Tag Archives: viking

Hedeby – a Viking town

Hedeby, also known as Haithabu and variants thereof, was once Northern Europe’s largest Viking settlement, growing largely due to its strategic position at the end of the Schlei fjord. Due to the distance this fjord goes inland into mainland Germany, this point was the narrowest part of the Jutland peninsula. Going round Skagen, at the far north of the Jutland peninsula was a dangerous proposition for seafarers in the past. Therefore they preferred to cross from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea at this point using the rivers connecting the two.


Having control of Hedeby meant that you had control of the North Sea-Baltic Sea traffic, and helped in the development of Hedeby as a major trading town. It was first mentioned in 804 AD and grew significantly in economic power in this period to 1000 AD together with the increasing power held by the Vikings. It was, however, burnt down in 1050 during conflicts between the Danish and Norwegian kings. This was the start of the end for Hedeby.

Over time, the location of the site was lost, until the 1900s when excavation work started in the area. Since the area was never built on and was preserved in waterlogged soils, a significant amount of material survived to the present day. This material is today found in Hedeby Viking Museum, which sits close to the original location of Hedeby, on which there are now a number of reconstructed Viking houses.


We recently visited the museum on a cold winter day. The main museum inside is open, the reconstructed houses outside are not open until spring. You can walk over to the site of the houses and walk along the semicircular mount surrounding the site of the town and made our way back.

The museum is worth a visit in its our right. I have visited quite a number of museums and would say this is one of the better made exhibitions. I liked that, although most of the text was in German, we were given a booklet with the relevant text in English (or Danish). Things were very well signposted with easy-to-follow numbers, meaning that I could spend my time actually looking and reading rather than finding my way around.

Besides excellent explanations there are also some gems of exhibits. I particularly liked the visual exhibit in the first room showing the development of Hedeby from its founding to its downfall. For this exhibit you can select between speak and text in English, Danish and German, for the explanatory text. I thought this was very nicely made, and allowed me to take a break from reading from the booklet.

Multimedia display showing the history of Hedeby

Another exhibit that deserves special mention is the rune stone. I appreciated the fact that as the text on the stone was being recited, the relevant areas on the stone were highlighted, so you could follow the text on the stone. I always thought that rune stones are read in some complex way, so it was fascinating to realise that the way they are read is not much different to how I would lay text out if I was inscribing words on a stone.

On the day we visited there were also two men dressed in costume in the last room holding a big ship. If you visit and they are there, do go have a chat. They were extremely friendly and happy to explain that they have been building a replica Viking boat. They were sewing the sail on the day we visited. After that, all that is left is to build the mast, yardarm and mast-fish and they are ready to go. The plan is that the boat will be ready for sailing this summer.

Ship builders at the museum

It seemed to me that there is a lively community around the Hedeby site, actively striving to improve the experience of the visitors. Schleswig and the museum is just an hours drive from Sonderborg making it within easy reach and well-worth the trip!

Expect to spend two hours for the inside of the museum (if you read the displays). And another hour or two to explore the site and houses outside on foot.

Map of Jutland peninsula with Hedeby by Caravaca

Launching Sebbe

Sebbe Als is a ship built on a real Viking warship found in Roskilde Fjord. It spends the harsh days of winter in The Naust (a low building at the water edge) on Augustenborg Fjord, during which time it is repaired and repainted. Every spring it is then put back into the water and taken to it berth in Augustenborg harbour, where it is docked for the summer season. Below is our experience of launching Sebbe back into its natural environment.

9:20: We arrive at The Naust. “Pirate” Kim is already busy preparing the ground for Sebbe’s exit. We find the other group members in the back room having their breakfast.


9:40: The troops are gathered in front of the Naust. Steen, the chairman of the independent society that owns and operates Sebbe (and its sister ship Ottar, which was launched a week earlier) welcomed everyone and we started getting ready for putting the ship into the water.

The first task involved lowering the ship onto pieces of wood over which it could then be rolled the 10m into the water. This is necessary as the ship is raised on wood during the winter. A lot of rocking, moving and balancing is required at this stage, though not much effort on the part of the general troops.

