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Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenlandic)
Grønland (Danish)
Greenland flag
Greenland coat of arms
flag coat of arms
Official language Greenlandic 1
Capital Nuuk (Danish Godthåb )
State and form of government parliamentary monarchy with self-government
Head of state Queen Margrethe II (represented by the imperial ombudswoman Mikaela Engell )
Head of government Prime Minister Múte B. Egede
surface 2,166,086 km²
population   56,421 (January 1, 2021)
Population density 0.026 inhabitants per km²
currency Danish Krone (DKK)
National anthem Nunarput utoqqarsuanngoravit ,
Nuna asiilasooq
National holiday June 21st
Time zone UTC ± 0 ( Danmarkshavn )
UTC − 1 ( Ittoqqortoormiit )
UTC − 3 ( West Greenland and Ammassalik District )
UTC − 4 ( Thule Air Base )
License Plate KN
ISO 3166 GL , GRL, 304
Internet TLD .gl
Phone code +299
1The legally considered lingua franca is Danish
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Greenland ( Greenlandic Kalaallit Nunaat [ kaˈlaːɬːitˢʰ nuˈnaːtˢʰ ], Danish Grønland [ ˈɡ̊ʁɶnlanʔ ]) is an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark . The largest part of the country's area consists of the largest island on earth , located in the North Atlantic or Arctic Ocean . Greenland is geographically part of North America and geologically to its Arctic sub-region. Greenland has the northernmost land area on earth and is only sparsely populated. The entire population lives on the coast, especially in the west of the country. A Danish colony until 1953, Greenland has enjoyed autonomy since 1979 and to a greater extent since 2009.


The name Greenland is the German spelling of the Danish Grønland , which literally means "grassland". This name comes from the old Norse Grænland . Erik the Red had named the country that when he arrived in South Greenland. There are two main theories about the origin of this name: on the one hand the name was more appropriate than it is today because of the somewhat warmer climate, and on the other hand that Erik the Red tried to make the island attractive to settlers from AD 985 .

The Greenlandic self-name is Kalaallit Nunaat , which translates as "Land of the Kalaallit" and is thus a derivation from the popular name of the Kalaallit (Sg. Kalaaleq). It is widely accepted that this is a borrowing from the Old Norse skrælingr , which has been adapted to Greenlandic phonotactics . The term was used in the Viking Age to refer to the Inuit who lived in Greenland and Canada . In the Labrador dialect of the Inuktitut , the term karaaliq can also be found to denote a Greenlander, which was already documented in the 18th century. In Greenlandic too, the form with r was still used in the 18th century , but it usually became l in loan words .


Classification according to cardinal points

Terms such as “North Greenland”, “South Greenland” etc. are not clearly defined and are used very differently depending on the geographical and historical context. Until the end of the 19th century, colonized Greenland consisted only of the west coast. From 1782 this was divided into the two inspectorates of North Greenland and South Greenland , with the border running between Attu in the north and Sisimiut in the south. With the colonization of the areas outside of West Greenland and officially since 1950, the previous parts of North and South Greenland were merged into West Greenland (Kitaa) and supplemented by East Greenland (Tunu) and North Greenland (Avanersuaq). These later lost their importance again with the legal equality of all parts of the country. The uninhabited area north of inhabited East Greenland with the Northeast Greenland National Park is known as Northeast Greenland. The terms North Greenland and South Greenland are not used in a precisely defined manner in common parlance today. The area of ​​the municipality of Kujalleq is usually referred to as South Greenland . North Greenland, on the other hand, can refer to the area of ​​the old inspectorate or just the area north of the Nuussuaq peninsula, depending on the speaker's origin . The latter is also known as Northwest Greenland, although this term can only refer to the part of North Greenland (Avanersuaq).



Greenland ranges from 59 ° 46 'north latitude at Cape Farvel to 83 ° 40' north latitude on Kaffeklubben Island at Cape Morris Jesup and is 2670 km long. The maximum width is 1050 km from Cape Alexander in the west to Nordostrundingen in the east. Greenland's north coast is 740 km away and is the closest coherent land mass to the North Pole.

In the north of the island is the icy Arctic Ocean with its marginal seas Lincolnsee and Wandelsee . In the east it borders on the Greenland Sea and the Irminger Sea , in the west on the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay , all marginal seas of the Atlantic . In the northwest, Greenland merges into the very rugged and extensive island world of the Queen Elizabeth Islands . There Greenland is separated from Ellesmere Island (part of the Queen Elizabeth Islands) by the Nares Strait , which connects Baffin Bay with the Lincoln Sea and already belongs to the Arctic Ocean .

The entire inland of Greenland is covered by an ice sheet that rests on a basin that is partly below sea level . It makes up four fifths of the country's area. The ice-free coastal areas are slightly larger in area than Germany .

Greenland is often shown very distorted on world maps. Since it is not possible to depict the surface of the spherical earth on a flat map without distortion , a world map cannot be true to length, area and angle at the same time. The island of Greenland appears in the conformal, classic Mercator projection with its 2.2 million km² is shown very large due to the high geographical latitude, compared to continents such as Africa (30 million). km²) or Australia (8.6 million km²). On the other hand, Greenland appears compressed vertically in the equal-area Peters projection .

Coastal geography

Emblematic of the geography of Greenland: long fjords, extensive bare and partly glaciated mountain areas and the inland ice.

The ice-free coastal strip is of different widths, and in some cases the inland ice extends right up to the coast. Especially in the west and east, the coast is cut by several thousand fjords , bays and straits, through which just as many islands and skerries are in front of the main island . As a result, the Greenland coastline is around 39,000 km.

The north and northwest of Greenland around the district of Qaanaaq is characterized by up to 100 km wide glaciers such as the Humboldt Glacier and massive ice-free coastal areas with only a few islands in front of them. To the south lies the Melville Bay and south of it the Upernavik district , where the entire mainland is covered by the ice sheet. In front of it are hundreds of mostly small islands. To the south of it, in the district of Uummannaq and in Disko Bay, there are only a few larger islands off the coast, with the ice-free coastal strip here on average about 20 km wide. In central West Greenland this is up to just under 200 km wide and characterized by equally long fjords and hundreds of small offshore islands. Towards the south, the width decreases to about 50 km. South Greenland is even more furrowed by fjords. Here the country is around 70 to 120 km inland ice-free. The east coast of Greenland has hardly any ice-free areas and only a few, smaller islands. In the northeast, the coastal strip reaches widths of up to 200 again km and is marked by long fjords and large islands.

The Greenland fjords are among the largest and deepest in the world. The Kangertittivaq in East Greenland is 300 in length km, a width of 40 km and a depth of up to 1450 m the largest in the world. At the end of the fjords there are often glaciers coming from the inland ice, which, like Jakobshavn Isbræ, let huge amounts of ice calve into the sea . The coast is a gently undulating highland with very high mountains and mountains , of which Gunnbjørns Fjeld in the Watkins Mountains in the east of the island is the highest with 3694 m. The largest side island in Greenland is the 8,578 km² Disco Island in Disko Bay in West Greenland.

Domestic geography

Satellite photo
Topography under the ice sheet

The Greenland inland is completely covered in ice. The Greenland ice sheet, up to 3400 m thick and an average of 2000 m thick, moves along the coasts to the sea and often creates icebergs several kilometers long. It is the second largest ice sheet on the planet, only surpassed by the Antarctic ice sheet, which is more than 4,700 m thick in places .

The glaciation started about 2.7 million years ago. At that time, with the closure of the Isthmus of Panama, a new phase of the Cenozoic Ice Age began, the mountains in the east of the island had been raised high enough and the island had come close enough to the poles to trigger the glaciation that continues to this day. The mainland under the inland ice is partly below sea level due to the pressure of the ice sheet. It is also home to the Grand Canyon of Greenland , which was discovered in 2013 and is at least 750 km length, 10 km width and 800 m deeper than the Grand Canyon in the western United States.

Due to global warming , the Greenland ice sheet is subject to a continuous melting process. Between 2011 and 2014 the ice sheet on Greenland lost an average of around 269 billion tons (approx. 293 km³) of ice per year. The mass loss has increased sixfold since the 1980s. If the entire inland ice of Greenland (2.85 million km³) were to melt, the sea level would rise by 7.4 meters worldwide. Freed from the ice load, the island would rise by around 800 meters in its central areas, which are now partially pushed below sea level ( post-glacial land elevation ).


The island was part of the very old Precambrian continent Laurentia , the eastern core of which forms the Greenland shield , while it merges into a table on the less exposed coastal strip . The oldest parts of the shield were formed 3.9 to 2.6 billion years ago, while the younger ones are only about 1.8 billion years old. East of Nuuk can be found in the more than three billion years old Isukasia- bands iron ore region some of the oldest rocks in the world, including an early Grönlandit called hypersthene - hornblendite emerged 3.8 billion years ago (see Isua Greenstone Belt ).

