Location: Central Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea and the
North Sea, between the Netherlands and Poland, south of Denmark
Geographic coordinates: 51 00 N, 9 00 E
Map references: Europe
total: 357,021 sq km
land: 349,223 sq km
water: 7,798 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Montana
total: 3,621 km
border countries: Austria 784 km, Belgium 167 km, Czech Republic
646 km, Denmark 68 km, France 451 km, Luxembourg 138 km, Netherlands
577 km, Poland 456 km, Switzerland 334 km
Coastline: 2,389 km
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: temperate and marine; cool, cloudy, wet winters
and summers; occasional warm foehn wind
Terrain: lowlands in north, uplands in center, Bavarian
Alps in south
lowest point: Freepsum Lake -2 m
highest point: Zugspitze 2,963 m
Natural resources: iron ore, coal, potash, timber, lignite,
uranium, copper, natural gas, salt, nickel, arable land
arable land: 33%
permanent crops: 1%
permanent pastures: 15%
forests and woodland: 31%
other: 20% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 4,750 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: flooding
Environment - current issues: emissions from coal-burning
utilities and industries contribute to air pollution; acid rain,
resulting from sulfur dioxide emissions, is damaging forests; pollution
in the Baltic Sea from raw sewage and industrial effluents from
rivers in eastern Germany; hazardous waste disposal; government
currently attempting to define mechanism for ending the use of nuclear
power; government working to meet EU commitment to identify nature
preservation areas in line with the EU's Flora, Fauna, and Habitat
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air
Pollution-Sulphur 85, Air Pollution-Sulphur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile
Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty,
Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species,
Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine
Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution,
Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic
Pollutants, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Geography - note: strategic location on North European Plain
and along the entrance to the Baltic Sea
As it stretches from the Alps to the Baltic and North Seas, Germany
encompasses a wide variety of landscapes: mountains, forests, hills,
plains, rivers, and seacoasts.
A large country that borders on nine European nations, Germany consists
of three major geographical regions-lowland plain in the north,
an area of uplands in the center, and a mountainous region in the
The lowlands, called the North German Plain, have a varied topography
that includes several river valleys and a large heath, the Lüneburger
Heide. The lowest elevation point is at sea level along the coast,
where there are areas of sand dunes and marshland.
Off the coast are several islands, including the North Frisian Islands,
the East Frisian Islands, Helgoland in the North Sea, and Fehmarn
and Rügen in the Baltic Sea. The eastern end of the plain provides
particularly rich soil for agriculture.
Germany has a temperate climate with warm summers and cold winters.
The warmest time of the year is from May to September.
The average temperature in July, for instance, varies from 16°to
20°C according to location. In January, the variation is from 1°to
6°C. There is no specific rainy season.
Germanyfirst united in 1871suffered defeats in successive
world wars and was occupied by the victorious Allied powers of the
US, UK, France, and the Soviet Union in 1945. With the beginning
of the Cold War and increasing tension between the US and Soviet
Union, two German states were formed in 1949: the western Federal
Republic of Germany (FRG) and the eastern German Democratic Republic
The newly democratic FRG embedded itself in key Western economic
and security organizations, the EU and NATO, while the Communist
GDR was on the front line of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. The decline
of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War cleared the path for
the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and German re-unification in
Germany has expended considerable fundsroughly $100 billion
a yearin subsequent years working to bring eastern productivity
and wages up to western standards, with mixed results. Unemploymentwhich
in the east is nearly double that in the westhas grown over
the last several years, primarily as a result of structural problems
like an inflexible labor market.
In January 1999, Germany and 10 other members of the EU formed a
common European currency, the euro, and the German government is
now looking toward reform of the EU budget and enlargement of the
Union into Central Europe.
Size: 356,959 square kilometers.
Topography: Terrain rises from northern coastal
lowlands to belt of central uplands, complex and varied in form.
To south of uplands, a high plain suddenly rises to Alps in country's
extreme south. Most important rivers: Rhine, flowing to north; Elbe,
flowing to northwest; and Danube, flowing to southeast.
Climate: Cool, continental climate with abundant
rainfall and long overcast season. Lower temperatures with considerable
snowfall in east and south. Prone to rapid weather variations from
merging of Gulf Stream and extreme northeastern climate conditions.
Population: 81,338,000 (July 1995 estimate) with
growth rate of 0.26 percent (July 1995 estimate).
