1902 Encyclopedia > Germany > Germany - Physical Features

(Part 2)


Physical Features

Coast and Islands.—The length of the coast-line is scarcely the third part of the whole frontier, so that he Germans must be regarded as less a maritime than an inland people. Unlike the eastern states of Europe, the German empire has not only an inland sea-shore, but is also in direct communication with the great oceans by mean of the North Sea. The coast of Germany are shallow, and deficient in natural ports, except on the east of Schleswig-Holstein, where wide bays encroach upon the land, giving access to the largest vessels, so that a great harbour for men-of-war has been constructed at Kiel. With the exception of those on the east coast of Schleswig-Holstein, all the import trading ports of Germany are river ports, such as Emden, Bremen, Hamburg, Lübeck, Stettin, Dantzic, Königsberg, Memel. A great difference, however, is to be remarked between the coasts of the North Sea and those of the Baltic. On the former, where the sea has broken up the ranges of dunes formed in bygone times, and divided them into separate islands, the mainland has to be protected by massive dikes, while the Frisian Islands are being gradually washed away by the waters. On the coast of the east Friesland there are now only seven of these islands, of which Norderney, a bathing-place, is best known, while of the North Frisian Islands, on the western coast of Schleswig. Sylt is the most considerable. Besides the ordinary waste of the shores, there have been extensive inundations by the sea within the historic period, the gulf of the Dollart having been so coast of the North Sea to such an extent that the entrance to the ports is not practicable without the aid of pilots. Heligoland, which has belonged to England since 1814, is a rocky island, but it also has been considerably reduced by the sea. The tides rise to the height of 12 or 13 feet in the Jadhe Bay and at Bremerhafen, and 6 or 7 feet at Hamburg. The coast of the Baltic on the other hand possesses few islands, the chief being Alsen and Fermern off the coast of Schleswig-Holstein, and Rügen off Pomerania. It has no extensive sands, though on the whole very flat. The Baltic has no perceptible tides; and a great part of the coast-line is in winter covered with ice, which also so blocks up the harbours that navigation is interrupted for several months every year. Its three haffs fronting the mouths of the large rivers must be regarded as lagoons or extensions of the river beds, not as bays. The Oder Haff is separated from the sea by two islands, so that the river flows out by three mouths, the middle one (Swine) being the most considerable. The Frische Haff is formed by the Nogat, a branch of the Vistula, and by the Pregel, and communicates with the sea by means of the Piliau Tief. The Kurische Haff receives the Memel, called Niemen in Russia, and has its outlet in the extreme north at Meme. Long narrw alluvial strips called Nehrungen, lie between the last two haffs and the Baltic. The Baltic coast is further marked by large indentations, the Gulfs of Lübeck, that of Pomerania, east of Rügen, and the semicircular Bay of Dantzic between the promontories of Rixföft and Brüsterort. The German coasts are now well provided with lighthouses.