In the now ice-free coastal strip, up to five kilometers thick layers of sediments and volcanic rocks , especially sandstone , limestone and basalt , formed around 1600 to 400 million years ago . The Caledonian orogeny shaped the east Greenland coast to North Greenland and created a 1200 km long fold mountain belt, which at that time (long before the opening of the Atlantic Ocean) connected directly to today's Scotland and Norway .

Between the following Devonian and the Paleogene , a further six to eight kilometers thick sandstone sediment layers formed in east and northeast Greenland and later, as a result of flooding, marine sandstone and clay layers rich in marine fossils . Such a sediment layer with organic material also formed in Disko Bay, from which today's coal deposits originated. In the paleogene about 55 million years ago, in connection with the opening of the Atlantic, five to ten kilometers thick volcanic basalt layers formed both in the west in Disko Bay and in the east in the area around Ittoqqortoormiit . This contains solid iron masses weighing up to 25 t at Uiffaq on Disko Island  .

At the beginning of the Cenozoic Ice Age , Greenland was covered by an ice sheet around two million years ago that stretched over almost the entire land area. About 14,000 to 10,000 years ago, the ice sheet retreated to its current position, leaving behind the glacial coastline.


Today's climate

The climatic conditions differ greatly within Greenland. In the coastal areas there is a sub-polar climate , whereas in the north and inland there is a polar climate . The climate is strongly dependent on the seasons. Along the coast, the temperature conditions in summer in the north of Greenland differ only slightly from those in the south, which is due to the constant solar radiation of the midnight sun . In winter, however, the temperature drops all the more in the north due to the lack of sun. In addition to solar radiation, the water temperature, which is dependent on the ice conditions, also has a major influence on the temperature of the air. On the west coast, the climate is tempered by the Greenland Current , which the North Atlantic Current and the Gulf Stream provide with relatively warm water. Around 100 km from the inland, the climate is clearly continental, similar to the climate of Siberia or Central Alaska . Down to around −70 ° C was measured on the inland ice, while in Maniitsoq in July 2013 +25.9 ° C was reached. The average annual temperature in Greenland is usually below freezing point, only slightly above it in South Greenland.

In the coastal areas, the amount of precipitation roughly corresponds to that of Oslo . In the continental inland areas and in northern Greenland, however, there is significantly less precipitation, so that these areas can be classified as cold deserts . Also in Kangerlussuaq , which is the only place in Greenland with more than 100 km from the ocean, only a fifth of the rainfall in coastal cities falls. Because of the temperatures, precipitation often falls as snow, but in summer as rain. Snow is possible in summer, but rain is rare in winter.

The wind conditions are significantly more variable than in Europe. There is often no wind on the Greenland coast, but foehn winds and katabatic winds often suddenly pour down from the mountains, creating strong storms. The best known of them is the Piteraq , which occurs in East Greenland and can cause severe damage in inhabited areas there. Usually there are light winds that blow up or down the fjord depending on the time of day.

Climate diagram
J F. M. A. M. J J A. S. O N D.
Temperature in ° Cprecipitation in mm
Source: Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) and DMI data from Jan. 2000 . - hours of sunshine
Climate table for Nuuk (1961–1990)
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Max. Temperature ( ° C ) −4.6 −4.7 −5.1 −1.2 3.1 7.0 9.9 9.3 6.0 1.4 −1.3 −3.5 O 1.4
Min. Temperature (° C) −10.0 −10.7 −10.7 −6.3 −1.7 1.1 3.5 3.5 1.4 −2.7 −5.9 −8.6 O −3.9
Temperature (° C) −7.4 −7.8 −8.0 −3.8 0.6 3.9 6.5 6.1 3.5 −0.7 −3.7 −6.2 O −1.4
Precipitation ( mm ) 40 47 49 47 55 62 87 85 89 66 73 54 Σ 754
Hours of sunshine ( h / d ) 0.5 2.3 4.8 6.0 6.1 6.8 6.3 5.3 4.7 2.6 1.0 0.2 O 3.9
Rainy days ( d ) 9 9 10 9 9 8th 10 9 12th 10 11 10 Σ 116
Water temperature (° C) −1 −1 −1 −1 0 1 1 2 2 1 1 0 O 0.3
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

Historical climate developments

DNA traces from pines, yew trees and alders as well as butterflies and other insects were found in the drill cores of material under the more than 2,000-meter-thick ice could be old. The researchers working with Martin Sharp ( University of Alberta , Canada) therefore suspect that Greenland was a "green land" with a significantly warmer climate than it is today before glaciation during the Riss Ice Age.

The settlement of Greenland in the Middle Ages by the Grænlendingar and the Thule culture coincided with the Medieval Warm Period . During the Little Ice Age in the second half of the 2nd millennium, however, the temperature fell again.

The temperature began to rise again around 1890, peaking in the 1930s and 1940s. The climate became generally much more maritime, i.e. with lower temperature fluctuations in the course of the year. The temperature then stayed the same and fell slightly, again more sharply from the 1950s onwards. This climate change had a major impact on the Greenland ice conditions and thus also on the economic basis, away from sealing seals and towards fishing.

Greenland's ecosystem is facing severe changes due to global warming, largely caused by humans. In 2015 the Arctic showed the first signs of irreversible change; Among other things, a temperature rise between 1 ° C and 4 ° C could trigger the almost complete melting of the Greenland ice . The risk that arises from the activation of further tilting elements depends on the level of the temperature rise and is all the greater when the temperature increases. Since 1990 the average temperature has increased by 1.8 ° C in summer and 3 ° C in winter. Increased rainfall will accelerate the melting of the Greenland glaciers and the clouds will prevent much heat from escaping.

Flora and vegetation

Arctic willowherb ( Epilobium latifolium ), Greenland's national flower , Upernavik

Greenland is dominated by an ice sheet with no vegetation and plant life is concentrated in the ice-free coastal regions. Due to the climatic conditions, these coastal areas can be divided into three different biomes , all of which, however , are characterized by the absence of closed forests .

  • The High Arctic vegetation zone extends from the 71st degree of latitude, i.e. from a line running north from Uummannaq to Ittoqqortoormiit , to the north. The flat areas are characterized as classic tundra by vegetation of arctic willow , square scale heather and other dwarf shrubs as well as mosses . The mountain areas, on the other hand, are cold deserts .
  • The Lower Arctic vegetation zone extends south of the 71st parallel, in the inland with little precipitation even further north. There are mainly willow plants that can reach a height of 0.5 to 3 meters.
  • The subarctic vegetation zone is located in southern Greenland, but also includes the continental areas further north, especially around Kangerlussuaq and Kapisillit . It includes the only forest tundra area in Greenland, in Qinngoq Avannarleq (Qinnguadalen), a valley area northeast of Tasiusaq . Flat bog birch and whitebeam trees appear there. At Kapisillit there are shrub-like green alders and willows. In the low-precipitation Kangerlussuaq there is still less vegetation, so that here, too, one can speak more of tundra.

Around 3500 species of moss , lichens , mushrooms and algae grow in Greenland . There are also around 500 species of higher plants . These include ferns , lycopodiopsida , juniper and numerous angiosperms as buttercup family , rose plants , stone crushing plants , cruciferous , Pink family , heather plants , nightshade family , Asteraceae , Juncaceae , Cyperaceae and grasses .

Fossils indicate that 55 million years ago, forests consisted predominantly of sequoias and deciduous trees . 900,000 to 450,000 years ago, Greenland was forested, including alder , spruce , pine and yew trees . Climate change is currently causing the plants to bloom sooner.


Greenland's fauna is well researched. Archaeological investigations enable insights into animals that used to live in Greenland. In addition, there are descriptions of the animal world from written sources, beginning with Old Norse literature in the form of the Konungs skuggsjá (around 1230) and later scientific descriptions by Hans Egede , his sons Poul and Niels Egede and Otto Fabricius . Numerous expeditions were later carried out to study the Greenland fauna.

Many mammals , birds , fish and insects live on the Greenland land and in the sea , while reptiles and amphibians are absent.

Polar bear with two cubs

The land fauna of Greenland is divided into two geographical zones, separated by Melville Bay and Kangertittivaq .

  • North and northeast Greenland were settled from Canada through the Nares Strait , but most of the animals were unable to cross the coastal areas to the south, which were shaped by the inland ice.
  • (Southeast and) West Greenland were settled either through these same coastal areas or by means of drift ice from Baffin Island .

There are few species of land mammals in Greenland. Reindeer , mountain hares and arctic foxes can be found in the southern zone . Wild reindeer live mainly in central West Greenland around Sisimiut and Maniitsoq . Mountain hares and arctic foxes also live in the northern zone. Musk ox and stoat as well as the northern collar lemming , whose population can strongly influence the occurrence of its predators, live exclusively in the northern zone . The arrival of arctic wolves in northeast Greenland made the reindeer extinct in 1900. The arctic wolf later also disappeared. In the 20th century, European reindeer and musk ox were introduced to West Greenland for meat production. The polar bear also lives mainly in the northern zone, but regularly moves on drift ice to the inhabited areas of West and East Greenland, where it is a danger to humans, but also a source of food.

