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Heligoland (in German, Helgoland and in North Frisian, "Halund") is a small, German, triangular-shaped island approximately 2 km long, though a smaller island east of it is usually also included. The islands (population 1,650) are located in the Heligoland Bight or German Bight in the south-east corner of the North Sea, approximately two hours' sailing time from the mouth of the river Elbe.


Heligoland is located 70 km from the German coast line, and actually consists of two islands: The populated 1.0 km² main island (Hauptinsel) to the west and the DŁne to the east, which is somewhat smaller at 0.7 km², as well as lower, and surrounded by sand beaches. They were connected until 1720, when the natural connection was destroyed by a storm flood. The highest point is on the main island, reaching 61 meters from sea level. The two islands are part of the district Pinneberg of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. The main island has a good harbour and is frequented mostly by sailing yachts.


In 697 AD, Radbod, the last Frisian king, retreated to the then single island after his defeat by the Franks. By 1231 the island is listed as the property of the Danish king Valdemar II. From then until 1714 ownership switched several times between Denmark and the Duchy of Schleswig, with one period of control by the Hanseatic City of Hamburg. From 1714 the island was Danish until seized by the British in 1807 during the Napoleonic wars.

The British gave up the islands to Germany in 1890, and gave up their interests in Madagascar to the French, in return for those countries quitting their claims to the island of Zanzibar in Africa (currently in Tanzania), largely so the British could intervene there to suppress the slave trade. A "grandfathering"/optant approach prevented the Heligolanders (as they were named in the British measures) from forfeiting advantages because of this imposed change of status.

Under the German Empire, the islands became a major naval base, and during the First World War the civil population was evacuated to the mainland. The first naval engagement of the war, the Battle of Heligoland Bight was fought nearby in the first month of the war. The islanders returned in 1918, but during the Nazi era the naval base was reactivated. During the Second World War the islanders remained on the main island, but on 18 April 1945 over a thousand allied bombers attacked the islands leaving nothing standing. The civil population was protected in rock shelters, most of the 128 people killed being anti-aircraft crews. The islands were evacuated the following night.

From 1945 to 1952 the uninhabited islands were used as a bombing range. On 18 April 1947, while destroying the military installations, the Royal Navy detonated 6800 tons of explosives in a concerted attempt to destroy the main island. In 1952 the islands were restored to the German authorities, who had to make a huge amount of munitions safe, landscape the main island, and rebuild the houses before it could be reinhabited.

It is now a holiday resort once again and enjoys a tax free status, so much of the economy is founded on sales of cigarettes, alcoholic beverages and perfumes to tourist that visit the islands. The islands are also outside the Schengen area. Its inhabitants are ethnic Frisians who speak a distinctive Heligoland variety of the North Frisian language(s).

External link

Helgoland - Tourist board (http://www.helgoland.de/) (in German)

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