Terrain shapes and bedrock
The whole of northern Germany is occupied by the northern German lowlands, which are lower than 200 m above sea level. It is mainly covered by soil layers deposited by the inland ice sheets and formed by their meltwater flows. The coastal area along the North Sea is flat and consists largely of sand fields, dunes and marshland. The Ems, Weser and Elbe rivers flow into the North Sea. Older rows of rubble broken by the waves form the East Frisian and North Frisian Islands (see Frisian Islands). The Baltic Sea coast has been smoothed by eastward currents and forms especially in eastern land tongues with lagoons, so-called ocean formations, inside. Among the islands are Fehmarn andRügen, where chalk limestone has been exposed and forms rocky shores, i.e. at Stubbenkammer.
Within the Baltic Sea coast takes a higher moraine landscape, which forms part of the Baltic moraine ridges and is dominated by end moraine ridges and the sand delta as well as streams and valleys. The area is also rich in lakes. South of Hamburg, the Lüneburger Heide heath landscape is spreading.
According to COUNTRYAAH, the Middle German mountain country extends to the south and has a strongly decomposed topography. It is part of an area that has been folded during the Varian rock chain formation (see Varian orogenesis) and which has largely been broken down to a flat plain and then covered with layers mainly deposited during the Triassic (about 245-208 million years old). Through movements in the bedrock during the alpine mountain range formation, several blocks have been raised and eroded down to the bedrock, while others have been lowered. On either side of the middle Rhine are the Rhenska slate mountains, where a number of separate rock masses are distinguished: Eifel, with volcanic remains, and Hunsrück on the western side of the Rhine as well as Sauerland, Westerwald and Taunus.east of the Rhine. The Vogelsberg and Rhön volcanic mountains rise north of the River Main, and between this and the Neckar River lies Odenwald. Further east are the Horz plateaus Harz (1 142 m above sea level) and the Thuringian Forest and the Fichtelgebirge, from where the Erzgebirge and Böhmerwald radiate along the Czech border. To the south of Main, the winding cuesta plateaus extend to Fränkische Alb and Schwäbische Alb, and furthest to the southwest Horsten Black Forest (1,493 m above sea level). Loose soil is abundant here, as well as in the southern edge of the northern German lowlands.
The Bavarian Plateau is limited to the north by the Danube and the tributaries Iller, Lech, Isar and Inn. At the far south are the northernmost foothills of the Alps with Germany’s highest peak, Zugspitze, 2,962 m above sea level.
Germany has a temperate humid climate with relatively small regional differences. The influence of the sea in the north and west is replaced by an increasingly continental character to the southeast, which is particularly noticeable during the winter. The higher terrain in southern Germany offsets a natural temperature rise south. The lowlands in the north allow storms from the west to penetrate far east.
The average annual temperature is 7–8 °C on average, but is strongly topographically conditioned. In Rhendalen, which has the warmest climate in the country, the annual average is as high as 10 °C, while in the mountainous regions in the middle and southern parts it is below 5 °C. The average temperature for July is 16–19 °C, lower in the mountains in the south, and for January between –3 and 1 °C. The hottest summers occur in the inner, eastern part, while winters are mildest on the North Sea coast. The highest measured temperature exceeds 40.2 °C and the lowest –37.8 °C.
The precipitation falls mainly during the summer but is comparatively evenly distributed during the year. The annual rainfall is 500–800 mm in the lowlands, 1,000–1,400 in highland terrain in central Germany and in the mountain regions farthest south over 2,000 mm, where the snow is about five months. The Rhine valley receives the least precipitation, 400–500 mm per year.
Plant-and animal life
Germany extends from the North Sea and the Baltic Sea in the north to the Alps in the south. In between, a landscape stretches between alternately low-lying mountain areas, plains, forests, lakes and river valleys. Not least, the many watercourses – such as the Danube, Elbe, Oder and the Rhine – create a welcome change for plants and animals and have also, in many and many ways, characterized human settlement, development of business and agriculture, transport and culture.
To the west, the country is bounded by a significant portion of the Rhine River with its catchment areas in the Swiss Alps. During his long journey towards the North Sea, the Rhine presents many faces. Initially, it runs through Lake Constance – one of Central Europe’s largest lakes with thousands of wintering seabirds such as beard-dipping, black-necked dipping, large cormorant, wedge, big crack and song swan. The Rhine Falls at Schaffhausen are Europe’s second largest waterfall.
Along the Rhine’s further travel to the west and north there are still more original gallery forests – the “auenwelder” – with an almost jungle vegetation and an exciting bird fauna, where the tropical summer gilding puts its special touch on the bird choir during a couple of hectic summer months and sparkling kingfishers find riverbank area.
Further north, the Rhine has cut down through the landscape for millennia. The slopes are home to an almost steppe-like flora and fauna with several southern features, e.g. mini- bird, turtle and apollo butterfly. The conditions are favorable for viticulture and in the scenic landscape there are many famous castles and cities.
From the northern Netherlands along the Frisian islands to the southern parts of Danish Jutland, the German Wadden Sea is spreading, which is one of Europe’s most important natural areas, where tidal dynamics create optimal feeding conditions for millions of resting and overwintering birds. oystercatcher, curlew, avocet, dunlin, red knot, Sanderling, Brent goose, barnacle goose, common eider and shelduck and the populations of harbor seals, porpoises and many species of fish.
Inside the German Baltic Sea coast with long sandy beaches and rare limestone cliffs on the famous island of Rügen is one of Germany’s most important natural areas – the Mecklenburg Lake system – with many national parks and reserves. Framed by rich beech and pine forests, a network of lakes and smaller streams is spreading with nesting sea eagles, black stork, white stork and crane. The area is one of the northernmost turtle’s northernmost outposts in Europe. There are also otters and beavers, and wolves have started to colonize from nearby Poland. On the border with Poland, where the river Odermeets the Baltic Sea, there is a comprehensive system of coastal lagoons and dunes – Stettiner Haff – still in relatively untouched condition.
In southeastern Germany lies the Bayerischer Wald with one of Europe’s most famous national parks.
On the border with Sumava in the Czech Republic is a wilderness area in the making where nature is again given free space to create living conditions for plants and animals. A primeval forest with beech, spruce, silver spruce and other tree species is emerging, where lo, wild cat, beaver and many other large and small species, including tar, jerk, owl, triple woodpeckerand rare beetles, mosses and lichens, find a new home. The National Park has built one of the world’s longest tree-top plants with a breathtaking view of the forest landscape. Here, the bark drill is also used to transform production forests into a more natural composition of original tree species – a unique experiment in Europe.
The farthest south to the border with Austria is the Alpena. The landscape is characterized predominantly by agriculture and forestry, but in height positions where the care is less intense one finds still flower-rich meadows with gentians, orchids, alpine roses (species Rhododendron hirsutum and Rhododendron ferrugineum, both endemic to the Alps) and edelweiss, protected canyons with birds such as boar, tar and white-backed woodpecker as well as gems and alpine goats.
Germany has a well-developed nature conservation program during which about 41% (2012) of the country’s total area is nature protected in some form. The majority of this area consists of nature parks (27% of the land area) and landscape protection areas (29% of the land area), whose main purpose is to serve as recreation areas. Nature reserves and biosphere reserves each cover about 4% of the land area; the more than 8,000 nature reserves enjoy the strictest nature protection. In 2012, there were 14 national parks that mostly covered marine areas on the northwest coast and only 0.5% of the land area (see table). Natura 2000 areas comprise about 15% of the land area.