Numerous species of whales live in the waters off Greenland's coast : bowhead whales , minke whales , humpback whales , pilot whales , porpoises , killer whales , blue whales , fin whales , narwhals and beluga whales . In addition to whales, there are six species of seals , of which the ringed seal is the most common. There are also bearded seals , walruses , harp seals , folding caps and a few seals . The Inuit also count the polar bears among the marine mammals because they spend most of their life at sea, especially on the pack ice and drift ice.

Thick beaked mum

Greenlandic bird life can also be divided into land and sea ​​birds . Among the birds that live on land in the southern zone, the following are of greater importance: Ptarmigan , ravens , snow bunting , spur horns , wheatear , birch siskin and polar siskin live all over western Greenland. In addition, there are several species of birds that only occur regionally: field thrush in southwest Greenland, beach pipit in northwest Greenland and meadow pipit only in the southeast. There are also several birds of prey : sea ​​eagles live in the west and south-west , followed by peregrine falcons and gyrfalcons . Among the coastal and shore birds include sea beach runner , red-necked phalarope , phalarope , red-breasted merganser , common loon , red-throated divers , long-tailed ducks , mallards , harlequin ducks and White-fronted Geese . Snowy owls , gyrfalcons, hawk skuas , ptarmigan, snow geese , brent geese , barnacle geese , short-beaked geese , plover , turnstone , harlequin sandpipers , dunlins and sanderlings live in the northern zone . Seabirds often live on the Greenland bird cliffs . They include eiders , king eiders , guillemots, and crab grebes , all of which play a major role. There are also smaller colonies of puffins , razorbills , cormorants and black guillemots . In Greenland also there are numerous species of gulls, such as the kittiwake , glaucous , Iceland Gull , Gull , Arctic Skua , Skua, Arctic tern and the rare Sabine's Gull , Ivory Gull and Ross's Gull . Other birds that live off the coast are the fulmar and the great shearwater .

Sea wolf on the Brættet in Nuuk

The waters in and around Greenland are populated by numerous species of fish. Arctic char , three-spined stickleback and salmon live in the rivers and lakes . Fishing is because of the numerous food fish generate considerable economic activity. In the sea live redfish , Atlantic wolffish , halibut , halibut , salmon, capelin , Greenland sharks , sea hares , Atlantic herring , Doggerscharben , Vahls wolf fish , Arctic cod , sculpins , stingrays , Uuaq , Lumbe , Round-nosed grenadier , blue-lance , haddock and coalfish . The arctic sea shrimp plays the largest role among the shrimp . There are also crabs , cuttlefish and mussels and scallops .

About 700 to 800 species of insects and arachnids live on Greenland. These include mainly piercing and black flies , Gnitten , blow flies , butterflies ( tensioners , winders and cutworms ), Ladybug , wolf spiders and spiders . Then there are snails and earthworms .

Settlement geography

Administrative structure

Nordost-Grönland-Nationalpark Pituffik Avannaata Kommunia Kommune Qeqertalik Qeqqata Kommunia Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq Kommune Kujalleq Island Norwegen Kanada
The Greenland municipalities. (Interactive map)

Greenland is divided into five (until 2018 four) municipalities, which were formed as part of a municipal reform in 2009. The Qaasuitsup Kommunia was split into the Avannaata Kommunia and the Qeqertalik Commune in 2018. In addition to the five communities, there are two community-free areas with the uninhabited Northeast Greenland National Park and Thule Air Base (Pituffik) . The five municipalities are as follows (population as of January 1, 2021):

Commune Residents main place
Avannaata Communia 10,820 Ilulissat
Qeqertalik municipality 6.312 Aasiaat
Qeqqata communia 9,305 Sisimiut
Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq 23,462 Nuuk
Kujalleq municipality 6,454 Qaqortoq

Historically, West Greenland was divided into a number of colony districts that varied over time until 1950, the last eleven. These were divided between the two inspectorates of North Greenland and South Greenland . The colony districts had been divided into over 60 parishes since 1911. In 1950 it was determined that Greenland consists of three parts of the country: West Greenland ( Kitaa ), which consisted of the two previous inspectorates, and the two administratively integrated parts of East Greenland ( Tunu ) and North Greenland ( Avanersuaq ). From then on, Greenland consisted of 19 and later 18 communities, most of which were congruent with the previous colony districts. The 18 municipalities were merged into the four municipalities in 2009. The previous municipalities continue to exist as districts, but serve statistical and cultural purposes rather than administrative delimitation purposes.


The Inuit used to be semi-nomadic , so they always lived in the place where food could be found and then moved on to the nearest place to live. As a result of the colonization, trade and mission stations with infrastructure were built in some places. First colonies emerged that were responsible for a certain area (the colony districts), from around 1800 Udsteders were also founded, which were subordinate to a colony and served as local centers within the district. Numerous living spaces never received an infrastructure and were regularly settled and abandoned. At the beginning of the 20th century, mobility decreased and the residential areas were settled more permanently. In the middle of the 20th century, almost all living spaces were given up and the population moved to the former Udsted and colonies, which became villages and towns. Only a handful of places survived this phase and were then classified as villages as well.

Today there are 17 cities, 55 villages, around 30 South Greenlandic shepherd settlements and some inhabited stations of various kinds in Greenland. The cities serve as local centers for the surrounding villages. Most of the places are on the west coast of the island. There are also seven places on the east coast. The 17 cities in Greenland are shown on the map above.

A third of the Greenlandic population now lives in the capital Nuuk (around 18,800). The next largest city is Sisimiut with about 5,600 inhabitants. Six cities have at least 2,000 inhabitants, another seven between 1,000 and 2,000 inhabitants. Four cities have less than 1,000 inhabitants. The smallest town is Ittoqqortoormiit with about 360 inhabitants. With around 450 inhabitants each, the two villages of Kangerlussuaq and Kullorsuaq are larger than Ittoqqortoormiit. The remaining villages have a maximum of 300 inhabitants, the smallest only around 20 inhabitants.



First day of school on August 14, 2007 at the Prinsesse-Margrethe-Schule in Upernavik, the schoolchildren wear the national costume
Wealthy Greenlandic couple (before 1909)

Greenland has about 56,000 inhabitants. Of these, around 89 are % born in Greenland and 11 % outside. Almost 98 % of the population have Danish citizenship.

Since the ethnic background is not examined in either Greenland or Denmark, only surveys and estimates on the ethnic structure of the population can be provided. Usually being Greenlandic is a matter of self-identification. A 2019 study found that around 92 % of the Greenlandic population identify as Greenlanders, which corresponds to a good 51,300 people.

The remaining population of around 5,000 consists of Danish citizens of non-Greenlandic identity and foreigners. The latter make up around 1,350 people. Of these, around 30 are % Filipinos , 17 % Thai and 9 % Icelanders . Other significant minorities (at least 50 people) are Swedes , Norwegians , Poles , Germans , Chinese and Americans .


In the legal sense, Greenlanders are all Danish citizens residing in Greenland, regardless of their ethnicity . In the ethnic sense, however, only the part of the population who has Inuit ancestry and usually speaks Greenlandic (Kalaallisut) is considered to be Kalaallit (Sg. Kalaaleq ) . Part of this group is resident in Denmark.

Ethnologically, the Kalaallit can be divided into three groups, which differ in origin, history and language. Here, too, no statistics are kept, so that numbers can only be estimated:

  • The Kitaamiut (West Greenlanders) inhabit the traditional part of Kitaa , which stretches from Melville Bay to Cape Farvel . With around 47,000 people, they make up the largest part of the population and are the one who was colonized in 1721.
  • The Tunumiit (East Greenlanders) now live in the area around Tasiilaq and in Ittoqqortoormiit in the Tunu region . They were colonized at the end of the 19th century. They make up around 3,500 people.
  • The Inughuit (North Greenlanders) live in and around Qaanaaq in the Avanersuaq area . They were colonized at the beginning of the 20th century. With around 800 members, they are the smallest group.

The Kujataamiut in South Greenland belong to the Kitaamiut, but mixed with the Tunumiit in the 19th century through immigration.

For example, because of their different histories, some Inughuit do not refer to themselves as Kalaallit to emphasize their own ethnicity.

Most of the Greenlandic population, especially the Kitaamiut, is mixed-ethnic and comes partly from the Inuit of the Thule culture , who came from the north after the year 1000, and partly from the Danish, in rare cases Norwegian, Icelandic and Swedish colonial workers who served in Greenland from the 18th to the 20th centuries. 80 % of Greenlanders now also have European ancestors, with the European proportion of genes on average 31 % of DNA. Only the Tunumiit and Inughuit have significantly fewer European genes because their areas were only colonized around 1900.

