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Skamlingsbanken: From People's Festival to Denmark's Unification

In the mid-1800s, all the tectonic plates in technology, ideology and politics were in motion.

When the smoke after the Napoleonic Wars had settled, a number of the old empires and monarchies in Europe had collapsed. People rallied around national identities, helped along by the industrial revolution, which led to economic growth and increased mobility. At the same time, we experienced a wave of political and social revolutions that did away with the rigid system under the dictatorship. Political consciousness was awakened. In Denmark, it led to the world's most boring revolution, led by the national liberals.

Denmark to the Eider

The national liberals demanded a free constitution and an attachment of Schleswig to Denmark. Inspired by the revolutions in Paris and other European cities, their political activity culminated in a popular procession to the king's residence on 21 March 1848. When they arrived, they were told that the king had already fulfilled their political demands. So that was the revolution.

The popular assemblies

During the dictatorship until 1848, the press was riddled with censorship. But the desire for political discussion was great. That made large public meetings relevant. Here people met and listened to political speeches, enjoyed music and polyphonic singing. At Skamlingsbanken, it was about the Schleswig case. It was a cultural battle for the right to speak the Danish language in the legal and administrative apparatus. And behind it was naturally a nationalist struggle to ensure that Schleswig went with Denmark – and not with Holstein and Lauenborg on the German side. The efforts for the Danish language paid off. Because in 1838, King Christian VIII made Danish the legal and official language down to the border through a so-called language rescript.

It had to be celebrated in style. Therefore, some men joined forces to buy seven hectares of land at Skamlingsbanken's highest point to celebrate the language rescript here at an annual public meeting.

The first public meeting was held on 18 May 1843.

The program for the first public meeting is packed with speeches, a large Dannebrog flag purchased for the occasion, a dance floor, three cannons, several entertainers with tents, bird shooting, a full orchestra and a four-part male choir with 30 members. The evening ends with a bonfire on the top of the mountain and group singing.

From Laurids Skau's speech:

My dear countrymen! Let's use the apartment! The board has honestly done its part: it has spared no trouble and effort, no sacrifice and expense. Let us now do our part and enjoy this day with an open mind and happy heart! Here is an excellent dance floor, and splendid music to go with it; however, it is usually the best pleasure of the young girls and boys.

Here is discus shooting, where you are given the opportunity to have fun and show your skill, and be rewarded for it. But for those who cannot take part in these amusements, or find no pleasure in looking at them, benches and resting places, tables and tents are provided; they can seek out their friends, and by all means pass the time with playful or serious conversation...  ...And now to be constantly surrounded by the lovely instrumental music, which alone would be enough to delight the heart, but which is even more elevated by gloriously performed choral songs that move the soul to such an extent that one hardly knows whether one is in heaven or on earth. And if, notwithstanding all this, there should still be anyone left drowsy and drowsy, then the thunder of the cannons will shake his mind from slumber, so that there will not be one here on Skamlingsbanke who remains untouched by the impression of the feast.

Quote from Jakob Petersen: Skamlingsbanken 1843-1943. page 57

It is estimated that 6,000 people attended the first meeting. And for many years thereafter, the public meetings at Skamlingsbanken were an important mouthpiece for the South Jutland/Schleswig case. Without them, it is possible that the Danish border with Germany would have followed the Kongeåen just south of Kolding.

Over the years, speakers have given a number of important speeches at Skamlingsbanken, which gradually became a national symbol for Danish language, identity and democracy.

Laurids Skau gave important speeches. About the first, Grundtvig wrote: "The word sounded like a thunderclap, rolled over the forest//hit and like a thunderclap, cast a shine on the daredevil,//lighted a bonfire in a giant's embrace, lit Skamlingsbanken's banner//with the bright hats".

The meeting format made the language festivals something special. Large gatherings. Flame speaker. Community song. Grundtvig himself contributed to the party with a five-quarter-long speech about mother tongue, folk spirit and folk high school in 1844.

Other famous speeches include Gyrith Lemche's speech in 1912 for women's right to vote and suffrage at the parliamentary elections. A right that women and civil servants without their own accommodation were given in 1915. And in 1945, one of the biggest open-air meetings of all time in this country was held at Skamlingsbanken with 100,000 participants, who celebrated the liberation.

When you hit Skamlingsbanken's highest point, you are standing on the highest 'mountain' in South and South Jutland. At Højskamlingen, you are raised 113 m above sea level and have a 360° view over a nature that offers on all parameters. From here, you can take small or larger hikes – around Højskamlingen or all the way down to the coast on a trip where you both get the plus in the weather and sense the violent forces that were at play during the Ice Age, when the landscape was formed.

If you look carefully – or follow the signs – you can find the new Visitor Center at Skamlingbanken hidden in the banks. The centre's architectural form merges with the landscape. Take a look and get much more information about Skamlingsbanken and the history associated with the area. With light, sound and new ways of telling stories, you can dive into the four forces that have ruled Skamlingsbanken over time; namely the Nature, the Place, the Speech and the Gathering. These are the four forces that have shaped Skamlingsbanken from the ice age to now and have transformed the highest point in South and South Jutland into a national gathering place.

When you're in the visitor centre, you can buy a fruity pale ale with a rich malt composition to add to your basket. Do it. Put it in the fridge at home and open it on a sunny summer day. Then you can taste Skamlingsbanken's history and relive the great nature experience you had the day you visited Southern Jutland's highest point.