This is a article written by Visit Rømø & Tønder.

Building culture in the old trading town of Tønder

Find out more about Tønder's completely unique building culture.

Table of Contents

Reading time: 5 Minutes

Since the beginning of this century, the understanding of cities and buildings as an important part of cultural heritage has been constantly growing. At the end of the 19th century, the almost static conditions in many places had been replaced by violent activity and development in all areas. Old buildings and urban structures were replaced by new ones, and historic and valuable buildings often disappeared in the process.

The rise of Tønder

Tønder has been an important trading town in West Schleswig for centuries.

The city probably arose in the early Middle Ages, as a natural harbor at the bottom of the Vidå Delta*. The place has been navigable even for larger ships.
*triangular area of land formed by deposits deposited at the mouth of a river where it divides into many branches.

The town arose on a small islet with the Marsh extending to the south and west.
The background for the development of the town in Tønder is the harbour, which distinguished itself as an original natural harbor in the depths of the Vidå Delta. Adapt far inland so that land transport to and from the harbor could take place naturally to the north and east, and in the summer months also to the south.
The Vidå Delta allowed additional transhipments to smaller ships with cargo to the southern catchment and the Wadden Sea coast and islands. From the harbor, two small streets, Kogade and the now removed Pebergade, led out to the main thoroughfare leading from west to east.

The city's then street network was probably around Tønderhus, Skibsbroen and Vestergade.

The square and the church square

Central squares in the city are Torvet and Kirkepladsen, around Christ Church.

Located in the middle of the main road, they both spread out, close to each other, yet completely different and separate. In the past, they may have formed one large area, but with fringe settlements the division into two is particularly uniform, but the square is nevertheless experienced as intimate and exciting. Primarily due to the distinctive buildings Torvet 11, the old town hall and Humlekærren. The experience of Torvet is enhanced by the beautiful and exciting views along Østergade, Storegade, Søndergade, Richtsensgade, Smedegade, and Kirkepladsen.

The church square is an experience in itself, here we are talking about a rare harmonious building as a frame around the city's church. In this urban space, you can experience a historic atmosphere and tranquility that is not immediately associated with a city centre.

At the foot of the tower, the experience is overwhelming. No matter where you look at the church square from, the whole is perceived, also emphasized here by the fine cobblestone paving.

@Bjarke Petersen - Visit Rømø & Tønder

Uldgade, Frigrunden and Skibbroen

  • Uldgade:

Uldgade is without a doubt the street that is synonymous with old Tønder, which is naturally linked to the street's intimacy and picturesque appearance.

The whole is drawn by the details, as in other good architecture. The gable-facing bay houses, the rows of houses, the pavement in the street and the fine way in which everything is joined together.

  • The open ground:

A similar experience is provided by Frigrunden, the street has a different course than Uldgade, but the "historical atmosphere" is similar, and a few individual incredibly beautiful houses raise the street architecturally to a high level.

  • The ship bridge:

The jetty was originally just an anchorage in Vidåen, well protected from the wind. Later in the city's development, a boat harbor was excavated and built, which was expanded and built upon during the heyday of trade. Later, Vidåen sanded so much that the larger boats could no longer sail into Tønder, and the Ship Bridge gradually lost its importance. In the 1930s, the harbor and the canal were filled up, making room for a larger parking area.

Gable houses

The gable houses are found as detached houses in many places in the cities of Southern Jutland, e.g. in Ribe, Haderslev and Aabenraa, but nowhere as numerously represented as in Tønder.

The gabled houses are closely linked to the construction of the towns in the early 13th century with long and narrow plots, so-called stavne, that run from the main street down to a back street.

While in other cities people were quickly allowed to spread out the very impractical, long, narrow lots, i.a. by buying the neighboring land so that you could build a house with the side to the street, provided with a practical gate, this was not allowed in Tønder until 1768. Therefore, Tønder is still dominated by this medieval building type to a remarkable extent.
The many gabled houses are therefore a characteristic feature of Tønder, which gives the town a very special character that is not seen anywhere else in the country. Where the roofs in other cities, which are characterized by long houses, with strong horizontal cornices, recede and become almost "invisible" in the street, the gabled houses stand very high and thus very visible in the street. The horizontal lines you are used to on the long houses are formed on the gable houses exclusively by the window eaves and the eaves, otherwise it is vertical and slanting lines which, as something quite special, are dominant. The streets are thus perceived to be much higher and different than in other Danish cities.

The monastery café on Torvet is an old gabled house - @Klostercaféen

Binding work

Until well into the last century half-timbered was the most widespread building construction in the city. In many places, especially on Østergade and Søndergade, you can see remnants of the construction method, often as fragments rather than as whole building sections.


Tønder, compared to many other towns in Southern Jutland, has several older brick houses from the 15th and 17th centuries. As an example, Torvet 11 is unique in our area.

Østergade 13, with its curved gable and horizontal profile band, represents the time around 1650, when the means of Gothic are definitely out of the picture. Above the same last, Østergade 1 is done, the curved gables have, however, disappeared and thus the very immediate impression of similarity.

Around 1700, the brick houses changed, especially in the detailing. The cornices become stronger in profiling and discharge, the curved sockets above the windows are replaced by straight ones, and the stone size also becomes smaller.

Bay windows

Bay windows have previously been a widely used element throughout Southern Jutland and Northern Germany, dating back to around the 17th century. The reason for this is probably to be found in the building practice, with the many gabled houses built closely together without the possibility of proper light entering the long sides.

In many places they have slowly disappeared from the houses, but in Tønder they are still very characteristic in the streetscape. Unfortunately, none of the oldest remain, the construction has been too exposed to survive for so long, but examples from the 1700s can still be seen, such as in Uldgade and Østergade.

Street doors and Portals

Another pervasive and dominant element in the Tønder cityscape are the street doors and portals. The double-leaf infill door, which is a very common type, is known from around 1700. The construction principle is quite similar from door to door, with a ribbed door at the inside, on which fillings and frame pieces are placed, which in turn are very different in design and decoration.


In the Rococo, the foundation is tightened up, the doors are built up with a plinth at the bottom and above that a smooth infill field or possibly a barred* pane. There was usually an overhead window above the wing doors, which gave light to the Dielen*. This type, from the second half of the 18th century, is well represented in Tønder, which is also evident from the following photos.

After the Rococo, the Louis Seize style followed, where the doors and portals became strictly symmetrical and with distinctly classical motifs, but still very elegant.

From the 1830s, the Louis Seize style is replaced by the more muted classicism, where the wing doors become completely symmetrical and with calm, uniform fillings.

* thin bars with panes in single-layer glass inserted with putty

* South Jutland word for front room in a house or a farm.

At the end of the 1800s, historicism begins to make its mark, and Neo-Gothic in particular flourishes. These historically inspired door types were widely used until 1920-30, when new styles began to make themselves felt.

New styles and native style

In the 1860s and 1870s, the plaster architecture from the first half of the century was continued to a considerable extent. Around 1870, the historicizing styles began to leave their unmistakable mark on new buildings and renovations.

In the period between 1864 and 1920, the influence from the south was very strong. In 1867, the Prussian building law was introduced, which meant that drawings and calculations for all construction had to be submitted to the authorities and approved before the construction had to be realized.

Since construction had previously been more a matter of craft traditions and the wishes and abilities of the client and builder than desk work, it was something of a procedural change for the local builders to suddenly have to perform drawings and calculations. Therefore, much construction then became catalog or model house construction based on the ready-made designs of large German design studios. This undeniably meant that building practice took a somewhat different direction than before.

These often stereotypical houses characterized construction for the next 30 years, until Tønder got its own local architects. 

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