Official name : Federal Republic of Germany
Area: 357,021 square kilometers (137,847 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Zugspitze (2,963 meters/9,721 feet)
Lowest point on land: Freepsum Lake (2 meters/6.6 feet below sea level)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 1 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 853 kilometers (530 miles) from north to south; 650 kilometers (404 miles) from east to west
Land boundaries: 3,618 kilometers (2,248 miles) total boundary length; Austria 784 kilometers (487 miles); Belgium 167 kilometers (104 miles); Czech Republic 646 kilometers (401 miles); Denmark 68 kilometers (42 miles); France 451 kilometers (280 miles); Luxembourg 135 kilometers (84 miles); Netherlands 577 kilometers (359 miles); Poland 456 kilometers (302 miles); Switzerland 334 kilometers (208 miles)
Coastline: 2,389 kilometers (1,484 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Germany is located in central Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea and the North Sea between the countries of Poland and The Netherlands. The country also shares borders with Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic. With an area of about 357,021 square kilometers (137,847 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of Montana. Germany is divided into sixteen states.
Germany has no outside territories or dependencies.
Germany has a temperate and marine climate. The Gulf Stream westerly winds from the North Sea moderate temperatures throughout the year. In the lowlands, mid-winter temperatures average more than 1.6°C (35°F), while summer temperatures average between 16° and 18°C (61° and 64°F). In the south, temperatures are somewhat more extreme, averaging about -2°C (28°F) in winter and 19.4°C (67°F) or higher in summer. The yearly mean for the entire country is 9°C (48°F).
Rainfall varies from 200 centimeters (79 inches) in the Alps to 40 centimeters (16 inches) in the vicinity of Mainz. In the maritime region, precipitation varies between 61 and 64 centimeters (24 and 25 inches), close to the national yearly average of between 60 and 80 centimeters (24 and 31.5 inches).
Topographically, Germany is composed of northern lowlands, central uplands, Alpine foothills, and Bavarian Alps. The northern plain covers the upper one-third of the country and contains the coastal area in the far north. Inland, the plain becomes hilly and is crisscrossed by rivers and valleys. These hills open to the Alpine Foreland where north-south ranges interspersed with deep valleys climb to the wooded slopes and craggy peaks of the German-Austrian Alps. Germany lies on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate.
Germany faces the North Sea to the northwest and Baltic Sea to the northeast. A narrow strip of land on which Germany borders Denmark separates the two seas, both of which are extensions of the Atlantic Ocean.
On the Baltic Sea, Mecklenburg Bay carves into the German coast.
In the North Sea, a line of inshore sand dunes became the East Frisian Islands when the shoreline sank during the thirteenth century. These islands have maximum elevations of less than 35 meters (115 feet) and they have been subject to eroding forces that have washed away whole sections of the coast during storms. In 1854, for example, the sea reclaimed the only village on Wangerooge, the easternmost of the main East Frisian Islands. The islands are strung along the coast in a nearly straight line roughly parallel to the coast.
The North Frisian Islands are located in the North Sea near the border with Denmark. They are irregularly shaped and haphazardly positioned.
At 927 square kilometers (358 square miles) in area, Germany's largest island is Rügen. It lies in the Baltic Sea off Stralsund. Another large island, Fehmarn, is located at the northern edge of Mecklenburg Bay in the Baltic Sea.
The North Sea coast has wide expanses of sand, marsh, and mudflats (watten). On the Baltic side, the northern sections of Schwerin and Neubrandenburg districts, which are also coastal, are dotted with marshes and numerous lakes.
On the North Sea side, the coastal mud flats between the Frisian Islands and the shore are exposed at very low tides and are crossed by innumerable channels. The mud and sand are constantly shifting, making navigation treacherous.
The Schleswig-Holstein coast on the Baltic Sea differs markedly from that on the North Sea. It is indented by a number of small fjords with steep banks. The deep water and shelter of the fjords provide safe sailing conditions. Fishing villages are common on this coast, which is flat and sandy. Farther east, the coastline is uneven but also generally flat and sandy. The continuous action of wind and waves has created sand dunes and ridges. Sandbars connect the mainland with some of its offshore islands.
The Jasmund National Park, along the northeast shore of the Baltic Sea, is characterized by dramatic chalk cliffs. The Königsstuhl is the highest point of this coastline, reaching 117 meters (386 feet).
The northern lowlands contain numerous lakes, particularly in northeastern Germany and around Berlin. Lakes in this region include Lake Müritz, Lake Kummerow, Lake Plau, and Lake Schwerin. In general, these lakes are of little commercial value because of their shallow depth.
