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Coat of arms of Heligoland
Heligoland is located in Germany
Coordinates 54°10′57″N 7°53′7″E / 54.1825°N 7.88528°E / 54.1825; 7.88528
Country Germany
State Schleswig-Holstein
District Pinneberg
Mayor Frank Botter (SPD)
Basic statistics
Area 1.7 km2 (0.66 sq mi)
Elevation 61 m  (200 ft)
Population 1,299  (31 December 2007)
 - Density 764 /km2 (1,979 /sq mi)
Other information
Time zone CET/CEST (UTC+1/+2)
Licence plate PI
Postal code 27498
Area code 04725
Location of Heligoland within Pinneberg district

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

Formerly Danish and British possessions, the islands (population 1,650) are located in the Heligoland Bight (part of the German Bight) in the southeastern corner of the North Sea. They 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.



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. While the former is what the place name "Heligoland" normally is used to refer to, the latter is somewhat smaller 0.7 km2 (0.27 sq mi), lower, surrounded by sand beaches and not permanently inhabited.

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 latter came into being in the course of the "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) 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") which is a free standing rock column (or stack), 47 metres (154 ft) high and weighing about 25,000 tons.

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.


Bird's-eye view of Heligoland

Heligoland sports a very healthy offshore climate, being almost free of pollen and thus ideal for people with allergies. Since there is no land mass in the vicinity that could cool down too much in the winter time, it hardly gets colder than -5 °C (23 °F) in any year. 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 generally is sunnier.

Due to the mild climate, figs have been grown on the island since the 1920s - there still is an old mulberry tree in the Upper Town.


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 is from the early Triassic geologic age, the formation is called Bunter. 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[1] (white cliff), is known to have existed within sight of the island to the west till 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), which today holds Heligoland's airstrip.


Current flag of Heligoland

The Heligoland flag is very similar to its Coat of arms. 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 Frisian English

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

Green is dat Land,
roat is de Kant,
witt est de Sunn,
dat sünd de Farven van't Hilligelunn.

Grien is it lân,
Read is de râne,
Wyt is it sân,
Dit binne de kleuren fan Helgolân.

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


Flag of the British Administration of Heligoland, 1807-1890
Birds-eye view, Heligoland, ca. 1890-1900
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 (see Alex Ritsema, Heligoland, Past and Present, 2007, pp. 21-23).

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.

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

Postage stamp showing Queen Victoria and denominated in Hamburg schillings. From 1875 its postage stamps were denominated in both sterling and gold marks.

In 1807, Heligoland was seized by the British during the Napoleonic Wars. It became a centre of smuggling and espionage against Napoleon. Thousands of Germans fled to Britain and to the King's German Legion via Heligoland. In 1826, Heligoland became a seaside spa and soon it turned into a popular tourist resort for upper-class people. 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 1830 and 1848 German revolutions.

Britain gave up the islands to Germany in 1890 in the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty. 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.

Helgoland 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 vagrant 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 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, Werner Heisenberg (1901-75) 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.

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 area. The area was 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. Most of the 128 casualties during that 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.[2]
18 April 1944 No. 466 Squadron RAAF conducted bombing operations.[3]
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.[4]
3 September 1944 Operation Aphrodite B-17 63954 attempt on U-boat pens[5] 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[5] 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.[6]
5/6 October 1944 10 Halifaxes conducted minelaying off Heligoland. No aircraft lost.[6]
15 October 1944 Operation Aphrodite B-17 30039 *Liberty Belle* and B-17 37743 attempt on U-boat pens[7] 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.[6] 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.[6]
23 November 1944 4 Mosquitoes conducted Ranger patrols in the Heligoland area. No aircraft lost.[6]
31 December 1944 On Eighth Air Force Mission 772, 1 B-17 bombed Heligoland island.[8]
4/5 February 1945 15 Lancasters and 12 Halifaxes minelaying off Heligoland and in the River Elbe. No minelaying aircraft lost[6]
16/17 March 1945 12 Halifaxes and 12 Lancasters minelaying in the Kattegat and off Heligoland. No aircraft lost.[9]
18 April 1945 969 aircraft - 617 Avro Lancasters, 332 Handley Page Halifaxes, 20 de Havilland Mosquitoes bombed the Naval base, airfield, & town into crater-pitted moonscapes. 3 Halifaxes were lost.[10]
19 April 1945 36 Lancasters of 9 and 617 Squadrons attacked coastal battery positions with Tallboy bombs for no losses.[11]

Heligoland explosion

From 1945 to 1952 the uninhabited Heligoland islands were used as a bombing range. On 18 April 1947, the Royal Navy detonated 6,800 tonnes of explosives ("Big Bang" or "British Bang"), creating one of the biggest non-nuclear single detonations in history.[12] While aiming at the fortifications, the island's total destruction would have been accepted. The blow shook the main island several miles down to its base, changing its shape (the Mittelland was created).