Ethnic Groups: 95.1 percent German, 2.3 percent
Turkish, 1.7 percent Italian, 0.4 percent Greek, and 0.4 percent
Polish; remainder mainly refugees from former Yugoslavia.
Languages: Standard German, with substantial differences
in regional dialects. Three very small linguistic minorities, which
speak Sorbian, Danish, or Frisian.
Religion: Protestants, mostly in Evangelical Church
in Germany, 30 million; Roman Catholics, 28.2 million; Muslims,
2.5 million; free churches, 195,000; and Jews, 34,000.
Education and Literacy: 99 percent literacy rate
in population over age fifteen (1991 estimate). Education compulsory
until age eighteen. At age ten, after primary school (Grundschule),
students attend one of five schools: short-course secondary school
(Hauptschule); intermediate school (Realschule);
high school (Gymnasium); comprehensive school (Gesamtschule);
or a school for children with special educational needs (Sonder-schule).
At about age fifteen, students choose among a variety of vocational,
technical, and academic schools. Higher education consists of many
kinds of technical colleges, advanced voca-tional schools, and universities.
Health and Welfare: About 90 percent of population
covered by comprehensive compulsory insurance for sickness, accidents,
disability, long-term care, and retirement. Most of remainder enrolled
in voluntary insurance programs; the very poor are covered by state-financed
welfare programs. Quality of medical care generally excellent. Comfortable
pensions paid according to life-time earnings and indexed to meet
cost-of-living increases. Wide variety of other social welfare benefits
managed by both government and private agencies available to those
in need. Life expectancy 76.6 years for total population (73.5 years
for males and 79.9 years for females) (1995 estimates). Infant mortality
rate 6.3 deaths per 1,000 live births (1995 estimate). Total fertility
rate 1.5 children born per woman (1995 estimate).
Data as of August 1995
Roughly the size of Montana and situated even farther north, unified
Germany has an area of 356,959 square kilometers. Extending 853
kilometers from its northern border with Denmark to the Alps in
the south, it is the sixth largest country in Europe. At its widest,
Germany measures approximately 650 kilometers from the Belgian-German
border in the west to the Polish frontier in the east.
The territory of the former East Germany (divided into five new
Länder in 1990) accounts for almost one-third of united
Germany's territory and one-fifth of its population. After a close
vote, in 1993 the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany's parliament,
voted to transfer the capital from Bonn in the west to Berlin, a
city-state in the east surrounded by the Land of Brandenburg.
The relocation process is expected to be concluded by about the
year 2000, following the transfer of the Bundestag, the Bundesrat,
the Chancellory, and ten of the eighteen federal ministries.
With its irregular, elongated shape, Germany provides an excellent
example of a recurring sequence of landforms found the world over.
A plain dotted with lakes, moors, marshes, and heaths retreats from
the sea and reaches inland, where it becomes a landscape of hills
crisscrossed by streams, rivers, and valleys. These hills lead upward,
gradually forming high plateaus and woodlands and eventually climaxing
in spectacular mountain ranges.
As of the mid-1990s, about 37 percent of the country's area was
arable; 17 percent consisted of meadows and pastures; 30 percent
was forests and woodlands; and 16 percent was devoted to other uses.
Geographers often divide Germany into four distinct topographic
regions: the North German Lowland; the Central German Uplands; Southern
Germany; and the Alpine Foreland and the Alps .
Data as of August 1995
North German Lowland
The North German Lowland is a part of the Great European Plain
that sweeps across Europe from the Pyrenees in France to the Ural
Mountains in Russia. All of the Länder of Schleswig-Holstein,
Hamburg, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg, Berlin,
most of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, and parts of Saxony and
North Rhine-Westphalia are located in this region.
Hills in the lowland only rarely reach 200 meters in height, and
most of the region is well under 100 meters above sea level. The
lowlands slope almost imperceptibly toward the sea. The North Sea
portion of the coastline is devoid of cliffs and has wide expanses
of sand, marsh, and mud flats (Watten ). The mud flats
between the Elbe estuary and the Netherlands border are believed
to have been above sea level during Roman history and to have been
inundated when the shoreline sank during the thirteenth century.
In the western area, the former line of inshore sand dunes became
the East Frisian Islands. The mud flats between the islands and
the shore are exposed at very low tides and are crossed by innumerable
channels varying in size from those cut by small creeks to those
serving as the estuaries of the Elbe and Weser rivers. The mud and
sand are constantly shifting, and all harbor and shipping channels
require continuing maintenance.