The Alpine Foothills are speckled with many lakes of clear, clean water and steep, wooded banks. At higher elevations, glacial lakes add to the spectacular charm of the Alpine meadows. Several lakes dot the landscape in this area of southern Germany, including Ammer Lake, Lake Chiem, and Starnberger See. Lake Constance (Bodensee), through which passes the upper Rhine River, is shared with Switzerland and Austria. It is Germany's largest lake, with a surface area of 571.5 square kilometers (220.7 square miles), of which 305 square kilometers (118 square miles) lie within Germany. It is 74 kilometers (46 miles) long and reaches a maximum depth of 252 meters (827 feet).
The greater part of the country drains into the North Sea via the Rhine, the Ems, the Weser, the Saale, and the Elbe Rivers. A small area north and northeast of Hamburg drains into the Baltic Sea via the Oder River on the Polish border.
Germany's two longest rivers are the Rhine and the Danube (Donau). The Rhine is one of the largest and most commercially important rivers in Western Europe. The western part of Germany is called the Rhineland. The Rhine rises in Switzerland, then flows into Lake Constance and to the west, along Germany's southern border with Switzerland, before turning north into Germany. The Rhine receives a steady flow from melting snow in the winter. In the summer, it is fed from the Neckar, the Main, and the Moselle, its three principal tributaries in Germany (the Moselle has its headwaters in France). The Rhine curves west again and branches into a delta shortly after exiting Germany for the Netherlands, after which it flows into the North Sea.
After Germany was defeated in World War II, the victorious Allies had separated the country into two parts: East Germany, controlled by the Soviet Union, and West Germany, occupied by American, French, and British troops. The East German government constructed the Berlin Wall in 1961 to separate the entire border between East and West Germany. The concrete wall, topped with barbed wire and guarded by armed military personnel, was meant to keep East Germans from emigrating to the West. In 1989, when the Soviet Union abandoned its forced program of Communism for its outside territories, dismantling of the Wall began. In October 1990, East Germany was reunited with West Germany to form the present Federal Republic of Germany.
Today, most of the Berlin Wall is gone. Much of the concrete was crushed and recycled for road construction. Some large sections of the Wall were sold, and a few sections still stand today as memorials. In downtown Berlin, the line where the Wall once stood is marked with either a red line or a double row of cobblestones.
The Danube rises in the southwestern part of the country, not far from the Rhine, but the Danube flows northeast until it reaches the Bavarian Forest, where it curves southeast and exits into Austria at Passau. It then follows a winding, generally eastern course through Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Romania before finally emptying into the Black Sea 2,850 kilometers (1,771 miles) from its source. It flows for 647 kilometers (402 miles) within Germany itself. The second-longest river in Europe, the Danube is a vital commercial and transportation route.
There are no desert regions in Germany.
Grasslands, pastures, and cultivated areas cover significant portions of the lowland plains, the Bavarian foothills, and the valleys and lower slopes of the Alps. Alpine meadows provide rich summer pastures. Barren moors cover the tops of the Harz Mountains in the Central Uplands.
At least a third of the country lies in an area of northern plains known as the central lowlands. These lowlands are part of a great plain that extends across north-central Europe, broadening from Belgium and the Netherlands until it reaches the Ural Mountains. The terrain is gentle and the landscape is marked by few sharp contrasts. Landform areas merge into one another, so no significant natural boundaries bar communications or distinguish one section of the country from another. Elevation in this region rarely exceeds 150 meters (492 feet). The land slopes imperceptibly toward the sea.
Germany's Central Uplands are part of the Central European Uplands extending from the Massif Central in France into Poland and the Czech Republic. The landscape consists of hills, high ridges, and broad, tilted blocks of sedimentary rocks interspersed with deep, trough-like valleys and lowlands.
The Central Uplands are bordered on the south by the south German scarplands, a succession of escarpments and intervening valleys stretching across the country from southern Baden-Württemberg to the northeastern corner of Bavaria. Sections of these uplands are formed by the extension of the Jura ranges from France and Switzerland. One of these ranges constitutes the Black Forest and a second chain forms the Swabian Alb and its extension, the Franconian Alb. In the Black Forest, the Feldberg reaches an elevation of 1,496 meters (4,908 feet). The two albs are about 40 kilometers (25 miles) wide, and in several places peaks exceed altitudes of 900 meters (2,953 feet). They form an arc some 400 kilometers (248 miles) long, extending to the Central Uplands near Bayreuth.
Traditional passages into the Central Uplands include the Hessian Corridor, located between Hanover and Frankfurt, which runs through Kassel on the Weser River.