Surface and Geology.—In respect of physical structure Germany is divided into two entirely distinct portions, which bear to one another a ratio of about 3 to 4. The northern and larger part may be described as a uniform plain, covered generally by very recent deposits, but with small areas of tertiary and Secondary formations protruding here and there. South and Central Germany, on the other hand, is very much diversified in scenery and in geological structure. It possesses large plateaus, such as that of Bavaria, which stretches away from the foot of the Alps, fertile low plains like that intersected by the Rhine, mountain chains, and isolated groups of mountains, comparatively now in height, and so situated as not seriously to interfere with communication either by road or by railway. Its geological structure corresponds to this diversity of surface. The most ancient rocks of Germany are the gneisses, schists, and granites which form the Bohemian and Bavarian plateau, and extend into Saxony. Another isolated mass of similar rocks rising into the heights of the Vosges and Black Forest has been cut through by the valley of the Rhine. Silurian rocks are but scantily developed in Germany. The Devonian system, however, occupies an extensive area, since it forms the high tableland of the Taunus, Hundsruck, and Eifel, which ranges westward into Belgium. Carboniferous in north-western Germany, particularly in Westphalia, at Saarbrück, in Saxony, and in Upper and Lower Silesia (see COAL). Between the Devonian uplands of the Taunus and the crystalline rocks of Bavaria a vast area of western Germany is occupied by the Triassic system, which ranges from Hanover to Basel and from near Metz to Baireuth. The southern half of this vast Triassic basin is bordered by a belt of overlying Jurassic rocks which skirt the Danubian plain in Würtemburg and Bavaria. Cretaceous rocks occur chiefly in north Germany in scattered patches flanking older formations. They evidently underlie the great plain, since they are found rising up here and there to the surface between Westphalia and Denmark. Older Tertiary formations are absent from Germany, save the portion of the Eocene Alps included within the territory of Bavaria. But Miocene deposits extend into numerous detached basins, including those of the Rhine below Bonn, and at Mainz, the country round Magdeburg, and the plains of Bavaria. These strata contain valuable seams of lignite. The vast plains of northern Germany are covered with glacial drift, which rises to heights of 1400 feet above the sea along the edges of the flanking hills. Igneous rocks of different ages have been erupted in many districts, and further diversify the geology. The best known are the Tertiary and post-Tertiary lavas and cones of the Eifel and Siebengebirge; others of more ancient date occur along the southern slopes of the Harz.

Mountains and Plateaus.—Bavarian is the only division of the country that includes within it any part of the Alps, the Austro-Bavarian frontier running along the ridge of the Northern Tyrolese or Bavarian Alps. The loftiest peak of this group, the Zugspitze (57 miles south of Munich), is 9702 feet in height, being the highest summit in the empire. The Upper German plain sloping northwards from the Bavarian Alps is watered by the Lech, the Isar, and the Inn, tributaries of the Danube, all three rising beyond the limits of German territory. This plain is separated on the west from the Swiss plain by the Lake of Constance (Bodensee, 1306 feet above sea-level), and on the east from the undulating grounds of Austria by the Inn. The average heights of the plain may be estimated at about 1800 feet, the valley of the Danube on its north border being from 1540 feet (at Ulm) to 920 feet (at Passau). The plain is not very fertile. In the upper part of the plain, towards the Alps, there are several lakes, the largest being the Ammersee, the Würmsee or Starnberg Lake, and the Chiemsee. Many portions of the plain are covered by moors and swamps of large extent, there called Moose. The left or northern bank of the Danube, from Regensburg (Rarisbon) downwards presents a series of granitic rocks called the Bavarian Forest (Bayerischer Wald), which must be regarded as a branch of the Bohemian Forest (Böhmischer Wald). The latter is a range of wooded heights on the frontier of Bavarian and Bohemia, occupying the least known and least frequented regions of Germany. The summits of the Bayerischer Wald rise to the height of about 4000 feet, and those of the Bohemian Forest to 4800 feet, Hoher Arber, about 49° N. lat., being 4842 feet. The valley of the Danube above Ratisbon is flanked by Jurassic plateaus sloping gently to the Danube, but precipitous towards the valley of the Neckar. The centre of this elevated tract if the Rauhe Alp, so named on account of the harshness of the climate. The plateau continuing to the north-east and then to the north, under the name of the Franconian Jura, is crossed by the valley of the winding Altmühl, and extends to the Main. To the west extensive undulating grounds or low plateaus occupy the area between the Main and the Neckar.

