Danes of West Germany

Location: Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s border with Denmark
Population: 60,000-70,000 (1980)
% of population: 8.5% of population of Schleswig-Holstein
Religion: Protestant
Language: Danish (dialect)

The Danish minority in West Germany is concentrated in the region of Schleswig-Holstein which was part of Denmark until 1863. In that year the direct male line of Denmark died out and the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were claimed by both Germany and Denmark. A series of diplomatic manoeuvres and the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 were followed by the annexation of the duchies by Prussia. In 1920 a referendum in North and Central Schleswig resulted in the restoration of North Schleswig to Denmark while Central Schleswig remained a part of Germany.

Since 1920 the Danish minority in Germany has fluctuated in size, and the loyalties of the Danes were particularly called into question during World War II when many crossed into Denmark and others began calling for minority rights. The situation in Schleswig-Holstein became more serious when over one million refugees and expelled persons from East Germany entered the region after the war, doubling the resident population and altering the ethnic balance in favour of the Germans. Although some refugees were moved into other regions the majority remained in Schleswig-Holstein, which lacked the economic and financial resources to deal with them. A declaration of minority rights was negotiated in 1949. Under this declaration, known as the Kiel Declaration, Danish schools were funded by government and a committee was established to deal with Danish grievances. From 1947 the Danish minority was represented in the Kiel Land Parliament but the decline in Danish votes and a 5% exclusion clause in Schleswig-Holstein election law caused the Danes to lose their parliamentary representation.

In 1954 renewed negotiations in Kiel, Bonn and Copenhagen led to the provision by Federal government of funds for a large land improvement programme in the region and a reciprocal agreement between West Germany and Denmark over existing minority problems on both sides of the border. Although no internationally legally binding agreement was signed, both countries submitted unilateral — but almost identical — declarations to their respective parliaments for approval and both are politically binding. The 5% exclusion clause was removed in Schleswig-Holstein and Danish parliamentary representation was re-established. Co-operation between the two countries has resulted in a successful relationship between the minority and majority populations in this now comparatively wealthy border region.

(See also Germans of Denmark)