The deep incision of the valleys and their spectacular landscapes make the south German scarplands most distinctive. They give way to the gentle Alpine Foothills, which comprise all of Bavaria and the eastern portion of Baden-Württemberg. Most of this region is in the upper Danube River basin and is crossed by the Danube's main Alpine tributaries: the Iller, the Lech, the Isar, and the Inn.
Germany is dotted with patches of forest. A mixture of deciduous and conifer forests is found in the Central Uplands and southern scarplands such as the Thüringer Wald, the Bavarian and Bohemian Forests on the eastern frontiers, and the Black Forest in the southwest. In addition, the upper elevations in the Uplands surrounding the Rhine River are heavily forested, as are the Harz at lower levels. Conifers cover Alpine slopes. Good agricultural land is found at the base of the Thüringer Wald surrounding Erfurt, but soils in the southernmost districts are poor and are not favorable for cultivation.
In the southern highlands, the Haardt Mountains stretch into southwestern Germany from France, following the Rhine River. Moving northwest along the Rhine, the elevations gradually diminish, reaching the Taunus Mountains, then finally lowering to the Seven Hills and Rothaar Hills in western Germany.
The Bavarian Alps, high mountains that extend in a narrow strip along the country's southern boundary, are vital to the country's tourism industry. Three sections range eastward from Lake Constance on the Swiss border to just west of Salzburg on the Austrian border. The Allgäuer portion extends from Lake Constance to the Lech River and contains attractions such as Neuschwanstein, site of King Ludwig's whimsical mountain castle at Königsee. The central Bavarian Alps, between the Lech and the Inn Rivers, contain the highest point in Germany, the Zugspitze (2,963 meters/9,721 feet). From the Inn to the Salzburg Alps lies the third and easternmost section, which includes the Berchtesgaden resort, home of Hitler's infamous retreat, the Eagle's Nest. There are several other peaks which top 2,500 meters (8,202 feet); these include Watzmann, at 2,713 meters (8,901 feet); Hochfrottspitze, at 2,649 meters (8,691 feet); and Madelgabel, at 2,645 meters (8,678 feet). These summits rise majestically over the Bavarian Alps.
In the center of Germany are the Rhon Mountains, whose highest point is Mount Grosser Beer at 982 meters (3,221 feet). Just north and slightly to the east of this range are the Kyffhäuser Mountains. The Harz range forms the northwest section and its highest point, Brocken Peak, reaches a height of 1,141 meters (3,743 feet). To the southeast along the Czech border are the Ore Mountains, with elevations reaching 1,213 meters (3,980 feet) at Fichtelberg. Many major industrial centers are situated along the base of the Ores.
The Schlossberg caves near Hamburg are Europe's largest sandstone caves. Long corridors connect their vast, multi-tiered, and multicolored sandstone rooms; visitors may explore about 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) of these tunnels. Part of a fortress that was destroyed in 1714, the caves were not rediscovered until around 1930.
The Messel Pit Fossil Site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has produced the largest known collection of fossils from the Eocene Age, which occurred between 36 million and 57 million years ago. Mammals began to evolve during the Eocene Age. Besides skeleton fossils, researchers also have found well-preserved organ fossils, such as animal stomachs and their contents.
The Central German Uplands consist of a massive rectangular block of slate and shale covered by a gently rolling plateau averaging 400 meters (1,312 feet) in elevation, with peaks from 800 to 900 meters (2,625 to 2,952 feet). The plateau extends from the Rheinish Uplands on the French border to the Ore Mountains, part of the Bohemian Massif, on the Czech border. The plateau contains several river valleys: the Rhine and the Moselle in the west, the Weser in the center, and the Elbe on the east. The southern edge is demarcated by the Main River, which flows westerly to the Rhine.
Germany has an extensive system of canals that effectively link all of its major rivers together. A series of canals runs across the middle of the country, including the Dortmund-Ems Canal, connecting the Rhine with the Ems; the Mittelland Canal, connecting the Ems with the Wesser and the Elbe; as well as other shorter canals. The Main-Danube Canal crosses through the Franconian Alb to connect those two rivers. In northern Germany, the Nord-Ostsee Canal (Kiel Canal) connects the estuary of the Elbe River on the North Sea with the Baltic Sea at Kiel. It is one of the world's busiest canals.
Berendes, Mary. Germany . Chanhassen, MN: Child's World, 2000.
Hargrove, J. Germany . Chicago: Children's Press, 1991.
Jones, Alun. The New Germany: A Human Geography . New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994.
Mellor, Roy E.H. The Two Germanies: A Modern Geography . London: Harper and Row, 1978.