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8 things you never knew about the German state of Schleswig-Holstein

8 things you never knew about the German state of Schleswig-Holstein
A view over the rooftops of houses in Lübeck in Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: Moritz Kindler/Unsplash

From world-famous cows to legends involving drunken pigs, there’s a lot that might surprise you about Germany’s most northern state.


It was a Viking stronghold

Thanks to its border with Denmark and proximity to other Scandinavian countries, Schleswig-Holstein has a rich Viking heritage.

During the Viking Age, from the late 8th to early 11th century, the state was a hotspot for Viking activity.

The location of Schleswig-Holstein provided the Norse invaders easy access to both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, making it a pivotal point along ancient trade routes that connected Scandinavia and the rest of Europe. The town of Schleswig itself has Viking origins, with its name derived from the Old Norse "Sliaswic".

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There are still plenty of Viking sites to visit in the state, such as Hedeby near Schleswig which is home to the Hedeby Viking Museum, built on the site of a former important Viking trading hub.

The museum features reconstructions of various Viking Age dwellings and ships and houses numerous artefacts discovered during the ongoing archaeological research of the area.

It's home to the "Marzipan Capital of the World"

The city of Lübeck in Schleswig-Holstein is often considered the marzipan capital of the world, due to its historical role as a pioneer in marzipan production.

Dating back to the Middle Ages, Lübeck became a hub for marzipan craftsmanship, influenced by Mediterranean traders who introduced the almond-based confection to the city.

An employee uses food colouring to paint marzipan bunnies for Easter at Niederegger in Lübeck. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Angelika Warmuth

Lübeck's marzipan is distinctive thanks to its higher proportion of almonds to sugar, resulting in a richer and less sweet flavour than other types of marzipan.

The city's commitment to preserving its marzipan-making tradition is exemplified by renowned marzipan producers like Niederegger, who have been crafting marzipan delicacies since 1806.

You'll find the world’s busiest canal there

Schleswig-Holstein is the only German state that lies between two seas, namely the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The seas are connected by the Kiel Canal which is, in fact, the busiest artificial waterway in the world, ahead of the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal. The federal waterway runs for almost 100 kilometres and is navigated by about 30,000 ships every year.


Beekeeping is a big deal there

Schleswig-Holstein has a rich tradition of beekeeping and the practice is deeply ingrained in the region's agricultural heritage.

Historically, beekeepers in Schleswig-Holstein have played a vital role in pollinating crops and helping to ensure the success of agriculture in the region. The honey produced from these northern bee colonies is also highly regarded for its quality and flavour, reflecting the rich variety of local flora that the bees forage on.

The region's favourable natural conditions, including a diverse range of flora, mild climate, and fertile landscapes, make it an ideal environment for bee colonies.

Beekeeping associations, educational programs, and beekeeping events are prevalent in Schleswig-Holstein, encouraging both novice and experienced beekeepers to share knowledge and techniques.

It's home to the "Little Amsterdam"

"Little Amsterdam" is a nickname for Friedrichstadt, a charming town in Schleswig-Holstein. Friedrichstadt earned this nickname due to its Dutch architectural influences and its unique layout, which resembles the canal-filled streets of Amsterdam.

Flowers bloom in front of the old buildings in the city centre in Friedrichstadt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

The town was founded in the early 17th century, during the reign of Duke Friedrich III of Holstein-Gottorp. The Duke invited Dutch settlers to reclaim and settle the land, which was prone to flooding.

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The Dutch expertise in water management and land reclamation was highly valued and the new settlers brought their architectural and urban planning styles with them, creating a town that resembled the canals and buildings of the Netherlands.

It's home to hundreds of lakes

Despite being known for its coastline, Schleswig-Holstein also has an abundance of lakes.

The largest and most renowned of these lakes is the Schlei, a stunning inlet of the Baltic Sea known for its tranquil waters and historic towns along its shores. The region's second-largest lake, the Plön Lake (Plöner See), is surrounded by lush forests and charming villages, making it a popular destination for sailing, swimming, and hiking.

There are countless smaller lakes scattered throughout Schleswig-Holstein that offer idyllic spots for outdoor activities, birdwatching, and picnicking.

It's cows are world-famous

If you’re asked to picture a typical cow, you’ll probably think of the variety with white fur and big black patches.

That breed of cow is in fact the Holstein breed, which is named after - you’ve guessed it - Schleswig-Holstein.

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel stands next to Holstein dairy cows on a visit to Nienborstel in Schleswig-Holstein in 2018. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Carsten Rehder

The breed originated in the Netherlands, specifically in the province of Friesland and the region of North Holland. The breed was then named after the province of Holstein in Germany, where some early Dutch Holsteins were imported.


Holstein cows are renowned for their exceptional milk-producing capabilities: a single Holstein cow can produce thousands of gallons of milk in a year, making them a popular choice for dairy farming.

It has its very own Atlantis

The city of Rungholdt was said to be as rich as Rome, and its downfall was believed to be a punishment from God in a bizarre story involving an intoxicated pig. 

According to a 16th-century legend, farmers in a tavern got a pig drunk and placed it in bed before summoning the local preacher to administer the last rites to the "sick" animal. When the preacher realised the deception, he tried to leave but was held back, forced to drink, and mocked and his communion utensils were doused with beer. Afterwards, the preacher went back to the church and prayed to God to punish the godless revellers. Shortly thereafter, a violent storm arose, and Rungholt was submerged.


For a long time, the city of Rungholt was considered a myth and legend until historical research recognised its actual existence in 1938. Rungholt was one of the seven parishes on the former island of Strand and a significant trading centre in the Edomsharde area. The name "Rungholt" roughly translates to "Lower Wood" and old maps indicate that a small forest on hilly terrain existed near the city, providing evidence of the city's real existence.


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