In 1952, the islands were restored to the German authorities, who 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 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, and consequently, much of the economy is founded on sales of cigarettes, alcoholic beverages and perfumes to tourists who visit the islands.

Also, there is 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 being managed by the Ornithologische Arbeitsgemeinschaft Helgoland e.V. which was founded in 1991.

Road restrictions

There are very few cars on Heligoland. There is a special section (§50) in the German traffic laws (Straßenverkehrsordnung [StVO])[13] prohibiting the use of automobiles and bicycles on the island. No other region in Germany has any exceptions to the general laws in the StVO, although other North Sea islands, such as Baltrum, have also banned the public from using cars and bicycles.

The area received its first police car on 17 January 2006. Until then the island's policemen moved around on foot and by bicycle. The car is needed occasionally to transport heavy materials.

Notable residents

Heligoland in culture

See also


Further reading


Books (English)

  • Black, William G. (1888) Heligoland and the Islands of the North Sea, London : W. Blackwood & Sons, 199 p.
  • Drower, George (2003) Heligoland - The True Story of German Bight and the Island that Britain Betrayed, Sutton, ISBN 0-7509-2600-7
  • Ritsema, Alex (2007) Heligoland, Past and Present,, ISBN 1-84753-190-3

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Europe : Central Europe : Germany : Heligoland

Helgoland is a small German island in the North Sea. It's a somewhat popular destination for one-day ship cruises. A feature of the island is the almost total absence of car traffic, which makes it a safe and quiet location.

Get in

You can reach Helgoland by boat (during Winter from Cuxhaven only, in Summer from numerous places) or by airplane (from Cuxhaven, Hamburg and other places). Tours are available from Cuxhaven and Hamburg.

Get around

Helgoland consists of a rather large sand stone island and a smaller island build from sand nearby. Both are worth strolling around.


Helgoland Museum, Felswatt, Lange Anna, Lummenfelsen, Guide through the old "Bunker"

One of the largest gannet breeding areas in Europe. Bring a telephoto lens! The island offers multiple photo scenes for taking pictures of Heligoland, especially at the crumbling rocks and shore on the north side.


Visit the satellite island of Heligoland, Düne. Its beaches are very beautiful and often you can find seals lying on the sand.


Helgoland is a Duty-Free zone. Tobacco and Alcohol may be a buy as is electronics and other high-duty items. Keep in mind that customs officers may search through your merchandises and either stay below the limits or declare your imports.


There are many possibilities for all budgets. As well there is a youth hostel

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HELIGOLAND (Ger. Helgoland), an island of Germany, in the North Sea, lying off the mouths of the Elbe and the Weser, 28 m. from the nearest point in the mainland. Pop. (1900) 2307. From 1807 to 1890 a British possession, it was ceded in 1890 to Germany, and since 1892 has formed part of the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein. It consists of two islets, the smaller, the Dunen-Insel, a quarter of a mile E. of the main, or Rock Island, connected until 1720, when it was severed by a violent irruption of the sea, with the other by a neck of land, and the main, or Rock Island. The latter is nearly triangular in shape and is surrounded by steep red cliffs, the only beach being the sandy spit near the south-east point, where the landing-stage is situated. The rocks composing the cliffs are worn into caves, and around the island are many fantastic arches and columns. The impression made by the red cliffs, fringed by a white beach and supporting the green Oberland, is commonly believed to have suggested the national colours, re.d, white and green, or, as the old Frisian rhyme goes: "Gron is dat Land, Rood is de Kant, Witt is de Sand, Dat is de Flagg vun't hillige Land." The lower town of Unterland, on the spit, and the upper town, or Oberland, situated on the cliff above, are connected by a wooden stair and a lift. There is a powerful lighthouse, and since its cession by Great Britain to Germany, the main island has been strongly fortified, the old English batteries being replaced by armoured turrets mounting guns of heavy calibre. Inside the Diinen-Insel the largest ships can ride safely at anchor, and take in coal and other supplies. The greatest length of the main island, which slopes somewhat from west to east, is just a mile, and the greatest breadth less than a third of a mile, its average height 198 ft., and the highest point, crowned by the church, with a conspicuous spire, 216 ft. The Diinen-Insel is a sand-bank protected by groines. It is only about 200 ft. above the sea at its highest point, but the drifting sands make the height rather variable. The sea-bathing establishment is situated here; a shelving beach of white sand presenting excellent facilities for bathing. Most of the houses are built of brick, but some are of wood. There are a theatre, a Kurhaus, and a number of hotels and restaurants. In 1892 a biological institute, with a marine museum and aquarium (1goo) attached, was opened.