Camera Roll-220

10:05: Sebbe is ready to roll. All the troop are aligned on each side, one at each oar hole. We are ready to push, pull and tug Sebbe over the rollers and into the sea. “En, tooo, TRE!” says Steen. A lot of huffing and puffing. But Sebbe refuses to move. We try a couple more times, before a slight change of tactic gets Sebbe rolling.

10:20: Sebbe decided to stop moving. Plan B is required. This involves the use of a pulley system to help us push Sebbe into the water. The pulley is set up

10:30: Plan B is ready to be put into action. The troops are back on each side of the boat. “En, to, TRE!”. After a couple of false starts Sebbe starts to slowly make its way close to the water. Until the pulley system starts breaking down.

10:45: We revert back to Plan A. Sebbe is halfway out of the Naust and are ready to head down the slight slope. While using the changed tactics used earlier, where the back of Sebbe is levered upwards as we push, Sebbe slowly makes its way towards the water.

11:00: Success! Sebbe is in the water. The time it has taken this year appears to be close to a record. The larger number of people helping out certainly helped. Sebbe is tied to the bridge off to the left while we all get a well-deserved drink.

Click for panorama of Sebbe going into the water

11:20: Although the big job of pushing the boat into the water is done we still need to put in the fittings, including the floor boards and the oars. While we were busy relaxing “Pirate” Kim had already started, and soon the rest of us go to work carrying things from the Naust to the boat, while others sweep inside the Naust.


12:30: Sebbe is all together now! Another well-deserved break for lunch that two of the members had gone off to buy for all the rest of us. As befits a Danish lunch we had rugbrod with different toppings (and cake, of course!).

13:20: There is only the last job of the day left: getting Sebbe to its “summer home” in Augustenborg harbour. As the mast will be put up in the harbour we need to row it over to its berth. We all take our places and rowed it we did.

13:55: Sebbe is in its berth. Our day of Viking work is over.

Sebbe is berthed in Augustenborg harbour next to her sister, Ottar. You can see both of them as you cross the road on the bridge dividing the harbour.

Viking for a day – Help launch a viking warship

Spring is in the air and if you had been living around Roskilde Fjord some 1000 years ago you might have been preparing a warship for this season’s raid. Luckily you don’t need a time machine to experience this because we have a local viking ship in Augustenborg.

Sebbe Als, as the boat is called, is built as a replica of wreck number 5 found in Roskilde Fjord, where it sank sometime in the 11th century. It is a fast warship with a long and slim body with 24 oars and a relatively large sail. It can fit up to 30 people.

The ship is owned and operated by an independent society (PDF in English), who built the boat in the period 1967 – 1969, a few years after the finds in Roskilde. The ship, which was launched and named Sebbe Als in 1969, was built according to the drawings of the original ship and by using the same tools as the “old vikings”.

You can take part

Every spring Sebbe is checked, repaired and prepared for the season and this is where you can get a taste for what it’s like to work with a boat like they did in the age of the vikings. There are two dates coming up where you can go see the boat, meet the people building and sailing the boat, help out and maybe even join the crew.

21st of April starting from 9am Sebbe is getting a new coat of paint on the bottom. Come and get up close to the ship.

28th of April at 9am Sebbe will be launched into the water. This is done purely by manpower so they can use any help they can get in pulling the 2 ton boat in the water.

Sunday Ann and I cycled out to see if we could find the “naust” where the boat lives in winter and at the end of a gravel road we found it. Two very friendly ladies were painting a smaller boat called Ottar outside and they were more than happy to give us a tour of the facilities. The tranquility of the place was amazing we had brought a lunch pack with us so enjoyed that while soaking up the sun and enjoying the atmosphere.

Read more about the boat on SebbeAls.dk. To get to the home of Sebbe Als look for Hesselvej 10 by Augustenborg. To get there on bike it’s a nice 20 minute bike ride from central Sønderborg, in a car you need to follow this path and park by the manure tank. Check the map below for the exact location.

Photos by Steen Weile, chairman of Sebbe Als.