Country Listing

Germany Table of Contents


Alpine Foreland and the Alps

The Alpine Foreland makes up most of Bavaria and a good part of Baden-Württemberg. The foreland is roughly triangular in shape, about 400 kilometers long from west to east with a maximum width of about 150 kilometers north to south, and is bounded by Lake Constance and the Alps to the south, the Swabian and Franconian albs to the north, and the Bavarian Forest to the east. Elevation within the foreland rises gently from about 400 meters near the Danube, which flows along its north, to about 750 meters at the beginning of the Alpine foothills. With the exception of Munich and the small cities of Augsburg, Ingolstadt, and Ulm, the foreland is primarily rural. Soils are generally poor, with the exception of some areas with loess soil, and much of the region is pasture or is sown to hardy crops.

Germany's portion of the Alps accounts for a very small part of the country's area and consists only of a narrow fringe of mountains that runs along the country's border with Switzerland and Austria from Lake Constance in the west to Salzburg, Austria, in the east. The western section of the German Alps are the Algäuer Alps, located between Lake Constance and the Lech River. The Bavarian Alps, the central section, lie between the Lech and Inn rivers and contain Germany's highest peak, the Zugspitze (2,963 meters). The Salzburg Alps, which begin at the Inn River and encircle Berchtesgaden, make up the easternmost section of Germany's Alps.


The greater part of the country drains into the North Sea via the Rhine, Ems, Weser, and Elbe rivers, which flow in a north-northwest direction. In the east, the Oder River and its tributary, the Neisse River, flow northward into the Baltic Sea and mark the border with Poland. With the exception of the Lahn River, which flows southward before joining the Rhine, most of the tributaries of these rivers flow in a west-to-east or east-to-west direction. In an exception to the south-north pattern of major rivers, the Danube River rises in the Black Forest and flows in a southeasterly direction, traversing Bavaria before crossing into Austria at Passau on the long journey to the Black Sea. The Iller, Lech, Isar, and Inn rivers flow from the south into the Danube and drain the Alpine Foreland.

The Rhine, Germany's longest and most important river, originates in Switzerland, from where it flows into Lake Constance (actually a river basin). At the lake's west end, it begins a long course (800 kilometers) to the Netherlands, at first marking the boundary between Germany and Switzerland and later that between Germany and France. Of the Rhine's three most important tributaries, the Moselle River drains parts of the Rheinish Uplands, the Main drains areas between the Central German Uplands and the Franconian Alb, and the Neckar River drains the area between the Black Forest and the Swabian Alb. Because these rivers keep the Rhine high during the winter and because melting snow in the Alps keeps it high during the spring and summer, the river generally has a high steady flow, which accounts for its being the busiest waterway in Europe.

Data as of August 1995