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Borkum, Lower Saxony

Borkum is an island and a municipality in the Leer District in Lower Saxony, northwestern Germany.

Borkum is bordered to the west by the Westereems strait (which forms the border with the Netherlands), to the east by the Osterems strait, to the north by the North Sea, and to the south by the Wadden Sea. It is the largest and westernmost of theEast Frisian Islands in the North Sea, due north of the Dutch province of Groningen. The island was formed by two previously separate islands which were still separated by a shallow water in 1863. The seam between the former eastern and western parts is called Tüskendör (“through in between”).

Mentioned as Burchana fabaria (island of beans) by both Strabo and Pliny the elder, Borkum by the time of Charlemagne the island was part of a larger island called Bant which consisted of the present day islands of Borkum, Juist and the western part of Norderney.

Bant passed to the Earls of East Frisia in 1484 who developed trade and the island became known as a centre of piracy and whaling. By 1781 violent storms in the 1700s led to Bant becoming three islands As whaling decreased the island suffered from poverty leading to depopulation, the island’s population falling from 852 in 1776 to 406 by 1811. The first tourists arrived on the island in 1834 and the island’s fortunes improved as a tourist resort. In “Mexico as I saw it”, published by Thomas Nelson, Mrs Alec Tweedie, writing in 1911 about a trip of 1900 to Mexico, compares the brick roads of Monterey with those of Borkum, “the one spot on earth from which Jews are banished”. This had to do with the aggressive and successful campaign of German tourists to keep Borkum free from Jewish visitors, as celebrated in the antisemitic “Borkum-Lied”.

On 19 and 20 December 1934, Wernher von Braun launched “Max” and “Moritz”, the two prototypes of the A2-rocket. A number of former German soldiers of the 216th Marine-Flak-Abeitlung (Naval Flak Battalion) were tried for war crimes by the Dachau International Military Tribunal, from February 6 to March 21, 1946 (US v Kurt Goebell et al.). They were charged with the unlawful execution of seven United States Army Air Forces personnel who had survived the crash of their damaged B-17 Flying Fortress on the island on April 8, 1944.

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