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Frisians in Germany

  • The Frisian minority includes North, East and Sater Frisians which differ significantly from each other. The number of the representatives of the Frisian ethnic group is estimated at around 60,000. They reside in the North Sea coastal areas in the Länder of Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, as well as in the district of Cloppenburg in Lower Saxony. There are two Frisian languages covered by the protection of the Federal Republic of Germany. The North Frisian language is spoken in the western coastal areas of the Federal State of Schleswig-Holstein by some 10,000 peopleSater Frisian (also known as Saterlandic Frisian or Saterlandic, or Seeltersk) is spoken in municipality of Saterland (district of Cloppenburg in Lower Saxony) by some 2,000 people.

  • The earliest mention of Sater Frisian is in 1415. The first literary document in North Frisian is a translation of Luther’s catechism from around 1600. Most of the Frisians of Lower Saxony moved there after the end of the Second World War to find jobs in industry. There was initially little contact after the war between North Frisians, Sater Frisians and the West Frisians of the Netherlands, as at least some Sater Frisians were suspected by the other communities to have collaborated with the Nazi regime. However, more recently there have been international Frisian cultural events coordinated by the Frisian Forum, which was set up in 1998. Various organizations have worked towards a Frisian identity for the North, West and Sater Frisian groups.  

    The Constitution of the Land of Schleswig-Holstein safeguards the rights of the Danish and Frisian communities, and both groups have German citizenship. The state of Lower Saxony recognized Sater Frisian as a minority language and is committed to its preservation and promotion, following Germany’s ratification of the European Framework Convention on National Minorities (FCNM). In 1988 in Schleswig-Holstein the Council for Frisian Affairs was set up and a special advisor for Frisian affairs was appointed in the governor’s office.

  • Each of the branches of the Frisian ethnic minorities has its umbrella organizations. In case of the North Frisians, the Frisian Council Section North (North Frisian: Frasche Rädj) performs the role of the representative of the community in its relations with the authorities of different levels as well as with other legal entities in Germany and abroad. The Seelter Buund represents the interests of Sater Frisians and its work is primarily focused on the preservation of the Sater Frisian language and the local traditions of the Saterland region.  

    Both Frasche Rädj and Seelter Buund are involved in the work at the federal level of the Minority Council of the four national minorities of Germany as the representatives of the Frisian ethnic group. While also being a political representative of the Danish minority, the South Schleswig Voters’ Association (SSW) acts on behalf of the Frisian minority. 

    Some areas have bilingual signs in German and North/Sater Frisian. Some broadcasters offer programmes in the Frisian language. The language is taught as an optional subject in most schools in Nord-Friesland, and as a language of instruction in some primary and a few secondary schools. But despite these efforts, the number of speakers has decreased during the past three decades.  

    Most Sater Frisians work outside Saterland due to limited job opportunities. Sater Frisian is under threat as most city-based speakers prefer to use High German and want their children to know this language in preference to Sater Frisian. The profile of the culture and language has been raised by the Seelter Buund. The language is taught in a few primary schools and there is an increase in the number of teachers available to teach in Sater Frisian.

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