The south-western corner of the empire contains a series of better defined hill-ranges. Beginning with the Schwarzwald (Black Forest), we find its southern heights decline to the valley of the Rhine, above Basel, and to the Jura. The summits are rounded and covered with wood, the highest being the Feldberg (10 miles S.E. of Freiburg, 4902 feet). Northwards the Black Forest passes into the plateau of the Neckarbergland (average height, 1000 feet). The heights between the lower Neckar and the main form the Odenwald (about 1700 feet0; and the Spessart, which is watered by the Main on three sides, is nothing but a continuation of the Odenwald. West of this range of hills lies the valley of the upper Rhine, extending about 180 miles from south to north, and with a width of only 20 to 25 miles. In the upper part the Rhine is rapid, and therefore navigable with difficulty; this explains why the towns there are not along the banks of the river, but some 5 to 10 miles off. But from Speyer (Spires) town succeeds town as far down as Düsseldorf. The western boundary of this valley is formed in the first instance by the Vosges, where granite summits rise from under the surrounding red Triassic rocks (Sulzer Belchen, 4700 feet). To the south the range is not continuous with the Swiss Jura, the valley of the Rhine being connected here with the Rhone system by low ground known as the Gate of Mülhausen. The crest of the Vosges is pretty high and unbroken, the first convenient pass being near Zabern, which has been taken advantage of for the railway from Strasburg to Paris. On the northern side the Vosges are connected with the Haardt sandstone plateau (Kalmit, 2230 feet), which rises abruptly from the plain of the Rhine. The mountains south of Mainz (Mayence), which are mostly covered by vineyards, are lower, the Donnersberg, however, raising its head to 2262 feet. These hills are bordered on the west by the high plain of Lorraine and the coal-fields of Saarbrücken, the former being traversed by the river Moselle. The larger half of Lorraine belongs to France, but the German possesses great mineral wealth in its rich layers of ironstone (siderite), and in the coal-fields of the Saar. The Devonian tract of the Hundsruck, Taunus, and Eifel is and extended plateau, divided into separate sections by the river valleys. Among these the Rhine valley from Bingen to Bonn, and that of the Moselle from Treves to Coblentz, are winding gorges excavated by the rivers. The Eifel presents a sterile, thinly-peoples plateau, covered by extensive moors in several places. It passes westwards imperceptibly into the Ardennes. The hills on the right bank of the Rhine also are in part of a like barren character, without wood; the Westerwald (about 2000 feet), which separates the valleys of the Sieg and Lahn, is particularly so. The northern and southern limits of the Niederrheinisches Gebirge present a striking contrast to the central region. In the south the declivities of the Taunus (2890 feet) are marked by the occurrence of mineral springs, as at Ems on the Lahn, Nauheim, Homburg, Soden, Wiesbaden, &c., and by the vinetards which produce the best Rhine wines. To the north of this Gebirge, on the other hand, lies the great coal basin of Westphalia (the largest in Germany). In the south of the hilly duchy of Hesse rise the isolated mountain groups of the Vogelsberg (2530 feet) and the Rhön (3117 feet), separated by the valley of the Fulda, which uniting further north with the Werra forms the Weser. To the east of Hesse lies Thuringia, a province consisting of the far-stretching wooded ridge of the Thüringer Wald (with three peaks of upwards of 3000 feet high), and an extensive elevated plain to the north. Its rivers are the Saale and Unstrut. This plateau is bounded on the north by the Harz, an isolated group of mountains, rich in minerals, with its highest elevation in the bare summit of the Brocken (3743 feet). To the west of the Harz a series of hilly tracts is comprised under the name of the Weser Mounatins, out of which above Minden the river Weser bursts by the Porta Westphalica. A narrow ridge, the Teutoburger Wald (1300 feet), extends between the Weser and the ems as far as the niegbourhood of Osnabrück.

