley Cooper, page 41 "History Today" January 2014
  16. ^ a b 466 Squadron Missions
  17. ^ "8th Air Force 1944 Chronicles". Retrieved 2007-05-25.  June, July, August, September, October.
  18. ^ a b "1942 USAAF Serial Numbers (42-57213 to 42-70685)". Encyclopedia of American Aircraft. Joseph F. Baugher. Retrieved 2007-04-10. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f "Campaign Diary". Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary. UK Crown. Retrieved 2007-05-24.  1944: June, July, August, September, October, November, December.
  20. ^ "1942 USAAF Serial Numbers (42-30032 to 42-39757)". Encyclopedia of American Aircraft. Joseph F. Baugher. Retrieved 2007-04-10. 
  21. ^ Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces – December 1944
  22. ^ Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary: Campaign Diary – March 1945
  23. ^ a b Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary: Campaign Diary – April and May 1945
  24. ^ "Der Tag, an dem Helgoland der Megabombe trotzte" (in German).  
  25. ^ Madsen, Chris (1998). "The Royal Navy and German naval disarmament, 1942–1947". Psychology Press. p. 206.  
  26. ^ Hermann Ehmer (1987), "Hubertus Prinz zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg",  ; (full text online)
  27. ^ "1. März 1952: Helgoland ist wieder deutsch" (in German).  
  28. ^ Helgoland Weil der Wind sich dreht , Tagesspiegel, 15.09.2012 Dagmar Dehmer, in German
  29. ^ Wind Energy Comes of Age, Paul GipeJohn Wiley & Sons, 14.04.1995, p.108
  30. ^ "Mit der Zukunft Geschichte schreiben". Dithmarscher Kreiszeitung (in German). 
  31. ^ "Pläne für Landaufschüttung auf Helgoland vom Tisch".  
  32. ^ "Informationen zum Bürgerentscheid am 26. Juni 2011" (PDF) (in German). Gemeinde Helgoland. 14 June 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 September 2011. 
  33. ^ "Helgoländer stimmen gegen Inselvergrößerung".   (subscription required)
  34. ^ "RWE, E.ON und WindMW stellen Pläne für Betriebsbasis auf Helgoland für Offshore-Windkraftwerke vor" (in German).  
  35. ^ Wehrmann, Anne-Katrin (2012). "Eine Insel im Wandel – vom 'Fuselfelsen' zum modernen 'Helgoland 3.0'".  
  36. ^ Wehrmann, Anne-Katrin (2013). "Offshore-Branche ist auf Helgoland angekommen".  
  37. ^ "Helgoland erfindet sich grundlegend neu".  
  38. ^ § 50 (50) StVO
  39. ^ "1st Rickmers generation"

Further reading


  • Charlier, C. (1947). "L'explosion d'Heligoland. – Discussion des observations effectuées à Uccle". Ciel et Terre (in French) 64: 193–214. 
  • Gardner, N. (2008). "An island outpost: Helgoland". Hidden Europe Magazine (20): 2–7.   Historical synopsis with review of modern economy and society on Heligoland.
  • Reich, H.; Foertsch, O.; Schulze, G. A. (1951). "Results of seismic observations in Germany on the Heligoland explosion of April 18, 1947".  


  • Black, William George (1888). Heligoland and the Islands of the North-Sea. Edinburgh: W. Blackwood. 
  • Drower, George (2011). Heligoland: The True Story of German Bight and the Island That Britain Forgot. Stroud, UK: History Press.  
  • Ritsema, Alex (2007). Heligoland, Past and Present.  

External links

  • Film clip of coast defenses
  • Heligoland Tourist Board — includes an aerial photograph of Heligoland (front) and Düne (back).
  • Site about planting palms on Heligoland
  • Heligoland Web Cams
  • Heligoland Bird Observatory
  • Footage of Destruction of Heligoland fortifications April 1947
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