The surnames of the Greenland population are partly the patronyms newly formed during the missionary work to Danish (Petersen, Olsen, Jensen, Nielsen, Hansen) or biblical names (Jeremiassen, Petrussen, Filemonsen, Isaksen, Tobiassen), partly the surnames of the European ancestors. Due to the frequent occurrence of German surnames in Denmark, many of the surnames in Greenland are of German origin (Heilmann, Kleist, Kreutzmann, Fleischer, Chemnitz).

The Greenlanders are not to be confused with Grænlendingar , the Scandinavian settlers who lived in western Greenland from the 10th to the 15th centuries .


The only official language in Greenland is the Greenlandic language (Kalaallisut). Danish is also the lingua franca , which is the first foreign language in school. There are no official statistics on the language situation in Greenland, but the Oqaasileriffik Language Secretariat has estimated that there are around 50 people in the population % speak Danish poorly, 20 % are bilingual and prefer Greenlandic, 20 % are bilingual and prefer Danish and 10 % only speak Danish. Other studies indicate a much higher proportion of bilingualism. In the decolonization phase from around 1950 to 1980, Danish was preferred to Greenlandic at school, so that especially the generation that went to school during this time and is also the largest in Greenland speaks Danish best. In addition, Danish is more widespread in the cities than in the villages and Nuuk. High school and university education takes place in Danish, which means that language skills are a prerequisite for further education. The Danish language is also predominant in the workplace and in administration. There is little knowledge of the Greenlandic language among the non-Greenlandic population in Greenland.

The Greenlandic language is strongly fragmented in terms of dialect. In some cases, people can be assigned to their place of origin based on their dialect. In general, the Greenlandic language is divided into Kitaamiusut (West Greenlandic), Tunumiisut (East Greenlandic) and Inuktun (North Greenlandic) according to ethnic groups . Kitaamiusut can be further subdivided, with the northern and southern dialects showing strong East Greenlandic language contact influences .


The traditional religion of the Inuit was replaced by Christianity in the course of proselytizing in the 18th century . Originally there were two parallel proselytizing processes in Greenland, in which part of the West Greenland population was shaped by the Danish Mission and another by the Moravian Brethren . In 1900 the members of the latter were transferred to the Danish mission. In East and North Greenland the last “ pagans ” were evangelized in 1921 and 1934 respectively .

Today there are 95 % of the Greenland People's Church, which is part of the Danish People's Church . Other religions hardly play a role. Since 1958 there has been a Catholic community in Nuuk with around 300 members , mainly Filipino immigrants. Give a total of 98.5 % of the population claim to be Christian.

Even if Greenlanders no longer belong to a shamanistic religion, the Inuit myths are still culturally aware. Almost half of the population believes in ghosts .


Prehistory and early history and the Middle Ages (up to the 15th century)

Greenland was founded around 2400 BC. First settled from Alaska via Canada and formed the Independence I culture in northeast Greenland , which hunted musk oxen, but as early as 2000 BC. BC disappeared again, as did the Saqqaq culture in West, East and Northwest Greenland , whose members lived from seal and reindeer hunting and around 800 BC. Chr. Disappeared again. In the following period, Greenland was probably uninhabited again. Around 600 BC A new wave of colonization came from Canada, forming the Independence II culture in northern Greenland and the Dorset culture in western, northwestern and eastern Greenland . The Independence II culture can be traced back to 450 BC for the last time. BC, while the Dorset culture can be traced to around the birth of Christ, but reappeared from the 7th century onwards.

Presumably in the late 9th or early 10th century, Europeans first discovered Greenland. 982 had Erik the Red from Iceland flee and landed in southwest Greenland. He gave the island its name Grænland ( Old Norse for "grassland"). In 986, Icelandic settlers in South Greenland began to seize land in the area around Brattahlíð . The Scandinavian settlers in Greenland were called Grænlendingar . In the following years some of them moved further north, where they settled in the Nuup Kangerlua fjord complex near Nuuk . The southern settlement was called Eystribyggð , the northern Vestribyggð . From the year 1000 the Grænlendingar were Christianized by Erik's son Leif Eriksson and a bishop was installed in Garðar . Between the 11th and 14th centuries there was also trade with Vinland in North America.

Presumably at the end of the 12th century, a new Eskimo wave of colonization came from Alaska to Greenland, which settled again in both the west and the east. These settlers belonged to the Thule culture or, in West Greenland, to the further developed Inussuk culture . It is assumed that they had contact with the Dorset culture in Greenland, whose members are known in legends as Torngit / Tornit , and that they ultimately ousted them. The cultural contact between Inuit and Grænlendingar has also been proven.

While there was still trade between Greenland and Norway in the first few centuries, to which the Grænlendingar declared themselves a part in 1261, this ceased in the 14th century. In the middle of the 14th century the Vestribyggð disappeared and around 1500 also the Eystribyggð, with which the Grænlendingar disappeared after around 500 years for unknown reasons.

Whaling days and first years after colonization (16th century to 1782)

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Greenland was visited by several expedition sailors and subsequently used by Dutch, Hamburg and English whalers for whaling. Although Denmark proclaimed Greenland for themselves, they were not able to establish a successful whaling even after the Thirty Years' War was economically weakened. European whaling in Greenland intensified with the decline in whaling off Spitsbergen from around 1700 and continued well into the colonial era until around 1800.

"Apostle of the Greenlanders": Hans Egede (1686–1758)

In 1721 the Norwegian pastor Hans Egede received permission from King Frederick IV of Denmark to set up a mission station in Greenland to evangelize the Grænlendingar, who he assumed were apostate or still Catholic. Hans Egede founded the Haabets Ø colony near Kangeq with his family and, together with his sons Poul and Niels, began the mission of the Inuit there after he discovered that the Grænlendingar had disappeared. A second base in Nipisat was established in 1724, but destroyed by Dutch whalers the following year. The economic situation of the project was initially catastrophic and in 1727 led to the bankruptcy of Det Bergen Grønlandske Compagnie , the responsible trading company . In 1728 Haabets Ø was moved to Nuuk and renamed Godthaab . Nipisat was rebuilt and Claus Paarss was entrusted with the military administration, but the Danish whaling in Greenland was completely unsuccessful and the presence of soldiers had no effect, so Nipisat was abandoned in 1730 and destroyed again in 1731. After the death of King Friedrich IV. In the same year, his successor Christian VI. However, the completion of the colony project left the colonists free to stay in Greenland. Hans Egede and his family as well as a handful of whalers made use of the right. In 1733 the Moravian Brethren began to work in Greenland and to do missionary work in the immediate vicinity of Hans Egede. In the same year, a large proportion of the Inuit living in the area fell victim to a smallpox epidemic introduced from Europe . Christian VI. Meanwhile, he was convinced of the usefulness of colonizing Greenland and in 1734 approved the merchant Jacob Severin to take over the trade. In the same year he founded the Christianshaab colony in Qasigiannguit . It was in Disko Bay , where the Dutch were extremely successful in whaling. The competition quickly developed into a conflict in which Denmark wanted to forbid the Netherlands from continuing to barter with the population. To expand activities, the Jakobshavn colony in Ilulissat and the Claushavn lodge in Ilimanaq were founded in 1741 , and the Frederikshaab colony in Paamiut in southern Greenland the following year .

In 1750 Jacob Severin's trading monopoly was handed over to Det Almindelige Handelskompagni , who from then on was entrusted with trading in Greenland. The company relied on a further expansion of trading activities in Greenland in order to be able to make more effective income and thus to be able to compete with the economically superior Dutch whalers. Within a few years, between 1754 and 1774, further colonies and other trading bases were established. The economic situation remained problematic due to the unsuccessful whaling by the experienced Dutch, so the trading company began to concentrate more on catching the Greenlandic seals and then trading them. In 1774 Den Kongelige Grønlandske Handel (KGH) was founded, which from then on was solely entrusted with the colonial trade in Greenland, while the previous company was responsible for all Danish colonies.

Development of colonial structures and phase of upheaval (1782 to 1905)

The KGH reorganized the colonies in 1782. The country was divided into two inspectorates: North Greenland and South Greenland , to which the colonies on the west coast of Greenland were divided. Both inspectorates were subordinated to an inspector who was assigned to the colonial administrators of the respective colonies. At the same time, the Dutch and English presence in Greenland decreased, but the Danish whaling industry could not benefit from this. Despite numerous attempts, they never succeeded in establishing a flourishing whaling business in Greenland, and by the beginning of the 19th century the KGH concentrated entirely on sealing seals. From the end of the 18th century Udsteder were founded, which served as a trading center for the surrounding residential areas in order to reduce the distances to the distant colony locations. As a result, the trade structures grew strongly, which led to an even greater organization and effectiveness of the colonial trade, which provided the KGH with economic surpluses and finally made the colony project profitable.