To the eats the Thüringer Wald is connected by the plateau of the Frankenwald with the Fichtelgebirge. This group of mountains, occupying what may be regarded as ethnologically the centre of Germany, forms a hydrographical centre , whence the Nab flows southward to the Danube, the Main westward to the Rhine, the Eger eastward to the elbe, and the Saale northward, also into the Elbe. In the north-east the Fichtelgebirge connects itself directly with the Erzgebirge, which forms the northern boundary of Bohemia. The southern sides of this range are comparatively steep; on the north is slopes gently down to the plains of Leipsic, but is intersected by the deep valleys of the Elster and Mulde. Although by no means fertile, the Erzgebirge is very thickly peopled, as various branches of industry have taken root there in numerous small places. Around Zwickau there is a productive coal-field, and mining for metals is carried on near Freiberg. In the east a tableland of sandstone, called Saxon Switzerland, from the picturesque outlines into which it has been eroded, adjoins the Erzgebirge; one of its most notable features is the deep ravine by which the Elbe escapes from it. Numerous quarries, which supply the North German cities with stone for buildings and monuments, have been opened along the valley. The sandstone range of the Elbe unites in the east with the low Lusatian group, along the east of which runs the best road from northern Germany to Bohemia. Then comes a range of lesser hills clustering together to form the frontier between Silesia and Bohemia. The most western group is the Isergebirge, and the next the Riesengebirge, a narrow ridge of about 20 miles’ length, with bare summits. Excluding the Alps, the Schneekoppe (5266 feet) is the highest peak in Germany; and the southern declivities of this range contain the sources of the Elbe. The hills north and northeast of it are termed the Silesian Mountains. Here one of the minor coal-fields gives employment to a population grouped round a number of comparatively small centres. One of the main road into Bohemia (the pass of Landshut) runs along the eastern base of the Riesengebirge. Still father to the east the mountains are grouped around the hollow of Glatz, whence the Neisse forced its way towards the north. This hollow is shut in one the east by the Sudetic group, in which the Altvater rises to almost 4900 feet. The eastern portion of the group, called the Gesenke, slopes gently away to the valley of the Oder, which affords an open route for the international traffic, like that through the Mülhausen Gate in Alsace. Geographers style this the Moravian Gate.

The North-German plain presents little variety, yet it not absolutely uniform. A row of low hills runs generally parallel to the mountain ranges already noticed, at a distance of 20 to 30 miles to the north. To these belongs Upper Silesian coal-basin, which occupies a considerable area in south-eastern Silesia. North of the middle districts of the Elbe country the heights are called the Fläming hills. Westward lies as the last link of this series the Lüneburger Haide or Heath, between the Weser and Elbe, north of Hanover. A second tract, of moderate elevation, sweeps round the Baltic, without, however, approaching its shores. This plateau contains a considerable number of lakes, and is divided into three portions by the Vistula and the Oder. The most eastward is the so-called Prussia Seenplatte. Spirdingsee (430 feet above sea-level, and 46 square miles in area) and Mauersee are the largest lakes; they are situated in the centre of the plateau, and give rise to the Pregel. Some peaks near the Russia frontier attain to 1000 feet. The Pomeranian Seenplatte, between the Vistula and the Oder, extends from S.W. to N.E., its greatest elevation being in the neighbourhood of Dantzic (Thurmberg, 1096 feet). The Seenplatte of Mecklenburg, on the other hand, stretches from S.E. to N.W., and most of its lakes, of which the Müritzsee is the largest, send their waters towards the Elbe. The finely wooded heights which surrounds the bays of the east coast of Holstein and Schleswig may be regarded as a continuation of these Baltic elevations. The lowest parts, therefore, of the North-German plain, excluding the sea-coasts, are the central districts from 52° to 53° N. lat., where the Vistula, Netze, Warthe, Oder, Spree, and Havel form vast swampy lowlands (in German called B N. lat., where the Vistula, Netze, Warthe, Oder, Spree, and Havel form vast swampy lowlands (in German called Brüche), which, during the last hundred years, have been considerably reduced by the construction of canals and by cultivation,—improvements due in large measure to Frederick the Great. The Spreewald, to the S.E. of Berlin, is one of the most remarkable districts of Germany. As the Spree divided itself there into innumerable branches, enclosing thickly wooded islands, boats form the only means of communication. West of Berlin the Havel widens into what are called the Havel lakes, to which the environs of Potsdam owe their charm. In general the soil of the North-German plain cannot be termed fertile, the cultivation nearly everywhere requiting severe and constant labour. Long stretches of ground are covered by moors, and there turf-cutting forms the principal occupation of the inhabitants. The greatest extent of moorland is found in the westernmost parts of the plain, in Oldenburg and East Frisia. The plain contains, however, a few districts of the utmost fertility particularly the tracts on the central Elbe, and the marsh lands on the west coast of Holstein and the north coast of Hanover, Oldenburg, and East Frisia, which , within the last two centuries, the inhabitants have reclaimed from the sea by means of immense dikes.

