On the 20th of December 1950, two students from Heidelberg University boarded an elderly fishing boat and set sail for Heligoland in rough seas. They were on a secret mission: planning a peaceful protest against the rearmament of West Germany and the division of Europe. To wit: the liberation of Heligoland.
The Second World War had ended just five years earlier. In the young Federal Republic of Germany, a possible rearmament was already under discussion. Germany was divided, and the conflict between East and West was rapidly heating up. For the younger generation, it was simply unacceptable. The first student protests were organised. The challenge was to find an audience for the younger generation’s pacifist ideas. The Heligoland project seemed a brilliant idea.
On the island, the war had never ended. The red cliffs regularly shuddered under British bombing. In 1947, the UK had destroyed all the bunker complexes by setting off the world’s largest ever non-nuclear explosion, and now, the rock was being used for RAF target practice. All civilians were banned from Heligoland – a distressing situation for the approximately two thousand exiled islanders.
In a peaceful invasion, the students Georg von Hatzfeld and René Leudesdorff secretly occupied the island. They’d brought along a pair of journalists and three flags: the European flag, the German flag, and the flag of Heligoland. Their campaign certainly caused a splash. The students remained on the island for two weeks. More sympathisers joined them, more photographs were taken. The news about the peaceful occupation of Heligoland went around the world, and it was successful. On the 1st of March 1952, Heligoland was opened up. To this day, March the first is a public holiday on the island.
All depictions: © Nordseemuseum Museum Helgoland