North German Lowland
The North German Lowland is a part of the Great European Plain that sweeps across Europe from the Pyrenees in France to the Ural Mountains in Russia. All of the Länder of Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg, Berlin, most of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, and parts of Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia are located in this region.
Hills in the lowland only rarely reach 200 meters in height, and most of the region is well under 100 meters above sea level. The lowlands slope almost imperceptibly toward the sea. The North Sea portion of the coastline is devoid of cliffs and has wide expanses of sand, marsh, and mud flats (Watten ). The mud flats between the Elbe estuary and the Netherlands border are believed to have been above sea level during Roman history and to have been inundated when the shoreline sank during the thirteenth century. In the western area, the former line of inshore sand dunes became the East Frisian Islands. The mud flats between the islands and the shore are exposed at very low tides and are crossed by innumerable channels varying in size from those cut by small creeks to those serving as the estuaries of the Elbe and Weser rivers. The mud and sand are constantly shifting, and all harbor and shipping channels require continuing maintenance.
The offshore islands have maximum elevations of fewer than thirty-five meters and have been subject to eroding forces that have washed away whole sections during severe storms. Shorelines most subject to eroding tides were stabilized during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Although the East Frisian Islands are strung along the coast in a nearly straight line, the North Frisian Islands are irregularly shaped and are haphazardly positioned. They were also once a part of the mainland, and a large portion of the mud flats between the islands and the coast is exposed during low tides.
The Baltic Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein differs markedly from its North Sea coast. It is indented by a number of small, deep fjords with steep banks, which were carved by rivers when the land was covered with glacial ice. Farther to the east, the Baltic shore is flat and sandy. Rügen, Germany's largest island, lies just offshore of Stralsund.
Wherever the region's terrain is rolling and drainage is satisfactory, the land is highly productive. This is especially true of the areas that contain a very fertile siltlike loess soil, better than most German soils. Such areas, called Börden (sing., Börde ), are located along the southern edge of the North German Lowland beginning west of the Rhine near the Ruhr Valley and extending eastward and into the Leipzig Basin. The Magdeburg Börde is the best known of these areas. Other Börden are located near Frankfurt am Main, northern Baden-Württemberg, and in an area to the north of Ulm and Munich. Because the areas with loess soil also have a moderate continental climate with a long growing season, they are considered Germany's breadbasket.
|Country Studies main page | Germany Country Studies main page|