Rivers.—Nine independent river-systems may be distinguished: those of the Memel, Pregel, Vistula (Weichsek), Oder, Elbe, Weser, and Ems belongs entirely, and the Oder mostly, to the German empire. The Danube has its sources on German soil; but only the fifth part of its course is German. Its total length is 1730 miles, and the Bavarian frontier at Passau, where the Inn joins it, is only 350 miles distant from its sources. It6 is navigable as far as Ulm, 220 miles above Passau; and its tributaries the Lech, Isar, Inn, and Altmühl are also navigable. The Rhine is the most important river of Germany, although neither its sources not its mouths are within the limits of the empire. From the Lake of Constance to Basel (122 miles) the Rhine forms the boundary between the German empire and Switzerland; the canton of Schaffhausen, however, is situated on the northern bank of the river. From Basel to below Em merich the Rhine belongs to the German empire—about 470 miles, or four-sevenths of its whole course. It is navigable all this distance, as are also the Neckar from Esslingen, the Main from Bamberg, the Lahn, the Lippe, the Ruhr, the Moselle from Metz, with its affluents the Saar and Sauer. Vessels sail up the Ems as far as Papenburg, and river craft as far as Greven, and the river is connected with a widely branching system of canals for turfboats. The Fulda, navigable for 63 miles, and the Werra 38 miles, above the point where they unite, form by their junction the Weser, which has a course of 271 miles, and received as navigable tributaries the Aller, the Leine from Hanover, and some smaller streams. Large steamers cannot, however, get as far as Bremen, and that commercial emporium has, in consequence, been obliged to form a seaport at Bremenhafen. The Elbe, after a course of 250 miles, enters German territory near Aussig, 482 miles from its mouth. It is navigable above this point to its junction with the Moldau. Hamburg may be reached by vessels of 10 to 11 feet draught. The navigable tributaries of the Elbe are the Saale (below Naumburg), the Havel, Spree, Elde, Sude, and some others. The Older begins to be navigable almost on the frontier at Ratibor, 480 miles from its mouth, receiving as navigable tributaries the Glatz Neisse and the Warthe. Only the lower course of the Vistula belongs to the German empire, within which it is a broad, navigable stream of considerable volume. On the Pregel ships of 2500 tons reach Königsberg, and river barges reach Insterburg; the Alle, its tributary, may also be navigated. The Memel is navigable in its course of 113 miles from the Russian frontier. Germany is thus a country abounding in natural waterways, the total length of them being estimated at 7000 miles. But it is only the Rhine, in its middle course, that has at all times sufficient volume of water to meet the requirements of a good navigable river.

Lakes.—The regions which abound in lakes have already been pointed out. The Bodensee or Lake of Constance (186 square miles) is on the frontier of the empire,—portions of the northern banks belonging severally to Bavaria, Würtemberg, and Baden. The largest lake entirely on German territory is the Chiemsee (75 square miles); the Ammersee and the Würmsee are, however, but little less. A good many smaller lakes are to be found in the Bavarian Alps. The North-German plain is dotted with upwards of 500 lakes, covering an area of about 2500 square miles. The largest of these are the three Haffs,—the Oderhaff, covering 370 square miles, the Frische Haff 332, and the Kurische Hadd 626. The lakes in the Prussian and Pomeranian province, in Meclenburg, and in Holstein, and those of the Havel, have already been mentioned. In the west the only lakes of importance are the Steinhuder Meer, 14 miles north-west of Hanover, and the Dümersee on the southern frontier of Oldenburg.