During the summer some 20,000 people visit the island for sea-bathing. German is the official language, though among themselves the natives speak a dialect of Frisian, barely intelligible to the other islands of the group. There is regular communication with Bremen and Hamburg.

The winters are stormy. May and the early part of June are wet and foggy, so that few visitors arrive before the middle of the latter month.

2 For illustrations of the cornu see the altar of Julius Victor ex Collegio, reproduced in Bartoli, Pict. Ant. p. 76; Bellori, Pict. antiq. crypt. rom. p. 76, pl. viii.; in Daremberg and Saglio, Diet. des antiq. grecques et romaines, under "Cornu," the buccina and cornu have not been distinguished.

The generally accepted derivation of Heligoland (or Helgoland) from Heiligeland, i.e. " Holy Land," seems doubtful. According to northern mythology, Forseti, a son of Balder and Nanna, the god of justice, had a temple on the island, which was subsequently destroyed by St Ludger. This legend may have given rise to the derivation "Holy Land." The more probable etymology, however, is that of Hallaglun, or Halligland, i.e. " land of banks, which cover and uncover." Here Hertha, according to tradition, had her great temple, and hither came from the mainland the Angles to worship at her shrine. Here also lived King Radbod, a pagan, and on this isle St Willibrord in the 7th century first preached Christianity; and for its ownership, before and after that date, many sea-rovers have fought. Finally it became a fief of the dukes of Schleswig-Holstein, though often hypothecated for loans advanced to these princes by the free city of Hamburg. The island was a Danish possession in 1807, when the English seized and held it until it was formally ceded to them in 1814. In the picturesque old church there are still traces of a painted Dannebrog.

In 1890 the island was ceded to Germany, and in 1892 it was incorporated with Prussia, when it was provided that natives born before the year 1880 should be allowed to elect either for British or German nationality, and until 1901 no additional import duties were imposed.


. - Von der Decken, Philosophisch-historisch-geographische Untersuchungen fiber die Insel Helgoland, oder Heiligeland, and ihre Bewohner (Hanover, 1826); Wiebel, Die Insel Helgoland, Untersuchungen fiber deren Grosse in Vorzeit and Gegenwart vom Standpunkte der Geschichte and Geologie (Hamburg, 1848); J. M. Lappenberg, fiber den ehemaligen Umfang and die alte Geschichte Helgolands (Hamburg, 1831); F. Otker, Helgoland. Schilderungen and Ereirterungen (Berlin, 1855); E. Hallier, Helgoland, Nordseestudien (Hamburg, 1893); A. W. F. Miller, Rechtsgeschichte der Insel Helgoland (Weimar, 1904); W. G. Black, Heligoland and the Islands of the North Sea (Glasgow, 1888); E. Lindermann, Die Nordseeinsel Helgoland in topographischer, geschichtlicher, sanitarer Beziehung (Berlin, 1889); and Tittel, Die natiirlichen Veranderungen Helgolands (Leipzig, 1894).

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Simple English

Heligoland (German: Helgoland)is a small German group of islands in the North Sea.

[[File:|right|250px]] It has been controlled by Denmark and between 1807 and 1890 by the British. The islands have a population of 1,650. They are the only German islands not nearby to the mainland and are about two hours' sailing time from Cuxhaven at the mouth of the River Elbe.


Birdseye view, Heligoland, Germany

Heligoland is located 70 km (44 miles) from the German coast line and actually consists of two islands: the populated triangular-shaped 1 km² (0.4 sq mi) main island (German: 'Hauptinsel') to the west and the island of Düne (Heligolandic: de Halem) in the east.

Düne is the smaller of the two islands(0.7 km²). It is also lower, surrounded by sand beaches and no-one lives on the island throughout the year.

Often when people talk about "Heligoland" they only mean Hauptinsel.

Other websites

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