Frisian. Pure. Culture on Amrum
From the Stone Age tombs of pre- and early history, through the burial mounds of the Bronze Age, the Iron Age house, the history of seafaring and whaling, right up to modern times – there is plenty to discover here. Visit our museums and history-steeped sites, and learn some interesting facts about the lives of the islanders. It’ll be worth it.
St. Clemens Church with a baptismal font from the 13th century, Gothic apostolic row, and other artistic treasures. The “speaking” gravestones in the cemetery reveal the lives lived by Amrum natives when they were whalers, seafarers, and millers.
Experience the beautiful traditional Frisian costume worn by Amrum islanders during entertainment evenings showcasing local history at the midsummer festival and village fairs.
In earlier times, islanders used to bid farewell to sailors during the Biakefest. Every year on February 21, the Biakehaufen is ignited on the islands. People warm themselves by the fire and then savor some kale. Truly delicious.
Visit the Iron Age plot at the Vogelkoje with a Stone Age tomb and an Iron Age house.
Things really heat up on Amrum in the winter! On New Year’s Eve, disguised characters – so-called Hulken – move from house to house. At midnight, everyone congregates in Norddorf in the “Hüttmannwiese” or in front of St. Clemens Church.
Art markets and exhibitions bring you closer to authentic Frisian craftwork.
Amrum’s lighthouse is the highest accessible tower on the North Sea coast.
Amrum on Wikipedia
Pre- and early history
Megalithic tombs such as the dolmen of Nebel mark the earliest traces of human settlement. They originate from the Early Stone Age. There are numerous burial mounds from the Bronze and Iron Age, for example the “Esenhugh” in Steenodde. The remnants of an Iron Age village can be found in the dune area west of the Vogelkoje. It remains disputed as to whether the Ambrones, who together with the Cimbri and the Teutons fought the Roman Republic around the year 100 BC, originally came from the area of the island that was still connected to the mainland back then.
Relics from Viking times such as dwellings and fireplaces have been discovered at several sites. The “Borag” hill situated to the east of Norddorf is home to what is believed to be a fortified tower castle from this period (German: “Burg” or English: “fortress”). The“Krümwal”, an earthwork stretching approximately 1.5 km between Nebel and Steenodde, is also believed to originate from this time.
Medieval and modern times up to around 1890
In the early Middle Ages, the island was colonized by the Frisians who arrived from the mouth of the Rhine. During the Middle Ages, Amrum belonged to the so-called Uthlande, or outer lands, which only gradually fell under the dominion of the Danish King or the Duke of Schleswig. The Danish Census Book of King Waldemar from 1231 lists two county divisions of Föhr, namely Føør voestæ (western division) and Føør østær (eastern division), with Amrum belonging to the western division. Amrum is listed in the census book as ambrum, hus, ha, co. with the presence of houses, hares, and rabbits also mentioned in the text. After conflicts between the Danish kings and the counts of Schauenburg and Holstein over the rule of Schleswig, the western division and Listland became enclaves of the Danish Kingdom and – unlike neighboring regions – did not belong to the Duchy of Schleswig. This state of affairs endured until 1864, with no change between 1460 and 1484 with the pledging of the county division to Bishop Nicholas IV of Schleswig, and 1661 to 1677 or 1683 with the sale of the division to Count Hans von Schack.
Amrum was represented by several councilors in the county division. They were replaced by “Gangfersmänner” in 1697 whose duties included collecting taxes among other things. At the same time, the county division was turned into a Birk, which would be led by a Birkvogt who lived on the island of Föhr. The state power was usually represented by just a few people or by nobody at all in the county division, meaning that the inhabitants remained largely independent save having to pay taxes. They enjoyed additional privileges; for example they were not required to serve in the military “indefinitely” from 1735.
In addition to salt works, agriculture, and fishing, seafaring was one of the island’s main sources of income. Sailors from Amrum, including many captains, were active in whaling and merchant shipping between the 17th and 19th centuries in particular.