In 1807 the Gunboat War broke out between England and Denmark, which was part of the Napoleonic Wars . As a result, the supply of Greenland broke off and England had forbidden to bring goods from Greenland to Denmark. Most of the trade and mission workers returned to Europe, putting the colonial company in a major supply crisis made worse by poor hunting yields and epidemics. As a result, the Upernavik colony and numerous Udsteders even had to be temporarily abandoned. After eight years of crisis, the situation only eased in 1814 with the Peace of Kiel , in which Denmark-Norway was dissolved, with Greenland falling to Denmark. After the war, numerous new Udsted were founded. In addition, from the beginning to the middle of the 19th century almost all West Greenlanders were baptized and belonged to either the Danish mission or the Moravian Brethren.

The middle of the 19th century became a turning point in Greenlandic history when the debate arose that the Greenlanders, who had previously been relatively unaffected and traditionally lived, should be culturally developed. In 1845 two seminars were opened in Nuuk and Ilulissat (see Grønlands Seminarium ) at which Greenlanders were to be trained as catechists , and some boys and girls were sent to Denmark for training. The seminary in Ilulissat closed again in 1875, while that in Nuuk was to produce numerous important figures in Greenlandic history. With the increasing Europeanization of the Greenlandic population, the traditional social structures began to dissolve, which led to economic problems in many families who could no longer take care of themselves properly with the hunt and had become dependent on the European trade goods, which also led to financial problems at the KGH . In the late 1850s, the first Forstanderskaber were introduced, councils in each of the colony districts, which for the first time offered the Greenlanders a right of co-determination and were responsible, among other things, for jurisdiction and social security for the population. In 1861 inspector Hinrich Johannes Rink , who was already responsible for the introduction of the Forstanderskaber, created the newspaper Atuagagdliutit . As a result of newspaper debates, growing enlightenment and the right to co-determination in the Forstanderskabern, a feeling of nationality arose for the first time in the Greenlanders from the late 19th century onwards, who previously had little understanding of events outside their own local community.

Reorganization and World War II (1905 to 1953)

The Moravians had left Greenland in 1900 and transferred their parishioners to the Danish mission, since all Greenlanders were baptized and thus saw their task as fulfilled. In 1905 the Danish Church and School Act officially incorporated the mission area into the Danish People's Church and the mission districts were converted into parishes. At the same time, however, the Tunumiit missionary work in East Greenland began in 1894 and the Inughuit missionary work in Northwest Greenland in 1909 .

Due to the decreasing market interest in seal oil due to the increasing use of mineral fuels, the KGH began to make trade deficits again at the end of the 19th century, which led to an administrative reorganization. In 1911 the colonial districts were divided into parishes, the main towns of which were the Udsted, and a parish council was introduced in each parish. At the same time, the Forstanderskaber were replaced by Grønlands Landsråd , an advisory parliament with limited decision-making power, which was divided into two areas of responsibility for north and south Greenland . Trade and administration were separated, from then on Grønlands Styrelse was responsible for administration. In 1925, in a further reform, the inspector's office in North and South Greenland was replaced by the Landsfoged . In addition, a Sysselrat was introduced in the colonial districts as an intermediate stage between the municipal council and the regional council, which thus covered the same areas as the old Forstanderskaber. In the course of increasing economic problems, the economic structure began to change and the focus shifted from sealing to fishing from the first quarter of the 20th century. In addition, agriculture emerged as a further branch of the economy in South Greenland during this period and mining intensified. The new economic structures led to the beginning of centralization and urbanization.

Although Denmark claimed that the entire island of Greenland was a Danish colony, there were repeated disputes with Norway over the east coast of Greenland. In 1922 a Norwegian expedition wintered in eastern Greenland. In 1924 there was another conflict between the two countries, as a result of which Denmark granted Norway economic privileges in East Greenland. As a result, Denmark sent five scientific expeditions to East Greenland up to 1930 to substantiate Danish claims to the area. The conflict escalated in 1931 when Norwegian fishermen, with the benevolence of their government, occupied the uninhabited Eirik Raudes Land in northeast Greenland and shortly afterwards Fridtjof Nansen Land in southeast Greenland. The Permanent International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled in 1933 that all of Greenland belonged to Denmark, which clarified the territorial claims.

The Thule Air Base (1989)

During the Second World War , Denmark was occupied by the Wehrmacht on April 9, 1940 as part of Operation Weser Exercise and remained under German occupation until the end of the war . Greenland was thus cut off from Denmark. The Landsfogeder took over the state power and together with the two state councils they agreed to a supply by the United States . They entered into a contract with the Danish ambassador Henrik Kauffmann on April 9, 1941, which approved the establishment of US bases in Greenland, whereupon Greenland took on a strategic military role for the first time.

After the war there was a spirit of optimism in Greenland and decolonization was sought. As a result, both parts of the country were united in 1950, the colonial districts were abolished and replaced by new municipalities, so that from now on there was only one regional council and 16 municipal councils. The Landsfoged was replaced by a Landshøvding . In addition, the KGH lost the trade monopoly over Greenland and the country was opened to free trade. On June 5, 1953, Greenland was officially decolonized and an equal part of Denmark, which also received two seats in the Folketing .

Post-colonial period (1953 to 1979)

After the end of the war, the USA remained present in Greenland and in the early 1950s expanded some of its military stations into larger air bases, especially Thule Air Base in northwest Greenland . Greenland played a central role in the Cold War , as the country was halfway across the North Pole between the United States and the Soviet Union . North Greenland and East Greenland were only incorporated into the rest of the municipal structure in 1961.

After decolonization, Denmark did everything in its power to develop Greenland into a part of the country with the same standard of living as the rest of the country. The infrastructure was greatly expanded and the health system improved, as a result of which the death rate previously characterized by tuberculosis fell sharply and the population doubled to around 46,000 between 1950 and 1970. At the same time, the number of Danes working in Greenland increased tenfold. Many Greenlandic children were sent to boarding schools and foster families in Denmark for a year to learn the Danish language and culture. Over time, Greenland became heavily danified. The politics of these two decades, known as the G50 or G60 policies , resulted in rapid urbanization and the abandonment of dozens of living spaces while apartment blocks were built in the cities. The explosive modernization of Greenland began to show significant side effects in the 1960s. Social problems, alcohol addiction, crime and suicides spread, which is explained by the sudden cultural alienation of the traditional fishing and hunting-based village communities towards an industrialized urban population in large parts of Greenland.

In retrospect, the post-colonial period in Greenland is seen as the actual introduction of colonialism in Greenland, as the forced modernization meant that traditional Greenlandic culture disappeared in many areas. A nationalist opposition developed, calling for Greenlandic participation and the promotion of Greenlandic culture. In 1973 Denmark and with it Greenland joined the European Economic Community , which led to great resistance in Greenland because of the fisheries policy. This promoted the desire for autonomy even more. After around five years of work, the Hjemmestyre was introduced in Greenland on May 1, 1979 , and Greenland became autonomous.

Autonomy (since 1979)

Greenland received a parliament and a government in 1979. After a referendum in 1982, Greenland left the European Economic Community in 1985. In 1986 the KGH , which had held the trade monopoly until 1950, was dissolved and converted into a number of state-owned companies. In the following year, the GTO , which is responsible for the infrastructure, was nationalized and renamed Nuna-Tek . As a result, the Greenland Ministry was dissolved by Denmark. Greenland was economically heavily dependent on Denmark and had to concentrate on shrimp fishing after the end of the fishing boom. From the 1990s onwards, urbanization increased even more and more and more Greenlanders emigrated to Denmark, while the social problems among the population increased. After the desire for even more autonomy arose around 2000, the Selvstyre (“self-government”) was introduced on June 21, 2009 and Greenland received, among other things, the right to its own raw materials. Greenland has large reserves of raw materials, including rare earths , the extraction of which is controversial and has therefore not yet been implemented. In addition, Greenland's military strategic and geopolitical role began to strengthen again, which is why Donald Trump made an offer to buy Greenland in 2019, which caused international outrage.



In the background the Nuuk Center with the seat of the Greenland government. The building in the foreground is the church building of the New Apostolic Church in Nuuk.

Like the Faroe Islands, Greenland is an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark and, together with the other two countries, forms the Rigsfællesskab ("Imperial Community "). The Greenlandic Constitution is the Danish Basic Law ( Danmarks Riges Grundlov ) passed in 1953 , which is laid down in its §1.

According to Section 1 of the Selvstyre Act (Act No. 473), Greenland is a democracy with a tripartite state authority . The form of government that has been in effect since 2009 is called Selvstyre and replaced the Hjemmestyre ("home administration") that came into force in 1979 . Both levels of autonomy have made it possible for Greenland to take over most of the government tasks from the Danish state (see Section 2 of the Selvstyre Act). Defense policy and foreign policy are excluded from this . According to §8, the decision on Greenlandic independence is the sole responsibility of the Greenlandic population in a referendum .

