Learning from our past
Exploring Jutland's west coast Flight Museum.
Photographs: Heather Storgaard
Text: Heather Storgaard
Flugt Museum, or Flight Museum in English, is a brand new museum situated in Oxsbøl on Jutland's West Coast and a brilliant trip for the autumn holidays. While we may mostly think of the coast and lighthouses when considering the West Coast, the region has a rich history and heritage explored through its award-winning museums.
Flugt museum is built in a renovated and re-designed building that was once a hospital for Denmark's largest refugee camp following the second world war. The permanent museum exhibitions consist of two wings, the first focusing on the story of German refugees in Denmark during the 1940s and the other on post-Second World War refugee history, most prominently sharing the stories of Danish Jewish, Hungarian, Yugoslavian and Syrian refugees. The whole experience is audio-guide-led, with Danish, English and German options making it accessible to many people.
How did German refugees end up in Denmark?
In the final stages of the Second World War, historically, German cities such as Königsburg, now known as Russian Kaliningrad, and Danzig, now known as Polish Gdansk, fell to the Soviet Red Army. Whilst the German military retreated, German residents of all ages and a minority of non-Germans, fled their homes. Although Denmark might not seem an obvious choice, around 2-300,000 German refugees, the majority women and children, arrived in Denmark in the latter stages of the war, most coming across the Baltic sea in boats.
Those lucky enough to make it across the Baltic were still in grave danger. More German children under the age of 5 died in Denmark in 1945 alone than Danes who died during the entire 1940-45 occupation. This comparison isn't meant to trivialise what Danes went through during occupation in the Second World War but does illustrate the extreme loss of life suffered by the German refugees, even those who made it to relative safety. For those who survived, refugee camps across Denmark, the largest Oxsbøl, would be home for up to five years. The refugees were prevented from learning Danish or having any contact with Danes, while Danish media presented them as a second occupation force. This lack of contact has meant that few Danes remember the Germans, a fact that the new museum hopes to change.
"The buildings housing the modern museum make up only a small part of what was once a sprawling camp, so large that it would have been Denmark's seventh largest city at the time."
The buildings housing the modern museum make up only a small part of what was once a sprawling camp, so large that it would have been Denmark's fifth largest city at the time. Today, nothing is left of the wooden barracks that housed the refugees. To give us an impression of this, however, an audio-guide-led walking tour narrated by a German refugee named Alice has been created in the forest, taking us back in time to experience the sounds of the camp. Along the way, buildings such as the school room, kitchen and theatre have been cleverly portrayed with sculptures and scenes where Alice discusses aspects of camp life with others she meets there.
How do you get there?
Of course, you could drive to Flugt and include it on a trip to see the many beautiful natural surrounding of the West Coast. If, like me, you don't have a driver's licence or rely on public transport and bikes in Denmark, it is still possible to visit. There are direct trains from Copenhagen and Aarhus to Esbjerg, where you switch to a little local train, stopping at a tiny request stop train station at Baunhøj, a ten-minute walk through the forest to the museum. On my way home, I realised I'd never used a request-stop train station in Denmark before! Furthermore, the sign explaining how to tell the train to stop was written in archaic Danish, asking you to push a button without specifying which of the six you should push! I can hopefully alleviate your panic by sharing that on the train back to Esbjerg - it's the white button on the right.