Hark Olufs, a sailor from Amrum who had been enslaved by Algerians in 1724, advanced to the rank of a General until he was allowed to return to his native island in 1736. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the recovery of stranded ships became an important source of income for the island. The number of shipwrecks on Amrum’s western coast only started to decrease significantly with the construction of lighthouses from 1875 and the application of modern navigational technologies. Tourism began to flourish in the late 19th century and this would change the island’s economic structure forever more.
After the war in 1864, Amrum, just like the whole of Schleswig, was jointly ruled by Austria and Prussia. Amrum then fell to Prussia and in 1867 became part of the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein. The island initially formed a municipality within the district of Tønder.
Especially after 1864, more than a quarter of Amrum’s population emigrated, with the vast majority heading for the USA. Links between Amrum and the USA remain strong to this very day.
From the start of bathing to today
On September 1, 1885, the architect, Ludolf Schulze of Waldhausen bei Hannover submitted a request to the island’s community representatives in the hope of securing permission to start building work on a seaside resort in Wittdün on the southern tip. Even though his request was rejected, the seed of the idea for a coastal resort had been planted. Amrum local Volkert Quedens and Heligoland native Paul Jansen Köhn seized the initiative and started building the island’s first hotels in 1889. Heinrich Andresen came to the island in 1891. He founded a joint-stock company, bought the hotels and permit from Quedens and Köhn, and built a large spa hotel on the southern tip of Wittdün and the “Kaiserhof” which were opened in 1892. Unlike in many other seaside resorts, Amrum also welcomed large ships to dock. From 1893, a railway service was operated on Amrum.
In Norddorf, it was Pastor Friedrich von Bodelschwingh who assumed the role of building contractor. In 1890, he was granted approval to build a facility that would later consist of several sea hospices. These were run by the deaconess house Serepta. While Bodelschwingh had a Christian vision for his sea resort, secular endeavors to enter the tourism and recreational market were also afoot in Norddorf, where the hotelier Heinrich Hüttmann, among others, was a prominent player.
On October 13, 1912, the municipality of Wittdün was formed from the southern part of the island; on July 25, 1925, the municipality of Norddorf was formed from the northern part. On February 23, 1926, the remaining communities were merged and renamed Nebel.
In the 1920 referendum on nationality, there was a clear majority in favor of Germany, whereas a large portion of the district of Tønder voted for Denmark.
From the 1950s, there was an upsurge in construction activity, especially in the western part of Nebel and Süddorf. The dikes in Norddorf and Steenodde broke with the storm surge of 1962, resulting in the flooding of Amrum’s two marshy areas. Today, Amrum residents live solely on tourism. Initially, this meant guest houses with simple rooms or hotels in typical resort architecture. However, since the 1970s, holiday homes have become especially popular. The “sea hospices” have long been a thing of the past and are run nowadays by the AOK-Nordseeklinik for mother-child recuperation. Property on the island is gradually being sold off due to the high prices that sellers can demand, just like on Sylt.
Language and culture
Nowadays, High German is the main language spoken on Amrum. Around one third of the population can still speak the local island dialect of the North Frisian language called Öömrang. These 800 or so Amrum natives are generally multilingual. The North Frisian dialects vary quite considerably. Öömrang is very similar to the variety of Frisian spoken on Föhr but is quite difficult for speakers of the Sylt dialect to understand even though both belong to the same dialectal branch. Many Amrum natives also speak Low German because this was the language of the coastal seafarers. Danish is spoken by just a small number of Amrum residents.
Amrum’s traditional costume bears the colors black and white, and is richly decorated with valuable silver jewelry. It is worn by girls and women, especially at confirmations and during tourist events. See also: Traditional costume of the islands Föhr, Amrum, and the Halligen
There are many peculiar customs on Amrum. Biakin is celebrated on February 21 (Öömrang: Piadersinj, German similar to: Petersabend). Huge bonfires are lit in a ritual to bid farewell to winter. People blacken each other’s faces with soot. This custom dates back to the old feast day of Petri Stuhlfeier (Öömrang: Piadersdai) which was originally marked on February 22, and is also celebrated in other North Frisian communities.
The Hulken takes place on New Year’s Eve and involves groups of mainly young, imaginatively dressed Amrum natives running from house to house as people try to guess their identity.