Climate.—The climate of Germany is to be regarded as intermediate between the oceanic and continental climates of western and eastern respectively. It has nothing in common with the Mediterranean climate of southern Europe, Germany being separated from that region by the lofty barrier of the Alps. Although there are very considerable differences in the range of temperature and the amount of rainfall throughout Germany, these are not so great as they would be were it not that the elevated plateaus and mountain chains are in the south, while the north is occupied by low-lying plains. In the west no chain of hills intercepts the warmer and moister winds which blow the Atlantic, and these accordingly influence annual temperature of south-western Germany, or the Rhine and Danube basin, has in recent years been about 52° to 54°, that of central Germany 48° to 50°, and that of the northern plain 46° to 48°. In Pomerania and West Prussia it is only 44° to 45°, and in East Prussia 42° to 44°. The warmest districts of the German empire are the northern parts of the Rhine plain, from Carlsruhe downwards, especially the Rheinthal; these are scarcely 300 feet above the sea-level, and are protected by mountainous tracts of land. The same holds true of the valleys of the Neckar, Main, and Moselle. Hence the vine is everywhere cultivated in these districts. The mean summer temperature there is 66° and upwards, while the average temperature of January does not descend to the freezing point (32°). The climate of north-western Germany (west of the Elbe) shows a predominating oceanic character, the summers not being too hot (mean summer temperature 60° to 62°), and snow in winter remaining but a short time on the ground. West of the Weser the average temperature of January exceeds 32°; to the east it sinks to 30°, and therefore the Elbe is generally covered with ice for some months of the years, as are also its tributaries. The further one proceeds to the east the greater are the contrasts of summer and winter. While the average summer warmth of Germany is 60° to 62°, the January temperature falls as low as 26° to 28° in West Prussia, Posen, and Silesia, and 22° to 26° in East Prussia and Upper Silesia. The navigation of the rivers is regularly interrupted by frost. Similarly the upper basin of the Danube, or the Bavarian plain, has a rather inclement climate in winter, the average for January being 25° to 26°.

As regards rainfall, Germany belongs to those regions where atmosphere precipitation takes place at all seasons, but chiefly in the form of summer rains. In respect to the quantity of rain the empire takes a middle position between the humidity of north-western Europe and the aridity of the east. There are considerable differences between particular places. The rainfall is greatest in the Bavarian table-land and the hilly regions of western Germany. For the Eifel, Sauerland, Harz, Thüringer Wald, Rhön, Vogelsberg, Spessart, the Black Forest, the Vosges, &c., the annual average may be stated at 34 inches or more, while in the lower terraces of south-western Germany, as in the Erzgebirge and the Sudetic range, it is estimated also on the humid north-west coast of Germany as far as Bremen and Hamburg. In the remaining parts of western Germany, on the shores of Further Pomerania, and in East Prussia, it amounts to upwards of 24 inches. In western Germany there is a district famous for the scarcity of rain, and for producing the best kind of wine: in the valley of the Rhine below Strasburg, in the Palatinate, and also in the valley of the Main, no more than from 16 to 20 inches fall. Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, and Lusatia, Saxony and the plateau of Thuringia, West Prussia, Posen, and Lower Silesia are also to be classed among the more arid regions of Germany, the annual rainfall being 16 to 20 inches.


FOOTNOTE (page 447)

1. English square mile=2·5898945 square kilometers, or 0·0470352 German square mile; 1 German square mile=21·26067 English square miles; 1 sq. kilometer=0·3861161 English square mile.

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