The offshore islands have maximum elevations of fewer than thirty-five
meters and have been subject to eroding forces that have washed
away whole sections during severe storms. Shorelines most subject
to eroding tides were stabilized during the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries.
Although the East Frisian Islands are strung along the coast in
a nearly straight line, the North Frisian Islands are irregularly
shaped and are haphazardly positioned. They were also once a part
of the mainland, and a large portion of the mud flats between the
islands and the coast is exposed during low tides.
The Baltic Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein differs markedly from
its North Sea coast. It is indented by a number of small, deep fjords
with steep banks, which were carved by rivers when the land was
covered with glacial ice. Farther to the east, the Baltic shore
is flat and sandy. Rügen, Germany's largest island, lies just offshore
Wherever the region's terrain is rolling and drainage is satisfactory,
the land is highly productive. This is especially true of the areas
that contain a very fertile siltlike loess soil, better than most
German soils. Such areas, called Börden (sing., Börde
), are located along the southern edge of the North German Lowland
beginning west of the Rhine near the Ruhr Valley and extending eastward
and into the Leipzig Basin. The Magdeburg Börde is the
best known of these areas. Other Börden are located near
Frankfurt am Main, northern Baden-Württemberg, and in an area to
the north of Ulm and Munich. Because the areas with loess soil also
have a moderate continental climate with a long growing season,
they are considered Germany's breadbasket.
Data as of August 1995
Central German Uplands
The Central German Uplands are Germany's portion of the Central
European Uplands; they extend from the Massif Central in France
to Poland and the Czech Republic. Germany's uplands are generally
moderate in height and seldom reach elevations above 1,100 meters.
The region encompasses all of the Saarland, Hesse, and Thuringia;
the north of Rhineland-Palatinate; substantial southern portions
of North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt; and
western parts of Saxony.
In the west, the Central German Uplands begin with the Rheinish
Uplands, a massive rectangular block of slate and shale with a gently
rolling plateau of about 400 meters in elevation and peaks of about
800 to 900 meters. The Rheinish Uplands are divided by two deep
and dramatic river valleys--the Moselle and the Rhine. The high
hilly area to the south of the Moselle is the Hunsrück; the one
to its north is the Eifel. The Rhine separates these areas from
their extensions to the east, the Taunus, and, to the north, the
Westerwald. To the north and east of the Westerwald are further
distinct areas of the Rheinish Uplands, most notably the small range
of hills known as the Siebengebirge, across the Rhine from Bonn,
and the larger hilly regions--the Siegerland, Bergishes Land, Sauerland,
and the Rothaargebirge. The higher elevations of the Rheinish Uplands
are heavily forested; lower-lying areas are well suited for the
growing of grain, fruit, and early potatoes.
Because of the low elevations of its valleys (200 to 350 meters),
the Uplands of Hesse provide an easily traveled passageway through
the Central German Uplands. Although not as dramatic as the Rhine
Valley, for hundreds of years this passageway--the so-called Hessian
Corridor--has been an important route between the south and the
north, with Frankfurt am Main at one end and Hanover at the other,
and Kassel on the Weser River in its center. The headwaters of the
Weser have created a number of narrow but fertile valleys. The highlands
of the Uplands of Hesse are volcanic in origin. The most notable
of these volcanic highlands are the Rhön (950 meters) and the Vogelsburg
To the north of the Uplands of Hesse lie two low ranges, the Teutoburger
Wald and the Wiehengebirge, which are the northernmost fringes of
the Central German Uplands. It is at the Porta Westfalica near Minden
that the Weser River breaks through the latter range to reach the
North German Lowland.
One of the highest points in the Central German Uplands is at
Brocken (1,142 meters) in the Harz Mountains. This range is situated
about forty kilometers to the northeast of Göttingen and forms the
northwestern boundary of the Leipzig Basin, an extension of the
North German Lowland. The Harz are still largely forested at lower
levels; barren moors cover higher elevations. An important center
for tourism in the 1990s, the range was once an important source
for many minerals.
