Big birthday in a small state: Saarland celebrates its 100-year old history

On Friday, the southwestern state of Saarland celebrates its hundred-year history and with it, the birth of its own unique character, which emerged after the birth of the region.

Big birthday in a small state: Saarland celebrates its 100-year old history
Photo: DPA

In the beginning, the small region was considerably French. But when the Treaty of Versailles came into effect on January 10th, 1920, the name “Saar” emerged as a political entity, as the “Saar Region”.

A century on the Saar – dubbed the “Saar Hundred” in celebration of this historic anniversary – is now being commemorated with a travelling exhibition, excursions and numerous festivals. It will all kick off on January 10th with a New Year's reception of State President Tobias Hans (CDU).

READ ALSO: Six things you need to know about Saarland – Germany's little France

Along with the anniversary, the Saarlanders are also celebrating their own unique identity. “It was only after 1920 that the Saarlanders began to develop their own mentality,” says Jochen Wagner from the State Chancellery and organizer of the “Saar Hundred” program. 

“Before, there was Prussia and Bavaria. But the core of the Saarland has always remained the same right from the start, even if it has grown by a fifth compared to 100 years ago. Because of its history, there is something unusual about the Saar: the mental boundaries are identical to the national borders.”

What is the ‘Saar area’?

The “Saar area” – including its industrial cities, mines and catchment areas for workers nearby – was established as an “Objet d’art” 100 years ago, as France sought to secure access to the Saar coal after the First World War as a means of reparations for war damage. 

Further border changes followed in subsequent years, even after the Second World War: “But the matter was settled in 1957,'' explained Reiner Jung, the deputy director of the Saarland Museum of History. 

It was then that the Saarland became the youngest federal state in the Federal Republic. Today, Germany's smallest state has just under one million Saarlanders.

The Saarland, which borders France, has a unique history to look back on, said Jung. “Nowhere else in Germany has a history like this. It was separated from Germany twice.”

In 1920 the region was separated from the German Reich and placed under the mandate of the League of Nations with an international commission. 

In 1935 the Saarland returned to Germany after a referendum in which a good 90 percent of the population voted in favour of returning.

A German flag bearing the coat of arms of Saarland Source: DPA

French roots

The second unusual course came after the Second World War, when, at the beginning of 1946 the Saarland was outsourced from the French occupation zone and was given own constitution. 

The state was economically connected to France, and there was also a strong French influence in terms of education and culture, although there was increasing opposition to this. In 1955 the Saarlanders voted against the Saar Statute and thus for the return to Germany.

“That was the Saarland’s special way,” says Wagner, who is head of public relations for the state government. “We could have turned in a different direction many times.” 

READ ALSO: Saarland celebrates 60 years of 'yes' to Germany

The Saarlanders' desire to come back to Germany also contributed to their sense of identity: People said: “We Saarlanders, we from the Saar.” The Saarland mentality has also evolved, “because we didn't belong to anyone, just ourselves. We were externally managed for a long time”.

To this day, history has shaped the Saarlanders: there is local patriotism and a strong culture of volunteering, which is also based on the solidarity of the Saarlanders. 

“In Saarland, we have proportionally the highest number of volunteers nationwide in relation to the number of residents,” says Wagner. In addition, the number of Vereine is very high: There are Saarlanders who are active in seven or eight clubs.

In order to bring the Saar history to life, it is going on tour in the “Saar Hundred” as a travelling exhibition to municipalities and schools in the state.

Translated by Sarah Magill

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Five maps that explain Saarland, Germany’s 100-year old state

In honor of Saarland's 100-year anniversary as a German state this year, we look at its most important aspects, from history to geography.

Five maps that explain Saarland, Germany's 100-year old state
A sign reads "Welcome to Saarbrücken," the capital and largest city in the state of Saarland. Datenschutz-Stockfoto/Depositphotos

Saarland is Germany's smallest non-city state by land mass, and with just under one million inhabitants, is only larger than Bremen by population. 

READ ALSO: Big birthday in a small state: Saarland celebrates its 100-year old history

An international state with heavy influences from France and Luxembourg and a history of independence, Saarland presents a beautiful, eclectic culture. 

Let's begin with the basics. 


Located in the westernmost point of Southern Germany, Saarland is surrounded almost completely by the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. France creates a border to the south, while Luxembourg shares a small border with Saarland to the northwest.

The capital and most populous city of the state is Saarbrücken.

Source: ingomenhard/Depositphotos

The Saar region has a well-documented history, from being conquered by the Holy Roman Empire to being parts of the kingdoms of the Carolingians and Franks.
The 100-year anniversary of the founding comes from the 1920 Treaty of Versailles, which gave the then-British and-French occupied Saar area an independent League of Nations mandate lasting 15 years. The map below displays the state's new territory.
Source: Soerfm via Wikimedia
After the mandate was over in 1935, Saarland's population voted with around a 90 percent majority to join Germany.  
Post-World War II
After World War II, Saarland fell under French occupation as France attempted to take control of the coal-rich industrial areas like North Rhine-Wesphalia's Ruhr area and Saarland.
France didn't manage to do this, and the Saar fell under France's Saar Protectorate, as shown on the map below. This meant the state was dependent on France for protection, but retained some measure of independence and autonomy. 
Source: Paasikivi via Wikimedia
Historically, France has been very influential in Saarland. So influential that the government announced in 2014 it aims to make schools include French as a language requirement by 2043.  
However, Saarland remains mostly German-speaking and has its own dialectical characteristics. People in the area generally speak Moselle Franconian in the north and Rhine Franconian in the South, divided by the famous dat/das line that zigzags across Europe.
The line passes above the capital but below Saarlouis, as shown in the map below. Another characteristic is the tendency to refer to women in the neutral form rather than feminine.
Source: Roßbacher via Wikimedia
Saarland is one of Germany's most religious states, and is the only one with an over-50 percent Catholic majority. The map below shows the concentration of self-identified Catholics in Germany, according to a 2011 census.
Most Catholics are centered in former West Germany, either in Bavaria or farther to the west in North-Rhine Westphalia or, as mentioned, Saarland. More recent statistics from late 2017 show that almost 60 percent of Saarland's population identifies as Roman Catholic.  
Source: Michael Sander  via Wikimedia