Thousands of men and women left their homes in East Frisia at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century and settled down in America. Now their progeny turns the view back to find out where the ancestors came from. So, where is East Frisia, or Ostfriesland as it is called in German? The answer is simple, but even many Germans outside of East Frisia don’t have a clear idea of the geografical position.
There is confusion due to the fact that there are several areas with similar names in Germany and the Netherlands (I now use the German names, because not all have an English equivalent).
Ostfriesland (known to English speaking people as East Frisia) is a region in the Northwest of Germany. It’s situated directly at the North Sea, and is adjactent to the Netherlands. The city of Emden, the largest town, and the counties (administrative districts) of Aurich, Leer, and Wittmund are fractions of Ostfriesland. Offshore there are some small islands, the Ostfriesische Inseln. Ostfriesland once was an independent principality until 1744, then a province of the kingdom of Prussia, part of France after the French Revolution, a province of Hanover, and again part of Prussia. Since 1945 it’s part of the federal state of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony).
Historically Friesland (Frisia, which is a Latin expression) was the settlement area of the Frisian people. About 2000 years ago it stretched along the North Sea coast from the mouth of the river Rhine in the Netherlands to Denmark. Roman historians were the first to mention it.
Friesland is also the official name of a province of the Netherlands with Leeuwarden as capital. In the Frisian language which is still spoken by many people there it is called Fryslân. Germans call this area Westfriesland.
A disctrict of the city of Emden is called Friesland, too.
To make it more confusing, Landkreis Friesland is also the name of a German district east of Ostfriesland. That sounds strange.
Fri(e)sland was also the name of a non-existent island, which was marked on medieval nautical maps.
The geografical name for the area between the rivers Ems in the West and Jade in the East is Ostfriesische Halbinsel (East Frisian peninsula). The western part belongs to Ostfriesland, the eastern part with the Landkreis Friesland and the city of Wilhelmshaven was part of the former state of Oldenburg.
Nordfriesland (Northern Frisia) is the name of a coastal area in Germany north of the mouth of the river Elbe, and of a modern county (Landkreis) which covers parts of this area.
West-Friesland (Western Frisia) is the official name of a region of the Dutch province of Noord-Holland.
The western extension of the Ostfriesische Inseln is called Westfriesische Inseln in German. They belong to the Netherlands, and their proper name in the Dutch language is Waddeneilanden (wadden islands). As far as I know, the Ostfriesische Inseln are known as East Frisian Islands in English while the Waddeneilanden are called Frisian Islands.
- There is a German version of this page.