Drawing the German-Danish border: the vote in Flensburg, 1920

Go to Flensborg, Germany, in 1920 and see firsthand what it was like during the plebiscite on 14th March. Would Flensborg and central Schleswig remain German or become a new part of Denmark? Klaus Tolstrup Petersen, historian and director of the Schleswig Collection (Danish Central Library for South Schleswig), explains in Danish with English sub-titles.

Large ship arriving at the shore with a large crowd of people cheering and waiting for them
Danes arriving in Flensburg from Copenhagen and elsewhere for the 1920 vote on whether the Middle Schleswig zone should be Danish or German.

What is now Southern Jutland in Denmark belonged to Prussia after its success in the Second Schleswig War in 1864. Following the German defeat in World War I, the Treaty of Versailles set out that there would be two plebicites to determine whether inhabitants in the areas of northern and middle Schleswig wished to be part of Denmark or Germany. Movements on both sides competed for voters, as shown here in Flensborg. On 10th February 1920, about 75% voters in the northern zone, zone 1, chose to become Danish. On 14th March 1920, about 80% of voters in zone 2 chose to remain as part of Germany. 

This area has a rich history, existing as it did for many centuries as the duchy of Schleswig. It not only culturally linked the German and Scandinavian worlds, but was pulled in different directions politically, particularly after the rise of nationalism in 19th century. In the mid-19th century, the area was the subject of the 'Schleswig-Holstein question'. It is important particularly in Danish history as the Second Schleswig war, often referred to simply as '1864' in Denmark, was a historic defeat, responsible for Denmark's territory and population being reduced dramatically. The border remains along the lines of the plebiscite zones today, but a German minority still exists in Denmark, as does a Danish minority south of the border. Connections were not easily erased even by the drawing of national borders.

This film is made by danmarkshistorien.dk and the Schleswig Collection, the Danish Central Library for South Schleswig, with support from Sydslesvigudvalget. Sub-titles: Kristina Brun Madsen, nordics.info. 

Find out more about the history of the border area between Denmark and Germany: