(K. Brent Tomer),
Heligoland: Britain, Germany and the Struggle for the North Sea. By Jan Ruger. OUP; 370 pages; $34.95 and £25.
AS A historical oddity, the story of Heligoland—a partly populated lump of rock in the North Sea—is worth readers’ attention. Its rust-red cliffs were ruled mostly by Danes until 1807. Then Britain seized the island, just 46km (29 miles) off the continental coast, using it as a forward base to break Napoleon’s economic blockade. Otto von Bismarck, a Prussian statesman, craved the outcrop, and in 1890 Britain ceded it to Germany in exchange for a free hand in the former slave-trading sultanate of Zanzibar.
In these upheavals Heligoland’s inhabitants (today they number roughly 1,400) were never consulted. It seems they cared little, as long as preferential taxes and steady flows of visitors from the mainland continued to let them prosper. Even under British control, Heligoland was a beloved destination for throngs of German romantic painters, musicians, pamphleteers and poets. A poem written on the island by Hoffmann von Fallersleben, in…Continue reading