The Thüringer Wald, located in southwestern Thuringia, is a narrow
range about 100 kilometers long, with its highest point just under
1,000 meters. Running in a northwesterly direction, it links the
Central German Uplands with the Bohemian Massif of the Czech Republic
and forms the southwestern boundary of the Leipzig Basin. The basin's
southeastern boundary is formed by the Erzgebirge range, which extends
to the northeast at a right angle to the Thüringer Wald. Part of
the Bohemian Massif, the Erzgebirge range reaches 1,214 meters at
its highest point.
The southeasternmost portion of the Central German Uplands consists
of the Bohemian Forest and the much smaller Bavarian Forest. Both
ranges belong to the Bohemian Massif. The Bohemian Forest, with
heights up to 1,450 meters, forms a natural boundary between Germany
and the Czech Republic.
Between the Central German Uplands and the Alpine Foreland and
the Alps lies the geographical region of Southern Germany, which
includes most of Baden-Württemberg, much of northern Bavaria, and
portions of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate. The Main River runs
through the northern portion of this region. The Upper Rhine River
Valley, nearly 300 kilometers long and about fifty kilometers wide,
serves as its western boundary. The Rhine's wide river valley here
is in sharp contrast to its high narrow valley in the Rheinish Uplands.
The southern boundaries of the region of Southern Germany are formed
by extensions of the Jura Mountains of France and Switzerland. These
ranges are separate from those of the Central German Uplands. One
of these Jura ranges forms the Black Forest, whose highest peak
is the Feldberg at 1,493 meters, and, continuing north, the less
elevated Odenwald and Spessart hills. Another Jura range forms the
Swabian Alb (see Glossary) and its continuation, the Franconian
Alb. Up to 1,000 meters in height and approximately forty kilometers
wide, the two albs form a long arc--400 kilometers long--from the
southern end of the Black Forest to near Bayreuth and the hills
of the Frankenwald region, which is part of the Central German Uplands.
The Hardt Mountains in Rhineland-Palatinate, located to the west
of the Rhine, are also an offshoot of the Jura Mountains.
The landscape of the Southern Germany region is often that of
scarp and vale, with the eroded sandstone and limestone scarps facing
to the northwest. The lowland terraces of the Rhine, Main, and Neckar
river valleys, with their dry and warm climate, are suitable for
agriculture and are highly productive. The loess and loam soils
of the Rhine-Main Plain are cultivated extensively, and orchards
and vineyards flourish. The Rhine-Main Plain is densely populated,
and Frankfurt am Main, at its center, serves both as Germany's financial
capital and as a major European transportation hub.
Data as of August 1995
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
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
Although located mostly at latitudes north of the United States-Canadian
border and thus closer to the Arctic Circle than to the equator,
Germany's climate is moderate and is generally without sustained
periods of cold or heat. Northwestern and coastal Germany have a
maritime climate caused by warm westerly winds from the North Sea;
the climate is characterized by warm summers and mild cloudy winters.
Farther inland, the climate is continental, marked by greater diurnal
and seasonal variations in temperature, with warmer summers and
In addition to the maritime and continental climates that predominate
over most of the country, the Alpine regions in the extreme south
and, to a lesser degree, some areas of the Central German Uplands
have a so-called mountain climate. This climate is characterized
by lower temperatures because of higher altitudes and greater precipitation
caused by air becoming moisture-laden as it lifts over higher terrain.
The major air masses contributing to the maritime weather are
the Icelandic low-pressure system and the Azores high-pressure system.
The Icelandic lows rotate in a counterclockwise direction and tend
to move to the east and southeast as they approach Europe. The Azores
highs move eastward and rotate in a clockwise direction. Both of
these air masses furnish Western Europe with moisture-laden clouds
propelled by westerly winds.
The northern lowlands frequently experience a situation (more
often during the winter months) when they are between these air
masses and are simultaneously influenced by both. At such times,
winds come from the west and are usually strong. When only one of
the systems is dominant, it is more often the Icelandic low. In
spite of their nearly polar origin, Icelandic lows are warmed by
the Gulf Stream, and areas on the country's North Sea coast have
midwinter temperatures averaging more than 1.6° C. This temperature
is more than three degrees above the average for the latitude, which
is shared by central Labrador and some bitterly cold regions in
When continental weather systems originating to the east are responsible
for the weather, conditions are markedly different. In the winter
months, these systems have high-pressure air masses that bring bright,
clear, cold weather. The local people describe these air masses
as Siberian highs and usually expect them to last for about two
weeks. An occasional condition called föhn , or warm wind,
arises when the center of a low-pressure system deviates to the
south of its usual path and crosses the central part of the country.