Greenland head of state as part of Rigsfællesskab the Danish Queen Margrethe II. It is of Reichsombudsfrau Mikaela Engell represented. The office of the Reich ombudsman emerged in 1979 from that of the Landshøvding , whose predecessors were responsible for the administration of colonial Greenland. The imperial ombudsman serves as a link between the Greenlandic Autonomous Government and the Danish state and primarily performs organizational and coordination tasks.


The Greenland executive is Naalakkersuisut, the government . It usually consists of around seven to ten ministers who officially bear the title Naalakkersuisoq ("He who creates what is to be obeyed"). The name Naalakkersuisut is the corresponding plural word. Among them is the head of government , who has the official title Naalakkersuisut Siulittaasuat ("Chairman of the Naalakkersuisut"). The current head of government since April 23, 2021 is Múte B. Egede , who heads the Egede cabinet .

The legal framework for Naalakkersuisut is regulated in Chapter 3 of the Law on Inatsisartut and Naalakkersuisut (Law No. 26/2010). The government is elected and controlled by parliament. Ministers are often, but not necessarily, Members of Parliament. It is customary for these, with the exception of the head of government, to be on leave from parliamentary duties while serving as ministers.

legislative branch

President of Parliament Josef Motzfeldt together with the US Secretary of State for the Navy Ray Mabus in Inatsisartut (2010)

The Greenlandic legislature is the Inatsisartut ("The Commanders"), the parliament . It consists of 31 MPs ( Inatsisartunut Ilaasortat "Members of Inatsisartut"), who are re-elected every four years at the most. The parliament is presided over by a parliamentary presidium made up of the parliamentary president and four parliamentary vice-presidents. The current President of Parliament since April 23, 2021 is Hans Enoksen , who heads the 14th Inatsisartut .

The legal framework for the Inatsisartut is regulated in Chapter 2 of the Law on Inatsisartut and Naalakkersuisut (Law No. 26/2010). Parliament is responsible for legislation , approves the annual budget and is responsible for overseeing the government.

The Inatsisartut elects an ombudsman who is responsible for overseeing the administrative tasks of the government and local authorities.

In addition to its own parliament, Greenland, like the Faroe Islands, also sends two MPs to the Folketing in accordance with Section 28 of the Danish Basic Law , who are supposed to represent Greenland's interests in Danish parliamentary affairs.


The Greenland judiciary is part of the Danish legal system. The highest instance in Greenland is Grønlands Landsret ("Greenland's Regional Court"), to which four district courts and the Retten i Grønland ("Court in Greenland") are subordinate. The district courts serve as criminal courts and family courts , while Retten i Grønland acts as a civil court and bankruptcy court . The Landsret is superordinated to the Højesteret as the highest authority, which can be called upon in special cases.

Foreign and Defense Policy

The Danish state is responsible for the foreign and defense policy of Greenland. However, Greenland has a foreign minister and a say in all matters affecting Greenland itself.

As part of the Rigsfællesskab, Greenland has no embassies in other countries. However, the country has diplomatic representatives in Denmark, Iceland , the United States and the European Union . There is an Icelandic and a US consulate in Greenland, as well as several honorary consulates .

Greenland is neither part of the European Union nor the Schengen area . Greenland's membership in the European Union was ended in a referendum in 1982 . Greenland has been working with Iceland and the Faroe Islands in the West Nordic Council (since 1985/1997). Furthermore, as part of the Danish delegation, it has been a member of the Nordic Council since 1983 . On September 5, 2007, the Åland Document was adopted, which enables the autonomous regions of Åland , the Faroe Islands and Greenland to become members of the Nordic Council on an equal footing.

The national defense is incumbent on the Danish military and is taken over by its Arktisk Kommando (previously by the predecessor organization Grønlands Kommando ).


Greenland's gross domestic product was around 2.5 billion US dollars in 2015, which corresponds to around 41,800 US dollars per capita. According to the latter value, Greenland is roughly on a par with Italy or Japan and 28% behind the mother country Denmark. Greenland's unemployment rate peaked at 10.3% in 2014, but fell to 5.1% by 2019. Greenland's trade deficit reached 2.71 billion Danish kroner (507 million US dollars) in 2011, but was only 533 million Danish kroner (81.7 million US dollars) in 2020. The Greenland economy is heavily dependent on the annual inflation- regulated Bloktilskud (“block grant”), through which Greenland received 3,911.3 million Danish kroner (599 million US dollars) from the Danish state in 2020. Much of the foreign trade goes through Denmark. In 2003 95% of the products were exported to Denmark and 60% were imported from Denmark.

The Greenland economy is poorly diversified. By economic sector , the primary sector accounted for 12% in cities and 32% in villages in 2015. The secondary sector accounted for 9% in cities and 2% in villages. The tertiary sector can be divided into services (37% in cities, 34% in villages) and public administration (40% in cities, 32% in villages). The primary sector consists of fishing , hunting , agriculture and mining . The former makes up 93% of the workforce.

Hunting, fishing and agriculture

Seal hunting is the traditional Inuit acquisition. (Picture around 1900)

Hunting used to be the only way for the Inuit to survive . Traditional prey include seals, whales, polar bears, reindeer, foxes, rabbits, and birds. Hunting continues to be an important part of Greenlandic culture and is an important part of the supply, especially in the villages and especially in North and East Greenland. Hunting is legally regulated on the basis of biological expertise through hunting quotas in order to ensure sustainable use of resources.

Fishing boats in Sisimiut (2010)

The Inuit traditionally did less fishing. While the colonial economy functioned on the basis of hunting for almost 200 years, the fishing industry did not gain a foothold in Greenland until the beginning of the 20th century. Cod fishing in particular was important and from the 1930s onwards was able to offset the declining seal populations economically. Cod fishing became prosperous in Greenland, but collapsed around 1970. This marked the beginning of the shrimp fishing phase, which continues to this day and forms the main basis for Greenland exports. Halibut fishing also makes up a significant part of the fishing industry. Fishing now accounts for 95% of Greenland's exports, which makes the economic situation extremely dependent on stocks and prices.

Igaliku, Greenland's oldest agricultural site (2008)

Agriculture is practiced in South Greenland. Anders Olsen began raising cattle in Igaliku in the 18th century . At the beginning of the 20th century, Jens Chemnitz introduced modern Greenlandic animal husbandry in Narsarmijit with sheep farming. In the decades that followed, sheep farming spread across the whole of South Greenland and reached a peak of 48,000 animals in 1966, before a particularly harsh winter cut the population by more than half. The animals are kept in the shepherd's settlements, isolated farms, especially in the Narsaq district . Around 20,000 lambs are slaughtered in Greenland each year. In addition, there are 300 cattle in Greenland today that belong to four farmers. Two reindeer herders keep around 1,600 reindeer. Potatoes and other vegetables have been grown on a small scale in Greenland since around 2000 . On average, around 100 tons of potatoes are sold each year, which are grown by around five to six farmers. Other crops include May beets , rhubarb , cabbage , radishes and lettuce . The experimental station in Upernaviarsuk plays a decisive role in Greenlandic agriculture . At the moment, however, agriculture in Greenland is a losing business.


The Nalunaq gold mine in South Greenland

Greenland is rich in raw materials. On the coast there are larger deposits of gold , platinum , copper , zinc , nickel , molybdenum and iron . There are also rubies and diamonds .

With the mining of coal in Disko Bay (Ritenbenk Kulbrud), mining began in colonial Greenland for the first time in 1782. However, the occurrences were more used for local supply. Industrial mining began in Greenland in the mid-19th century, with graphite mining in North Greenland and copper mining in South Greenland. The cryolite mine in Ivittuut , which had been active for 130 years, opened almost at the same time . Coal mining was industrialized from around 1900, first in Qaarsuarsuk , then in Qullissat . Qullissat became one of the most important cities in the country in the 20th century until it was abandoned against the will of the population in the 1970s when the resources were depleted. In the 1970s and 1980s, the lead and zinc mine in Maamorilik , where marble had previously been mined, was important. Since the turn of the millennium there have been several attempts to mine gold in Nalunaq . Crude oil has been sought off the Greenland coast since 1969 . However, the discovered deposits have always been classified as unprofitable.

In Narsaq are on the mountain Kuannersuit significant deposits of uranium and rare earths . These have led to political debates several times, especially since 2010. The deposits are so large that it is expected that they could break the dominance of China in the world market and improve the economic and financial situation of Greenland. The potential mining became interesting during the reign of Kuupik Kleist ( Inuit Ataqatigiit ), but was prevented by the zero tolerance policy, according to which no radioactive substances such as uranium are allowed to be mined in Greenland . In 2013 the Siumut took over again and abolished the mining ban with a narrow majority. As a result, resistance formed in the population, as they feared the destruction of the environment. Above all, the mine activity is expected to cause radioactive contamination of waters in Greenland's only agriculturally usable area. In 2021 the Siumut again lost power to the Inuit Ataqatigiit, who had promised to stop the Kuannersuit project.


