Bornholm (Old Norse: Burgundarholm) is a Danish island in the Baltic Sea located to the east of (most of) the rest of Denmark, the south of Sweden, and the north of Poland. The main industries on the island include fishing, arts and crafts like glass making and pottery using locally worked clay, and dairy farming. Tourism is important during the summer. The topography of the island consists of dramatic rock formations in the north, sloping down towards ‘pine and deciduous forests’ (greatly damaged by storms in the 1950s) and farmland in the middle and sandy beaches in the south.

It also refers to Bornholm Regional Municipality, the municipality (Danish: kommune) which covers the entire island. Bornholm was one of the three last Danish municipalities not belonging to a county— the others being Copenhagen and Frederiksberg. On 1 January 2007, the municipality lost its short-lived (2003 until 2006) county privileges and became part of Region Hovedstaden (i.e. the Copenhagen Capital Region).

The small islands Ertholmene are located 18 km (11 mi) to the northeast of Bornholm. They do not belong to either a municipality or a region but are administered by the Ministry of Defence.

Strategically located in the Baltic Sea, Bornholm has been a bone of contention usually ruled by Denmark, but also by Lübeck and Sweden. The castle ruin Hammershus, on the northwestern tip of the island, is the largest fortress in northern Europe, testament to the importance of its location.


Many inhabitants speak bornholmsk, by some said to be a dialect of Danish that retains three grammatical genders, like Icelandic and most dialects of Norwegian, but unlike standard Danish. Its phonology includes archaisms (unstressed (a) and internal {{(d̥, g̊)}}, where other dialects have (ə) and (ð̞, ʊ / ɪ) and innovations (tɕ, dʝ for (kʰ, g̊) before and after front-tongue vowels). This renders the language difficult to understand for some Danish-speakers, whereas Swedish-speakers often consider bornholmsk to be easier to understand than other Danish dialects. The intonation resembles the Scanian dialects spoken in the nearby Scania, the southernmost province of Sweden.


Bornholm Regional Municipality is the local authority (Danish, kommune) covering the entire island. It comprises the five former (April 1, 1970 until 2002) municipalities on the island (Allinge-Gudhjem, Hasle, Nexø, Rønne and Aakirkeby) and the former Bornholm County. The island had 22 municipalities until March 1970, of which 6 were market cities and 16 parish municipalities. The market city municipalities were supervised by the county and not by the interior ministry as was the case in the rest of Denmark. The seat of the municipal council is the island's main town, Rønne. The first regional mayor is Bjarne Kristiansen.

Ferry services connect Rønne to Świnoujście (Poland), Sassnitz (Germany), Køge (near Copenhagen, Denmark) and catamaran to Ystad (Sweden). Simrishamn (Sweden) has a ferry connection during the summer. There are also regular catamaran services between Nexø and the Polish ports of Kolobrzeg, Leba and Ustka. There are direct train and bus connections Ystad-Copenhagen, coordinated with the catamaran. There are also air connections from the Bornholm Airport to Copenhagen and other locations.

Bornholm Regional Municipality was not merged with other municipalities on January 1, 2007 as the result of the nationwide Kommunalreformen (‘The Municipal Reform’ of 2007), which is quite understandable, since the island, as can be seen on maps, is quite far from the rest of Denmark.


In Old Norse the island was known as Borgundarholm, and in ancient Danish especially the island's name was Borghand or Borghund; these names were related to Old Norse borg ‘height’ and bjarg/berg ‘mountain, rock’, as it is an island that rises high from the sea. Other names known for the island include Burgendaland (9th century), Hulmo / Holmus (Adam of Bremen), Burgundehulm (1145), and Borghandæholm (14th century). Alfred the Great uses the form Burgenda land. Some scholars believe that the Burgundians are named after Bornholm; the Burgundians were a Germanic tribe which moved west when the western Roman Empire collapsed, and occupied and named Burgundy in France.

Bornholm formed part of the historical Lands of Denmark when the nation united out of a series of petty chiefdoms. It was originally administratively part of the province of Scania and was administered by the Scanian Law after this was codified in the 13th century. Control over the island evolved into a long-raging dispute between the See of Lund and the Danish crown culminating in several battles. The first fortress on the island was Gamleborg which was replaced by Lilleborg, built by the king in 1150. In 1149, the king accepted the transfer of three of the island's four herreder to the archbishop. In 1250, the archbishop constructed his own fortress, Hammershus. A campaign launched from it in 1259 conquered the remaining part of the island including Lilleborg. The island's status remained a matter of dispute for an additional 200 years.

Bornholm was pawned to Lübeck for 50 years starting 1525. Its first militia, Bornholms Milits was formed in 1624.

Swedish forces conquered the island in 1645, but returned the island to Denmark in the following peace settlement. After the war in 1658, Denmark ceded the island to Sweden under the Treaty of Roskilde along with the rest of the Scanian provinces and Trøndelag and it was occupied by Swedish forces.

