A Danish-German Orchestra

A symbol of symbiosis

By Piers d’Orgee and Kai Heijneman


Flensburg wants to be the bridge town between Germany and Denmark. The fusion of the German Schleswig-Holsteinische Sinfonieorchester in Flensburg and the Danish South Jutland Symphony Orchestra could be a significant symbol of cross border cooperation. Border region expert, Martin Klatt is however sceptical about this ideal cooperation.

The recently elected Flensburg Mayor, Simon Faber, has promised to strengthen German-Danish cooperation. Flensburg as a border town has to look to the North – towards Danish cities like Kolding and Odense – as well as to the South -mainly Kiel and Hamburg- in order to be able to play the role as the economic and cultural centre of the region.

German and Danish flags share pride of place in Flensburg


Simon Faber is the first Lord Mayor of Flensburg with a Danish background in sixty years. It shows the Danish minority has been accepted by the German Majority. Faber also explains it as a sign the Flensburgians support closer cooperation with the Danish neighbours. “It is important for a town to know what makes it special. For Flensburg this is the Danish-German cooperation in the area.”

While running for Mayor, Faber has promoted the idea of a German-Danish Orchestra, which would be a fusion of the South Jutland Orchestra and the Schleswig-Holstein orchestra. “With a bigger combined German-Danish Orchestra we would be able to attract better conductors from all over Europe.” It would be seen as the perfect example of border cooperation in Europe, so he thinks.

If he succeeds, it would be a big political success, however Faber knows he will have to rely on cooperation in the institutions itself. “I cannot push this cooperation, the idea has to grow within the institutions.”, says the Danish-German Mayor. He is taking a huge risk to put himself on the line for an undertaking he can only indirectly influence. Faber thinks “the time is mature now”.

Border region expert Martin Klatt thinks that is “naïve”. The Associate Professor at the Department of Border Region Studies at the South Danish University in Sønderborg, doubts if the institutions are ready to start for such close cooperation.

In Flensburg there are now too orchestra’s playing for a relatively small audience. “Both orchestra’s are highly subsidized. The German orchestra is covering an area of less than 400 000 inhabitants, while to Danish orchestra plays symphonies for a potential audience of 200 000 to 300 000 people only. Why not put them together, safe some money and have a better service?” said Klatt. This not a new idea, it has come up many times in recent years.

However, according to Klatt there are good reasons why this idea has not yet been put into practice. He mentions four main reasons.

Border region expert Martin Klatt


First of all there is the fear that by fusing the two orchestra’s, both parties will lose money or at least financial control by the fusion. Especially the Germans do not like to share authority on financial matters.

On the other side, especially the Danes fear that the Danish culture will be dominated by the Germans . They think they will lose a lot when they merge. Danish composers are less well known than popular German composers.” In order for the orchestra to sell enough tickets, it is likely that Danish symphonies are at a higher risk of being dropped and replaced by popular pieces.

The third reason is labour regulations. A lot of practical problems will arise. It is quite bureaucratic to have cross border cooperation

Difference on the labour market and regulations are a big problem for cross border cooperation. For example cross border University cooperation suffered from bureaucracy that made working together so much harder.

Fourthly there is the language issue. “Language is a problem too, because language is power. Not everyone speaks good German. The younger generation Danes does not speak proper German anymore, like my generation.” It seems unlikely that the Danes will join a cooperation that lowers career opportunities for Danish musicians.

Klatt doubts if Danes and Germans are willingly enough to actually start to unite the orchestra’s “Maybe it could be possible. if you make sure that this united Orchestra plays the Danish Favourites too, but even then there are a lot of practical problems”, he looks ahead.



About kaiheijneman