Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage
The so-called “Biikebrennen” is a popular bonfire celebrated by the Frisians by way of which evil spirits are to be driven away and the newly sown seed protected. Every year on February 21st in Schleswig-Holstein on the Islands of Sylt, Amrum and Föhr, on the non-dike protected isles and many parts of the North Friesian mainland more than 60 fire signals, so-called “Biiken”, are lit.
Following the cry “Tjen di Biiki ön!” (“Set the Biike alight!”) the fires blaze visibly over a long distance. Usually they are accompanied by fiery speeches in the Frisian dialect on topics of the past or the politics of the day. Other events take place around the Biikebrennen: inter alia theatrical plays are performed in the Frisian language or a Kinderbiiken (Children’s Biiken) is organised in schools. A meeting of the “Frasche Rät” (Frisian Council) is also held.
Originally the sailors gathered together every year since ca. 1760 on February 22nd in Keitum to discuss their departure to the larger ports and conclude hiring contracts for the new fishing season. From this the Keitum schoolmaster C.P. Hansen developed around 1830 the tradition of sending the sailors of on their whaling trips. In its modern form the Biikebrennen is considered to be the national festival of the Frisians.
The Wadden Sea, on the banks of which the Frisians ignite their biiken, was recognised in 1990/92 as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. In 2009, it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as a transboundary natural heritage site.