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The academy opened its doors on 29th June 1952. The idea of founding an academy in a border area had been ventilated as early as the 1930s; its realization, however, occurred only after World War II. Friedrich Wilhelm Lübke, the chief executive of the rural council at the time and later minister president, initiated the project of building an academy. He was chairman of the Grenzverein, the owner of the academy. The architect was Wilhelm Vaupel, head of planning office in Flensburg.

In the beginning there were only one lecture room and 24 guest bedrooms. In subsequent building phases the number of lecture rooms was increased to four, plus special rooms for group activities and 57 bedrooms. In 2004 the latest addition was a new restaurant and kitchen.

For more than 60 years the academy has been a place of "liberal, political and cultural exchange" building a "bridge between nations for better and genuine understanding" - as laid down in the founders' manifesto. Two interlinked educational objectives determine our work:

Firstly, we are focussing the subject areas history, culture and religion, literature and the arts - thereby laying an ethical foundation for the present-day problems in our society.
Secondly, political education, which furthers democratic co-existence. A special emphasis is put on topics with regional relevance.

All events are open to an interested general public. Since its foundation the academy has enrolled more than 400,000 participants.

The Akademie Sankelmark is maintained by the Deutscher Grenzverein e.V.,
a charitable organisation, whose members come mainly from the communities of northern Schleswig-Holstein. Since 2011 the Akademie Sankelmark, the Europäische Akademie Schleswig-Holstein and the Academia Baltica have amalgamated into the Akademiezentrum Sankelmark.