Dithmarschen, County

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About the shield of Dithmarschen: A knight in the shield of a landscape, that did not have a privileged aristocracy since the 13th century !

Why that ? Even Karl der Große (the big franconia emperor, his coronation was in the year 800 in the town Aachen/Western Germany), knew, that the farmers of Dithmarschen met in the town of Meldorf for the "Jahresversammlungen" (yearly meetings, an early form of the later farmers democracy of the fortyeighters). Over some time the Dithmarscher struggled for more political freedom and finally built their own little State, which at the top had an intergovernmental level of the council of the 48 Masters (one person out every of the 48 most important families of Dithmarschen).

This council organized an agricultural commerce outside the region of Dithmarschen, even to the Netherlands - this they did inspire the envy of the Dukes around Dithmarschen. On February 17, 1500 the Dithmarscher successfully fought in the legendary battle near Hemmingstedt, against the superior power of the king of Denmark, the duke of Holstein and also the duke of Schleswig. But 59 years later they finally lost their freedom against this power. (In the year 1944, when a oil pipeline was built in Hemmingstedt near the district town of Heide, they found the bones of horses and humans buried around 1 to 1.5 meters below the ground water level. During the wartime (WWII) nobody thought about an excavation. Last year (1996) the excavation was started. The old legends about the battle are now supported by new proofs.

The lansquenet of the Danish king and of both dukedoms of Schleswig and Holstein had burned down the central town of Meldorf and had massacred women, children and old men before the battle day of Feb. 17, 1500, because the young Dithmarscher fighters had given up Meldorf without fighting and had etreat to the "Schanze" (= esrenchmes) at Hemmingsted. On the morning of February 17, 1500 the united army did march upon the town of Heide.

The dithmarscher fighters opened the dikes at the North-Sea early in the morning! - The water came over the "Wettern" (ditches) deep into the marshlands. The united armies thought they could capture Heide as easy as Meldorf. The soldier were tired by the killings, pillage, rapes and boozing in Meldorf. It was stormy weather! The storms from the west pressed the waters of the North sea into the open dike spaces and the water flooded over the flat ground. It was snowing and very, very cold. The soldiers of the united armies were not expecting a raid. At lunchtime the meadows around were overflowed. Only the street stood out of the water.

This was the moment the dithmarscher fighter's attacked. They knew where under the waters was a meadow and where the "Wettern" were. ("Wettern" = deep ditches along the street and over all medows, which bring the waters to the next river, brook or directly to the dikes even today. From there the water was pumped over by windmils in the past and by electric pumps today.)

The ditmarscher fighters used long poles to jump over the ditches, like today the pole-vaulters do. The fighter were everywhere and could go over the ditches if it was necessary to save their lives. Because the fighter knew what had happened in Meldorf a few days before, they made no prisoners.

Back to the excavation: The majority of the lansquenet got their deadly wounds on their back, because they did try to run away.)

After the lost fight in 1559, Dithmarschen was divided into two parts: (This wrote the writer exactly: Really Dithmarschen was diveded into three parts; the southern was the Danish part and the middle and the northern parts for the dukes of Schleswig and Holstein. Their names are: the southern third part, the middle third part and the north third part. The occupation force ordered a census in Dithmarschen, to get lists of all persons, that had to pay taxes. These lists exist today, in the library there is a printed book of these names.) The borders of this dividing held until the "Gebietsreform" (= regional reorganization) in the year 1970. Inspite of their defeat the Dithmarscher farmer were able, to get back more and more of their old rights (their own trade, custom, court and tax) and this ways actually their self-administration of Middle Ages. The only concession, which the Dithmarscher made - and that is the solution of the riddle about the knight in the shield - was to borrow the horse and the knight in their shield to show their subjection, but this subjection only existed on the paper!!! The horse in the shield is the symbol of the Lower Saxonies and the knight is the symbol of the Holsten (= this means the dukes of Holstein)!

It was no less than the iron chancellor, the prince von Bismarck (the Prussian chancellor), who eliminated all the old special rights of the farmers republic Dithmarschen the first time in the year 1867 (in that year Schleswig-Holstein was annexed by Prussia!!). Nearly at that time near the town Hemmingstead the first attempts were started, to get the "fluid gold" (mineral oil) out of the oily sands . Oil was in the past produced in Hemmingstedt to burn the petroleum lamps in the times before electricity was used. But the competitors from USA were very strong and this attempt failed. (This little amount mineral oil is the only mineral wealth in Schleswig-Holstein along with the cement from Breitenburg near Itzehoe). The first drilling that was more successful was found in the year 1935.

A long time ago the town of Heide, with its market place dominance (it has the biggest market place of the whole Federal Republik of Germany), has grown up to take the central role of Dithmarschen instead the town Meldorf. After the building of the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal (Kiel-Canal) was finished in the year 1895, a new town grew up at the mouth of the Elbe river, Brunsbüttel. This town with its chemical and mineral oil industry became a real "kleines Revier" in the meantime. (In Germany the big industral area in western Germany, the Ruhr district is named "Das Revier". This way Brunsbüttel got the name "das kleine Revier" = the little revier.) This is also today a very important economical factor in the agricultural district of Dithmarschen.

But also the tourism gets more and more important. This fact is spot on special for the health-resort Büsum. From this water health-resort you can also go by ship to the island of Helgoland, the remote "branch office" of Schleswig-Holstein outside in the North-sea. Helgoland is a custom free area. (On this island the poet Hoffmann von Fallersleben composed the Deutschland song in the year 1841. He was a big fighter for the unity of Germany that time and had to leave Germany, because his political articles made him enemies in the German territories. The island Helgoland was that time under British rule and was later exchanged against the island Sansibar at the east coast of Africa.

Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the song with a deep feeling in his heart for his native county Germany. It is a pity, that in the Nazi-time (1933-1945) this song got a new and strange sense, so that nobody today should sings the first and second verse. But the official national anthem of Germany is today the third verse: Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit... = Unity and law and freedom...)

Sharon D. Hagler

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