Flensburg sits at the top of a fjord, Denmark to the north.
It a lovely town but its position gives it strategic importance. Conflict has swept through and its fortunes have seen great highs and desperate lows. Nonetheless, it holds together as a town, its understated grandeur and history a dignified frame to a bustling and contemporary destination.
Norderstraße, for example, has quirky shops and is crossed by cables over which shoes hang in pairs.
I went in search of the Isted Lion and found him in a memorial cemetery dedicated to the 1850 victory of Denmark over Germany. And a fine beast he was.
The memorial has been on quite a journey in the 155 years since it was first erected in the Alter Friedhof cemetery.
Raised in 1862 by the Danes to commemorate their victory over the state of Schleswig-Holstein in the Battle of Isted in 1850, Hans Christian Andersen was among the crowd when it was unveiled. When Schleswig-Holstein came under Prussian control in 1864, the statue was damaged then dismantled and moved in pieces to Berlin, where it remained until 1945, when it was gifted by the Americans back to Denmark.
For the next 60 or so years it was in Copenhagen, before being returned to Flensburg’s Alter Freidhof in 2011 at the wishes of the city’s Danish minority. A new plaque reads that the lion was erected once more as a symbol of trust and friendship between the Danes and Germans.
Nearby, I visited the Museumberg, two grand buildings overlooking the harbour, filled with an eclectic mix of exhibits, contemporary and historical, the contemporary often revisiting themes of the historical.
In the history of Flensburg, it noted that, after Hitler’s suicide, the town became the last seat of the Third Reich, under Admiral Donitz. On May 7 1945 the surrender of Nazi Germany was broadcast from Flensburg. Soon after, British soldiers arrested the ‘government’.
At the time, Flensburg was also the bolt hole for Heinrich Himmler (arrested but committed suicide in custody), for Auschwitz’s camp commandant Rudolph Hoss (tried, convicted after admitting killing 2.5 million people, executed by hanging at Auschwitz), and for Werner Heyde who was responsible for the death of tens of thousands of disabled people (captured, escaped, recaptured, committed suicide). Such historical skid marks only add to the resilience the town has shown over the centuries. If you’re passing, pop in.