The Fehmarnbelt history

Waving Danish and German flags of the political map of the world

In 1864-65 a man by the name of Gustav Kröhnke worked hard on a plan to bring Copenhagen and Hamburg closer together. No doubt that he could argue for the economic benefits the two cities could expect from a direct railway connection with ferry transport across the Fehmarnbelt. But the real tour de force of his work was more likely 190 kilometers from Copenhagen and 140 kilometers from Hamburg, on the island Fehmarn.

The dream of a tourism boom

His wife was born here. She grew up in the town of Gammendorf three kilometers from the island’s northern coast, where she as a child probably enjoyed the sand and the sight of 19 kilometers of the swelling Østersø, the sea between her native island and the closest coast in the group of islands to the north, which Danes call “The South Sea Islands”. Gustav Kröhnke and his wife had a dream about running their own inn on Fehmarn. And what could be more beneficial for their inn than traffic? A train and ferry filled with many travelers. Unfortunately, Kröhnke and his wife never got their high speed connection between the metropolises.

Changing affiliations

The history of the region surrounding the Fehmarn is the story of three countries neighboring each other, for better and worse. Sweden, Denmark, and Germany. Or rather the story of three neighboring regions, that in times past were governed by the same state, but today are residents of their own native countries. A special period in the region’s history, which some might remember from history in school, is the German Hanseforbund and the confederation’s extensive herring trade, which was a market of international proportions.

The great herring market

The “invention” of the herring market can be attributed to the Danish king, who exempted an area in the then-Danish Skåne from customs in connection with internal trade. The only condition was that traders exclusively use royal Danish mint. The Østersø fishermen, many of which came from Lolland, Falster, and Møn delivered the herring, Germans supplied salt, and the local inhabitants of Skåne manufactured barrels. Herring was salted in enormous quantities, and traders from all of Europe came to purchase it. They were mostly resold to Catholic Europe, where herring was permissible to eat during the meatless fasts.

An integrated labor market

The most renowned herring market was “Falsterbo”, whose name is directly occasioned by the many fishermen from Falster, who landed their catch on the Skånske herring market. A census from 1494 mentions that 97 of the 434 stalls at Falsterbo were set up by folk from the cities Stubbekøbing and Nykøbing on Falster. Falsterbo, with its yearly sales of over 300,000 barrels of dried herring, was a gigantic marketplace. It demonstrates exemplary cooperation between people in the Swedish, Danish, and German parts of the Fehmarnbelt, each contributing with their own specialties, and together creating a huge success.


This post is also available in: Danish German