A cruise ship in Greenland (2007)

The tourism plays a significant role in Greenland's economy. The state tourism company Visit Greenland advertises Arctic nature, for example with icebergs , polar lights and wildlife. There are hiking and ski tours , mountain climbing and kayaking - and dog sled tours offered. There is also a presentation of the Greenlandic culture, which can be experienced in the cities and more traditional villages.

The number of foreign air passengers landing in Greenland increased slightly between 2015 and 2019 and amounts to around 60,000 people, which is slightly more than the population of Greenland. Almost half of the travelers live in Denmark, with Germany, the USA and Canada being the most important countries of origin for tourists. There were around 260,000 overnight stays in Greenlandic hotels in 2019, which were split roughly equally between Greenlanders and foreigners. The summer months of July and August are the high season for tourism. The most important branch of tourism in Greenland is cruise shipping, which almost doubled by reducing cruise fees in 2016 to 2019. Almost half of the almost 50,000 cruise tourists come from Germany and the United States. The most important ports of call are Qaqortoq , Nuuk , Ilulissat , Nanortalik and Sisimiut . Problems for tourism in Greenland are the high airfares and the lack of accommodation.

With the Ilulissat Icefjord (since 2004), the southern Greenland cultural landscape Kujataa (since 2017) and the cultural landscape Aasivissuit - Nipisat (since 2018), Greenland has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites . There are around 20 museums in Greenland .


Transport in Greenland is difficult due to the geographical situation.

Road traffic only exists in cities (here Nuuk ).

Because of the distances between the settlements, often up to a hundred kilometers, and the landscape characterized by islands, fjords and mountains, no road network is possible in Greenland. At the moment there are practically no inhabited places that are connected by a road. Within the cities there are road networks, while within villages there are usually a maximum of distances. Dog sleds and snowmobiles are of greater importance .

Passenger shipping is the second most important type of passenger transportation.

Shipping plays a major role. All places in Greenland are on the water and almost all have a port facility. The transport of goods for the food supply takes place mainly by sea. This food is mainly shipped from Aalborg, Denmark, to various cities in Greenland, from where it is distributed to smaller ports and villages. Ships and boats are also used to transport people. The ice conditions complicate or prevent shipping traffic in different parts of the country at certain times of the year. The transport of goods is carried out by the Royal Arctic Line , while the Arctic Umiaq Line and the Disko Line are responsible for passenger transport.

Air traffic with small aircraft is typical.

Air traffic, however, plays the largest role in passenger transport. There are 14 active airports and almost 50 heliports in Greenland. The airports in Kangerlussuaq , Narsarsuaq , Kulusuk and Pituffik (Thule Air Base) were originally built for military purposes, which is why they are located outside the cities. Around 1980 the first city airports were built in Nuuk and Ilulissat . At the turn of the millennium, six more airports were opened in Qaanaaq , Upernavik , Qaarsut (for Uummannaq ), Aasiaat , Sisimiut , Maniitsoq and, a little later, in Paamiut . Then there is the originally private airport Nerlerit Inaat (for Ittoqqortoormiit ) , which is located in no man's land . The airports are operated by Mittarfeqarfiit , while Pilersuisoq is responsible for operating the heliports. Air Greenland and regional Disko Line are responsible for the transport. Greenland has an international flight connection between Copenhagen and Kangerlussuaq and, to a lesser extent, between Nuuk and Keflavík on Iceland. Numerous cities are served by flights from Kangerlussuaq, some only with a stopover. Helicopter connections lead from the cities to the individual villages.

Public air and shipping traffic is not economically viable and can only be maintained through state subsidies.



The Folkeskole of Qaarsut , a typical village school (2011)

The Greenland education system is shaped by the Danish education system. There is ten years of compulsory schooling, which is completed in the Folkeskole . Every village has one school, and cities often have several. Due to the small number of inhabitants, only a single-digit number of students are taught at many village schools. However, many only teach up to the seventh or eighth grade, after which the schoolchildren have to move to the nearest town. After completing the Folkeskole, vocational or high school training can be undertaken . The latter entitles you to attend the University of Greenland (Ilisimatusarfik) or a foreign university.

As a result of the Danish missionary work in colonial Greenland from the 18th century onwards, practically all Greenlandic children were taught to read and write, among other things. School lessons were and are typically in Greenlandic. In the post-colonial phase from the 1950s to the 1970s, however, the Danish language was increasingly used and many Greenlandic children were sent to Denmark to attend school at times.


The media are of great importance as a source of information and communication for Greenland because of the large physical distances between the population. As early as 1861, Greenland received its first newspaper, Atuagagdliutit . It was written in the local language and did not initially serve as a news agency. Rather, it was a collection of sequels and later a forum for debate. The Atuagagdliutit is considered to be the nucleus of a whole Greenlandic sense of identity. From 1952 the Atuagagdliutit appeared bilingual as Atuagagdliutit / Grønlandsposten (AG) .

Today the newspaper industry is dominated by the media publisher Sermitsiaq.AG, which publishes the national newspaper Sermitsiaq in addition to the Atuagagdliutit . Historically, local newspapers were of great importance in Greenland. In 1980 there were still 21 local newspapers, in 2018 there were only four, most of which are privately written and mainly consist of advertisements. There are also some magazines and periodicals in Greenland.

From the 1920s, there were a few radio broadcasts in Greenland. In 1958, the national broadcaster Kalaallit Nunaata Radioa (KNR) was founded, which has also been offering a television program since 1982. While the newspapers and online news are mostly bilingual, the television and radio programming is almost entirely in Greenlandic. In addition to KNR, there are some local and private radio and television broadcasters.

The Greenland media landscape is dominated by Sermitsiaq.AG and KNR. The other providers hardly play a role.

The internet also plays a major role in Greenland. In 2017, around 50% of the population used the internet on a daily basis. The price per megabyte fell by 95% between 2007 and 2015, which has led to greater adoption. Internet consumption increased between 2007 and 2017, and mobile data consumption even increased 600-fold between 2009 and 2018. Greenland is one of the countries with the highest usage of Facebook . Around two-thirds of residents use Facebook every day, and a July 2018 study found Greenland topped the global ranking of the most Facebook comments per month per capita.

Social and health

Apartment blocks such as the Blok P here are emblematic of the post-colonial politics of the 1960s and the resulting social problems.

Greenland is grappling with a complex set of social problems. Alcohol abuse is widespread and often leads to domestic violence and other crime, as well as child neglect . This often leads to further psychological problems, which regularly end in suicide among the young population . Greenland has by far the highest suicide rate in the world (see Suizid in Greenland ). In a survey between 2005 and 2010, around 35% said they had experienced gross violence in their life, 6% within the last year. Around 10% of women born after decolonization reported having been sexually abused as adults . In addition, the study showed that of those born after 1970, around 35% of women and 15% of men were sexually abused as children, and 20% of women and 4% of men as adolescents.

In colonial Greenland, the traditional social and societal system of the Inuit was replaced by a colonial-controlled social system, especially with the introduction of the Forstanderskaber from around 1860. Usually, the cause of the Greenlandic social problems is seen in the post-colonial development policy of the 1950s and 1960s, with the Within two decades, the colonized society, characterized by hunting and fishing, was turned inside out into an industrialized state that was supposed to meet Danish standards and was characterized by urbanization and the resulting loss of culture.

The average life expectancy at birth in 2021 was 73.7 years - 76.6 years for women and 71.0 years for men. Greenland was only 145th in the ranking of all states and territories in the world (out of 227). Life expectancy is over 81 years in both Denmark and the Faroe Islands. The World Factbook shows Greenland as the country with the highest hospital bed capacity per capita (14 beds per 1000 people). With 1.87 doctors per 1000 inhabitants, however, Greenland is well below the European level.

According to a 2007 study, depending on the definition, 9% or 18% of Greenlandic children suffered from child poverty .



A typical tupilak

The Inuit knew no art in the western sense. Pre-colonial works such as carvings and tattoos served a higher purpose or decoration. A real concept of art only emerged through European influences. Mathias Ferslew Dalager , son of a colonial administrator, was the first Greenlander with an art education at the end of the 18th century. Greenlandic art of its own did not develop until the middle of the 19th century, however, shaped by people like Aron von Kangeq and Jens Kreutzmann , who worked as illustrators who reproduced everyday Greenlandic situations and legends and myths in a naive style . At the end of the 19th century, Greenlandic handicrafts emerged , initially mainly shaped by Johannes Kreutzmann . In addition to the further development of handicrafts, landscape painting emerged at the beginning of the 20th century , the best-known representatives of which were Lars and Stephen Møller as well as Otto and Peter Rosing . The next generation included Hans Lynge , Jens Rosing , Kâle Rosing and later Thue Christiansen and Kristian Olsen , who above all revolutionized graphics . From the 1960s onwards, a new art movement emerged which, shaped by post-colonialism, tries to portray traditional Greenlandic art in art and wants to deal artistically with the past and present in a politically and socially critical manner. The most famous contemporary Greenlandic artist is Aka Høegh .

