From November 12th to 13th in 1872, an extreme coastal flood event occurred in the south Baltic Sea. An unusual combination of winds created a storm surge reaching up to 3.5 m above mean sea level, which is more than a meter higher than all other observations over the past 200 years. On the Danish, German, and Swedish coasts, about 300 people lost their lives. The consequences of the storm in Denmark and Germany were more severe than in Sweden, with significantly larger destruction and higher numbers of casualties. In Denmark and Germany, the 1872 storm has been more extensively documented and remembered and still influences local and regional risk awareness. A comparative study indicates that the collective memory of the 1872 storm is related to the background knowledge about floods, the damage extent, and the response to the storm. Flood marks and dikes help to remember the events. In general, coastal flood defence is to the largest degree implemented in the affected areas in Germany, followed by Denmark, and is almost absent in Sweden, corresponding to the extent of the collective memory of the 1872 storm. Within the affected countries, there is local variability of flood risk awareness associated with the collective memory of the storm. Also, the economic dependency on flood-prone areas and conflicting interests with the tourism industry have influence on flood protection decisions. The processes of climate change adaptation and implementation of the EU Floods Directive are slowly removing these differences in flood risk management approaches.