East Germany Table of Contents
East Germany lies in the heart of the northern European plain. The terrain is gentle, and the landscape is marked by few sharp contrasts. Landform areas merge into one another; no significant natural boundaries bar communications or distinguish one section of the country from another. The country, however, can be roughly divided into geographic regions. The northern plain covers most of the country and contains the coastal area in the far north and the lowlands in the center. The uplands consist of mountains and rolling hills that cover the southern section (see fig. 7).
The district of Rostock stretches along the entire length of the Baltic coast. The coastline is uneven but generally flat and sandy. The continuous action of wind and waves has created sand dunes and ridges along the coast, and sandbars have formed that connect the mainland with some of its offshore islands. The northern sections of the Schwerin and Neubrandenburg districts, which are also categorized as coastal, are dotted with marshes and numerous lakes. Much of East Germany contains soils of poor quality. The coastal section is no exception; soils are sandy, porous, and low in nutrients. Nonetheless, with the exception of the Börderland in the south, the coastal region contains some of the most intensively cultivated agricultural land in the country. About nine-tenths of the area is under cultivation; it produces mainly rye and potatoes. The region enjoys a maritime climate that is moderate and marked by few extremes in temperature. Average annual rainfall is between sixty-one and sixty-four centimeters, close to the national average.
Most of the country lies in an area of the northern plains known as the central lowlands. This includes the districts of Frankfurt, Potsdam, and Cottbus as well as portions of Schwerin, Neubrandenburg, Magdeburg, Halle, Leipzig, and Dresden. This region (together with the coastal area) covers about 80 to 85 percent of the land and was formed by glaciation during the Quaternary period. The lowlands are dominated by rolling hills and low ridges that rarely reach elevations in excess of ninetyone meters above sea level. Numerous lakes, varying in size, shape, and depth, cover the landscape, particularly in western Neubrandenburg and around Berlin. In general these lakes are of little commercial value because of their shallow depth. Broad valleys, carved as glaciers receded, crosscut the plains, providing natural transportation routes. Soils of gravel and coarse sand predominate, and, as a result, much of the area, especially around Berlin, is forest and pastureland. The most fertile soils of clay and sand loam are found in the Elbe basin and along the rivers bordering Poland, but only slightly more than half the region is under cultivation. The climate exhibits greater extremes of temperature as the maritime climate of the coast gives way to a continental climate where the rivers freeze in winter. In general, however, the weather is moderate. Rainfall approximates the national average.
The Börderland, a fertile belt of rolling countryside, forms a transition zone from the central lowlands to the uplands in the south. The country's most valuable agricultural land is found here. Loess, a fine silt, provides a thick soil cover that is favorable for intensive cultivation of crops such as wheat, barley, and sugar beets. The Börderland forms an arc extending from the districts of Magdeburg and Halle southeast through parts of Leipzig and Dresden. Its broadest section lies along the Elbe and Saale rivers. Much of the country's mineral wealth, including sizable reserves of lignate and potash, is found in this area. The climate is continental but moderate, and the growing season is relatively long.
The uplands cover about 20 percent of the southern section. The landscape consists of hills and high ridges. Included in this region are portions of the districts of Magdeburg, Halle, Leipzig, Dresden Erfurt, Suhl, Gera, and Karl-Marx-Stadt. The Harz forms the northwest section of the uplands; the highest peak, Brocken, reaches a height of 1,141 meters. In the southwest, extending some 104 kilometers, is the Thüringer Wald, a narrow ridge of thick woodland. To the southeast, forming the border with Czechoslovakia, are the Erzgebirge. Elevations in this range reach 1,213 meters. Many major industrial centers are situated along the base of the Erzgebirge. Traditional passages into the region lie between the Harz and the Thüringer Wald and between the Thüringer Wald and the Erzgebirge. Good agricultural land is found at the base of the Thüringer Wald surrounding Erfurt, but soils in the southernmost districts are poor and not favorable for cultivation. Temperatures depend on elevation and exposure, and they sometimes dip quite low in the higher mountain areas. Rainfall varies. In the Harz, for example, rainfall averages as high as 147 centimeters a year whereas at the base of the Thüringer Wald, where the uplands merge with the Börderland, rainfall averages about fifty-one centimeters.
Data as of July 1987
East Germany Table of Contents