The sea formed the land, and the land formed the people. This rephrasing of a native proverb, God created the Sea, the Frisians created the coast, is an accurate summary of the people who lived along the coast of the North Sea from the tenth century to the present. The proverb properly contains a bit of the somewhat impious boasting of a provincial bumpkin who has achieved more than he or anyone else expected of him. Nevertheless, the image of the Dithmarscher as a hickwould not offend every Dithmarscher. They are proud of their primitive roots and often see no need to change anything. The one exchange they always make willingly it that of wealth for poverty, which they have done effectively over the centuries, dealing blow for blow with those who would tax or steal their hard-earned bounty.

The sea they faced was the North Sea. Its winter storms have always challenged man's efforts to survive along the coasts. It is a sea of changing moods--now calm, pleasant, and rich in fish and commerce--now vengeful and destructive. The coast is largely marsh--salty, forbidding, and everchanging under the lash of storm and tide. The land can be either fruitful or barren, depending on man's skill, ingenuity, and daring, but even at its best it has never supported a large population of either men or animals. The products of the coastline--cattle, horses, and people--have always been renowned for quality rather than quantity.