The tupilak is a typical work of art in Greenland. It is a grotesque figure carved out of bone, ivory, stone or wood , which originally played a role within Inuit shamanism, but from 1905 onwards it has become a pure art object and present-day souvenir from East Greenland.

There is an art school in Nuuk that is important for Greenlandic art. There are also two art museums in the country, the Nuuk Art Museum and the Ilulissat Art Museum. There are also works on display in the Katuaq Culture House in Nuuk.


Anda Kûitse , a representative of drum dance who survived in East and North Greenland and is still used for entertainment today.

Greenlandic music has its origins in the traditional Inuit drum dance ( inngerutit ). For this purpose, a round drum ( qilaat ) in the form of a frame made of driftwood or walrus ribs covered with seal or dog skin was used. The drum was not drummed on the membrane, but on the frame from below with a stick. In addition, simple melodies were sung. The drum dance used to have three social functions: On the one hand, it was the legal instrument of the Inuit. Disputes were fought and settled in a singing duel. One tried to make the other as ridiculous as possible. With their laughter, the audience expressed who was the winner and therefore who was to blame. The drum could also be used by shamans for ritual evocations of spirits. In addition, the drum dance also had a pure entertainment function.

After the arrival of the missionaries in the 18th century, the drum dance was banned as pagan-shamanistic and replaced by the polyphonic singing of hymns ( tussiutit ). The Moravian Brethren had a particularly strong influence . From the 17th century onwards, Dutch, German and Scottish whalers brought the fiddle , the accordion and the polka ( kalattuut ) to Greenland, where they are now played along with complicated dance steps. Greenlandic music is still strongly influenced by religious music, the most famous representatives of which since the 19th century have been Rasmus Berthelsen , Josva Kleist , Jakob II Egede and Johan Kleist .

After the Second World War, a western musical culture began to develop in Greenland, which was initially mainly characterized by US country music and mainly used the guitar and accordion as instruments. In the 1970s Per Berthelsen and Malik Høegh formed the rock band Sumé , who released the first Greenland LP and had great political influence on the autonomy movement. Since then, the Greenlandic music scene has been dominated by rock music and hip-hop , and to a lesser extent by pop music and techno . Rasmus Lyberth , Juaaka Lyberth , Ulf Fleischer , Ole Kristiansen , Nuuk Posse , Nanook and Josef Tarrak-Petrussen are among the most important musicians and bands in recent Greenlandic music history . In addition, musicians like Angu Motzfeldt and Julie Berthelsen try to market themselves abroad through English-language music.


The Greenland film industry is very young. After a few Greenlandic short films and feature films with Greenlandic participation, the first purely Greenlandic feature film was not made until 2009. Since then, around one feature film has been released in Greenland each year. Attempts are being made to professionalise the Greenland film industry.


Due to the lack of a written language, the Inuit had no actual literature, but countless legends and myths were passed on orally . In the 19th century, these were mainly collected and preserved by Hinrich Johannes Rink in West Greenland and in the early 20th century by Knud Rasmussen in North Greenland.

Like music, 19th century Greenland literature was heavily influenced by Christian hymn poetry. Rasmus Berthelsen , Henrik Lund and Jonathan Petersen were of great importance here .

1914 appeared with Singnagtugaĸ (“A Dream”) by Mathias Storch the first Greenlandic novel, which like Augo Lynges Ukiut 300-nngornerat (“300 years later”) from 1931 a utopian free Greenland in the distant future (2105 by Mathias Storch, 2021 at Augo Lynge). Both were also politically active. The middle of the 20th century was dominated by Frederik Nielsen , Pavia Petersen and Hans Lynge , whose novels also dealt with colonization problems and traditional culture. The works of the next generation from the second half of the 20th century, whose main representatives include Otto Rosing , Villads Villadsen , Otto Sandgreen and Ole Brandt , have a little more focus on the latter .

From the 1970s onwards, a strongly politicized literary movement emerged in the post-colonial phase, many of whose main representatives, such as Moses Olsen and Aqqaluk Lynge, were also among the country's most important politicians. Other representatives were Kristian Olsen and Hans Anthon Lynge . In novels and poetry, the danification of post-colonial Greenland is clearly criticized and more autonomy is demanded. Together with Ole Korneliussen , Hans Anthon Lynge shaped the late 20th century in Greenlandic literature.

In the late 20th century, women in Greenland also began writing. In 1981 Maaliaaraq Vebæk published the first novel written by a Greenlander and in 1988 Mariane Petersen published the first collection of poems by a Greenlander. While literature has recently become less important than other forms of expression, since the 2010s a new generation has emerged to deal with Greenlandic identity and social problems. Niviaq Korneliussen is currently considered the most important writer of this generation .


Seal meat is a traditional Greenlandic food.

Meat was almost the only source of food available to the Inuit , which is still reflected in Greenlandic cuisine today. Most of the animals living in Greenland still function as food today. The most important meat suppliers include seal meat , reindeer , musk ox , lamb , whale meat , bird meat and sea prawns and numerous food fish such as trout , salmon , redfish and halibut . Both meat and fish are often dried into dried meat and dried fish . Mattak is typically Greenlandic , mostly raw whale skin with a layer of fat.

Some edible plants grow in Greenland. Especially black crowberries and bogberries as well as medicinal angelica . In addition, rhubarb , potatoes and various beets are grown and eaten in Greenland.

The national dish of Greenland is suaasat , a soup based on pearl barley or rice with any meat, usually seal, reindeer or lamb, and onions.

Greenlandic food is known as Kalaalimerngit / Kalaalimernit and is mostly hunted by yourself or sold by hunters in local markets (in Danish Brættet "Brett", in Greenlandic Kalaalimineerniarfik "Where Kalaalimerngit are sold"). European foods such as vegetables or beef and pork are available in stores , but these are significantly more expensive due to import costs and customs duties. The price level for groceries is on average around 50% higher than the Danish one.


A Greenland-Danish peat wall house in Uummannaq

Greenlandic architecture has changed radically several times over the past few centuries. Various types of houses from the Stone Age that have been archaeologically passed down were passed down in Greenland at the beginning of the colonial period in the 18th century. They were peat wall houses, flat small stone buildings for one or more families, the walls of which were sealed with peat and whose roof was mostly made of driftwood and seal skin, which was then also covered with stones and peat.

A trading building in Upernavik designed partly as a stone, partly as a wooden house

The Europeans built wooden houses based on the Norwegian model in the colonies , initially as multi-storey houses and from the 19th century as half-timbered houses . They served as residential houses for the employees and, for example, as church buildings. The European building culture also had a strong influence on the Greenlandic peat wall houses, so that a mixed type emerged in which the interior of the building and the roof were clad with wood and only the outer walls continued to consist of peat walls. Another advancement was the use of stone only, which resulted in large stone houses that were used for commercial purposes, primarily as warehouses.

Blocks of flats and typical single family houses in Nuuk

Up until the 20th century, the Greenland population lived largely in peat-walled houses, before they fell out of use in the course of modernization. From the middle of the 20th century, two architectural styles developed: The self-build houses are wooden houses that were built as individual pieces by the residents themselves with little architectural skill. On the other hand, there was the architectural office of Grønlands Tekniske Organization for the mass production of type houses, which in many cities created entire streets of similar houses. From the 1960s onwards, terraced houses and apartment blocks such as Blok P were built in many cities to meet the rapidly growing housing needs of the increasingly urbanized population.


A soccer game in Uummannaq (2009)

Sports in Greenland developed from 1933 onwards with the establishment of the first sports clubs. In 1953 the Greenland Sports Association was founded with Grønlands Idrætsforbund (GIF). In 2013, the GIF had 12,191 members, of whom 8,824 actively played sports, which corresponded to 15.7% of the population. Greenland has set itself the goal of being the most sporty country in the world by 2030.

The most popular sports in Greenland include soccer , handball , badminton , table tennis , skiing and martial arts . Typical arctic sports are dog sledding , kayaking and traditional Inuit competitions, which are often based on strength and skill. There are several marathons and extreme sports competitions in Greenland . The most famous competition held in Greenland is the Arctic Circle Race .

Greenland regularly participates in the Island Games and the Arctic Winter Games . Greenland's national handball teams have also been able to qualify for world championships several times. In many sports such as football or badminton, Greenland is not an independent association, but as part of Denmark is not eligible to participate in international competitions. Several Greenlandic athletes have participated in the Olympic Games (especially the Winter Games ) for Denmark .

See also

Portal: Greenland  - Overview of Wikipedia content on Greenland


Web links

Commons : Greenland  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikivoyage: Greenland  travel guide
Wikisource: Greenland  - Sources and full texts
Wiktionary: Greenland  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikimedia Atlas: Greenland  - geographical and historical maps

Individual evidence

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