A revolt broke out the same year, culminating in Villum Clausen's shooting of the Swedish commander Johan Printzensköld on December 8, 1658. Following the revolt, a deputation of islanders presented the island as a gift to King Frederick III on the condition that the island would never be ceded again. This status was confirmed in the treaty of Copenhagen in 1660.

A immigration of Swedes, notably from Småland and Skåne, occurred during the 19th century, seeking work and better conditions. Most of these people did not remain on the island.

Bornholm, as a part of Denmark, was captured by Germany relatively early in the Second World War, and served as a lookout post and listening station during the war, as it was a part of the eastern front. The island's perfect central position in the Baltic Sea meant that it was an important ‘natural fortress’ between Germany and Sweden, effectively keeping submarines and destroyers away from Nazi occupied waters. Several concrete coastal installations were built during the war, and several coastal batteries had tremendous range. However, none of them were ever used and only a single test shot was fired during the occupation. These remnants of Nazi rule have since then fallen into disrepair and are mostly regarded today as historical curiosities. Many tourists visit the ruins each year, however, providing supplemental income to the tourist industry.
Rønne, Bornholm.

On 22 August 1943 a V-1 flying bomb (numbered V83, probably launched from a Heinkel He 111) crashed on Bornholm during a test - the warhead was a dummy made of concrete. This was photographed or sketched by the Danish Naval Officer-in-Charge on Bornholm, Lieutenant Commander Hasager Christiansen. This was the first sign British Intelligence saw of Germany's aspirations to develop flying bombs and rockets - which were to become known as V1 and V2.

Bornholm was heavily bombarded by Soviet forces in May 1945. Gerhard von Kamptz, the German superior officer in charge of the island garrison refused to surrender to Soviets, as his orders were to surrender to the Western Allies. The Germans sent several telegrams to Copenhagen requesting that at least one British soldier should be transferred to Bornholm, so that the Germans could surrender to the western allied forces instead of the Russians. When von Kamptz failed to provide a written capitulation as demanded by the Soviet commanders, Soviet aircraft relentlessly bombed and destroyed more than 800 civilian houses in Rønne and Nexø and seriously damaged roughly 3000 more during 7-8 May 1945.

Here it's important to note that during the Russian bombing of the two major cities on May 7th. and again May 8th. The Danish radio was not allowed to broadcast the news because it would spoil the liberation festivities in Denmark.

Many Bornholmers never forgot that. Sadly no one is teached about these facts in school today.

On May 9 Soviet troops landed on the island and after a short fight, the German garrison (about 12,000 strong) surrendered. Soviet forces left the island on April 5, 1946. Thus, Bornholm could be said to have played a part - to its inhabitants' bad luck - in the inception of the Cold War.

More recently NATO radar installations have been placed on the island.

After the evacuation of its forces from Bornholm, the Soviets took the position that ‘The stationing 'foreign troops' on Bornholm would be considered a declaration of war against the Soviet Union, and that Denmark should keep troops on it at all times to protect it from such foreign aggression’. This policy remained in force also after NATO was formed and Denmark joined it - i.e. the Soviets accepted the stationing of Danish troops, which were perforce part of NATO but were far from that alliance's most powerful element, but strongly objected to the presence of other NATO troops on the island - particularly, of US troops.

This caused diplomatic problems at least twice: once when an American helicopter landed outside the city of Svaneke due to engine problems in a NATO exercise over the Baltic Sea, and once (sometime between 1999 and 2003) when the Danish government suggested shutting down Almegårdens Kaserne, the local military facility, since ‘the island could quickly be protected by troops from surrounding areas and has no strategic importance after the fall of the Iron Curtain’.

Historical architecture

Østerlars Round Church, Bornholm.

The island also hosts some notable examples of 19th and early 20th century architecture, amongst others, about 300 wooden houses in Rønne and Nexø, donated by Sweden after World War II, when the island was repairing damage caused by the war.

Famous people

The Danish painter Oluf Høst was born in Svaneke in 1884.

The Danish writer and painter Gustaf Munch-Petersen moved to Bornholm in 1935 and married Lisbeth Hjorth while living on the island.

At age 8, socialist writer Martin Andersen Nexø moved to the island, and took his last name after the city of Nexø on its east coast.

M.P. Möller, a pipe-organ builder and manufacturer, was born on Bornholm and lived in a town a few miles south of Allinge.

References in popular culture

* A considerable part of the Second World War spy thriller Hornet Flight by Ken Follett takes place on Bornholm, depicting the island under German occupation.

Ruins of Hammershus, a Medieval fortress.

The island is home to 15 medieval churches, four of which are Round Churches and display unique artwork and architecture.

Other islands in the Baltic Sea

* Gotland, Öland, Åland
* Rügen, Usedom
* Saaremaa, Hiiumaa
* Wolin

Web References:

wikipedia -

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