In this atmospheric condition, warm tropical air is drawn across
the Alps and loses moisture on the southern slopes of the mountains.
The air warms significantly as it compresses during its descent
from the northern slopes. In the springtime, these winds dissipate
the cloud cover and melt the snows. Many people respond to the rapid
weather changes caused by the föhn with headaches, irritability,
and circulatory problems.
The yearly mean temperature for the country is about 9° C.
Other than for variations caused by shelter and elevation, the annual
mean temperature is fairly constant throughout the country. Temperature
extremes between night and day and summer and winter are considerably
less in the north than in the south.
During January, the coldest month, the average temperature is
approximately 1.6°C in the north and about -2°C in the south.
In July, the warmest month, the situation reverses, and it is cooler
in the north than in the south. The northern coastal region has
July temperatures averaging between 16°C and 18°C; at some
locations in the south, the average is 19.4°C or slightly higher.
Annual precipitation varies from 2,000 millimeters a year in the
southern mountains to a low of 400 millimeters in the vicinity of
Mainz. Over most of the country, it averages between 600 millimeters
and 800 millimeters per annum.
Unification abruptly transformed the Federal Republic from a country
with a solid, even excellent, environmental record to one facing
a whole range of ecological disasters--the result of the GDR's decades-long
abuse of its natural habitat. The estimated costs of restoring the
environment in the new Länder grew as information became
available about how much damage it had sustained. Expert estimates
of from DM130 billion to DM220 billion (for value of the deutsche
mark--see Glossary) in the spring of 1990 had increased to a possible
DM400 billion two years later.
The two Germanys differed greatly in their approaches toward protecting
the environment. Beginning in the late 1960s, ecological concerns
had become increasingly common in West Germany, as was repeatedly
demonstrated in opinion polls. A 1990 poll, for example, found that
more than 70 percent of those West Germans questioned held that
environmental protection should be the highest priority for the
government and the economy.
In East Germany, environmental activism was minimal. For decades
the GDR had followed standard Soviet practices in regard to industrial
and urban development, scrimping on or avoiding entirely key infrastructure
investments such as water-treatment facilities and air-pollution
abatement. The comprehensive and intelligent Socialist Environmental
Management Act of 1968 was poorly implemented and, more important,
largely ignored after the late 1970s when East German authorities
decided that Western economic growth could only be matched by sacrificing
the environment. This policy was followed throughout the 1980s.
West German environmental legislation initially lagged behind
that of East Germany. For the first decades after World War II,
West Germans were concerned with reconstructing their country and
its economy. Early efforts to deal with the environment met with
little interest. The attainment of widespread prosperity and the
coming to maturity of a new generation with so-called postmaterialist
values led to an interest in protecting the environment. The late
1960s and the early 1970s saw the passage of several dozen laws
relating to the environment, the most important of which were the
Waste Disposal Law and the Emission Protection Law, both passed
in 1972. In 1974 the Federal Environmental Agency was established.
The new legislation established the principles of Germany's environmental
policies, still in effect in the mid-1990s: preventing pollution
by monitoring new products and projects; requiring the polluter,
rather than society at large, to pay damages; and relying on cooperation
among government, industry, and society to protect the environment.
The oil crisis of 1973-74 and the ensuing worldwide recession
led to a tapering off of environmental activism on the part of the
West German government and the political parties. However, numerous
citizens' groups formed and pressed for increased environmental
protection . The accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power
plant in the United States in 1979 also spurred the growth of such
groups. Elements of the environmental movement formed a political
party, the Greens (Die Grünen) in 1980, which in 1983 won seats
in the Bundestag . Of greatest importance were domestic ecological
problems such as pollution in the Baltic Sea and the Rhine and Main
rivers and damage to the country's forests from acid rain.
During the early 1980s, concerns about the environment became
widespread in the general population, and all political parties
were forced to address them. These concerns were raised still higher
by a series of ecological disasters in 1986: the accident at the
nuclear plant at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union and serious spills
of dangerous chemicals into the Rhine at Basel in Switzerland. Immediately
after the Chernobyl disaster, Chancellor Helmut Kohl created the
Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Reactor Safety.
Stricter environmental controls led to marked improvements in
air quality. Between 1966 and 1988, sulfur dioxide emissions in
West Germany fell by one-third. Dust levels, which stood at 3.2
million tons in 1980, fell to 550,000 tons by the late 1980s. The
quality of river water also improved. The Rhine and Main rivers,
nearly "biologically dead" in the 1960s, supported several species
of fish by the early 1990s. The Ruhr River, located in the heart
of the country's largest manufacturing region, became the cleanest
"industrial" river in West Germany after the construction of a series
of dams and the reforestation of slag heaps and wastelands.
At unification, the ecological situation in the new Länder
was quite different. Because 95 percent of industrial wastewater
had been discharged without treatment and 32 percent of households
were not connected to sewerage systems, more than 40 percent of
the rivers of the new Länder and 24 percent of their lakes
were totally unfit as sources of drinking water; only 3 percent
of their rivers and 1 percent of their lakes were considered ecologically
healthy. Some rivers had pollution levels 200 times higher than
that permitted by European Community (EC-- ) environmental standards.
The widespread use of brown coal had resulted in record emissions
of sulfur dioxide, which rose by one-fifth between 1980 and 1988.
Moreover, decades of brown coal strip mining had left some eastern
areas resembling a lunar landscape. Other areas had been contaminated
by the mining and processing of uranium, primarily to service the
Soviet nuclear sector.
Although East German per capita waste production had been much
lower than that of West Germany, the East German government had
negotiated away this advantage and jeopardized ecological security
in the bargain. In the 1980s, the GDR had earned hard currency by
importing and carelessly disposing of millions of tons of West Germany's
trash, exacerbating soil degradation and groundwater contamination.
Some 60 percent of industrial waste had been deposited without controls.
Of about 11,000 landfill sites, more than 10,000 were uncontrolled.
With more than 28,000 potentially hazardous sites, the cleanup effort
required in the east appears comparable in scope to the Superfund
campaign in the United States.
The Cold War had also damaged East Germany's environment and to
a lesser extent that of West Germany. For nearly five decades, millions
of troops from the East and the West had made intensive use of the
territory of the two Germanys as military bases and training sites.
Cleanup costs were estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
In recognition of this situation, the United States Department of
Defense allocated funds to repair environmental damage in the Federal
Republic. In contrast, Soviet and later Russian forces, although
they reportedly occupied as much as 2.5 percent of East German territory,
were paid to leave the country and did so without compensating Germany
for the extreme environmental damage they had caused.
With unification in 1990, the new Länder became subject
to the environmental laws of the Federal Republic and the EC, although
both sets of laws were to be applied gradually. Standards in some
areas, such as emissions control, would not come into effect until
after 2000. The ecological situation in the new Länder
soon changed for the better, although much of the improvement stemmed
less from the imposition of new standards than from the closing,
for economic reasons, of outmoded plants that had caused much pollution.
Projects such as constructing new air, water, and soil treatment
plants and modernizing old ones, reducing the amounts of brown coal
consumed, and cleaning up dump sites will gradually undo decades
of ecological damage. Some environmental policies in the new Länder
, like those in the old Länder , are preventive in nature.
Because of the irresponsible practices of the former GDR, however,
a great number are also restorative.
Serious environmental problems continue to confront Germany. Despite
the efforts begun in the early 1970s, the "death of the forest"
(Waldsterben ) caused by acid rain continues. In 1992 about
68 percent of the country's trees had suffered significant ecological
damage. Forests in northwestern Germany had suffered the least damage
from acid rain, those in the south and east the most. Chemical emissions
from automobiles are a serious cause of this problem. Only since
1993, however, have new vehicles been required to have catalytic
converters. Germany's farmers also cause much pollution through
intensive use of fertilizers. Because they are a powerful interest
group, it has been difficult to pass legislation to regulate their
Nuclear power presents a special dilemma for Germany. In western
Germany, support for that power source, which in the mid-1990s supplied
about 35 percent of the country's energy requirement, has fluctuated
depending upon international events and crises. As of the mid-1990s,
however, there appeared little chance that any more nuclear plants
would be constructed in the near future.
Upon unification, the Federal Republic inherited East Germany's
two nuclear power plants, which had been built to Soviet specifications.
Decommissioning these plants would increase reliance on polluting
coal-fired power plants. Despite this prospect, the likelihood of
a Chernobyl-like disaster prompted the shutdown of these unsafe
nuclear power plants. As of 1995, new, more ecologically friendly
power plants are being built in the new Länder to replace
nuclear power and brown coal-fired plants.
Data as of August 1995