Brandenburg is located in the east of Germany, in the area of the northern German lowlands, which are traversed by glacial valleys. The new federal state with the largest area is only sparsely populated. In its center, the country encloses the German capital Berlin. The state capital of Brandenburg is Potsdam. The small Slavic minority of the Sorbs lives in the south of Brandenburg. Economic centers are the ring around Berlin, known as the bacon belt, and the Niederlausitz lignite district, which has been seriously damaged by the environment. In Brandenburg there are numerous important nature reserves and attractive recreational areas with lakes and forests.
The federal state of Brandenburg (Fig. 1) is the largest of the new federal states with an area of 29476 km², but has only 2.5 million residents (2009). It borders in the north on Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, in the east with the Lusatian Neisse and the Oder on Poland, in the south on Saxony, in the south-west and west on Saxony-Anhalt and in the extreme northwest on Lower Saxony.
As a natural spatial unit, Brandenburg belongs to the North German lowlands (Fig. 2). Ice age deposits make the surface hilly to flat. They created the conditions for the formation of the numerous lakes and ponds. In the north, a strip of the Baltic ridge, which is part of the young moraine area, protrudes into the country with terminal moraines up to 153 m high. Most of its southern slope belongs to the Prignitz, which slopes down to the Elbe in the northwest. It mainly consists of dry sand areas and extensive forests. In the northeast, between the Havel and the Oderniederung, lies the southern part of the Uckermark with the forest and lake-rich Schorfheide.Between Prignitz and Uckermark, around Templin, there is a southeastern extension of the Mecklenburg Lake District. In the southwest and south lies the old moraine area of the southern land ridge with the up to 201 m high Fläming and Niederlausitz.
The central part of Brandenburg is covered by wide valleys that run from west to east and are still traversed by rivers or chains of lakes today. These glacial valleys formed by ice age meltwater are separated by basement and terminal moraine plates from the Weichsel ice age, for example Barnim and Teltow. From north to south, the follow Thorn-Eberswalder, the Warsaw-Berlin and the Glogau-Baruth glacial valley. The rivers Havel, Spree, Rhin, Dahme and Elbe, some of which are extended like lakes, flow in the glacial valleys today. When the groundwater level is high, wetlands such as Rhinluch, Havelländisches Luch, Spreewald and Oderbruch have formed.
The climate is temperate and has increasingly continental features from west to east (Fig. 4). High pressure areas only determine the weather for a short time. In Potsdam the January mean is
-1 °C, the July mean is more than 18 °C. The average annual rainfall is relatively low at 590 mm. More than a third of the country’s area is forested. The extensive forests and forests used to be a popular hunting ground for the Prussian nobility. Large parts of the original landscape are under nature protection. Schorfheide-Chorin, Spreewald and the river landscape of the Elbe are designated as biosphere reserves; the Lower Oder Valley is part of a German-Polish national park.
The Spreewald, in Sorbian Blota, is located in Niederlausitz. The Spree runs through the eastern part of the Glogau-Baruther glacial valley in a network of waterways. Most of the lowland is moored and covered with a natural alder forest. In the last few years extensive renovation work has been carried out and parts of the landscape have been reclaimed without, however, interfering too deeply with the character of the landscape.
The residents, some of them Sorbs, do agriculture, especially intensive vegetable growing. Cucumbers from the Spreewald, brought onto the market as pickled preserves, are also known beyond the state borders of Brandenburg. In many cases, the means of transport is still the boat. The charming landscape and Sorbian customs have given rise to significant tourism. Special attractions are boat trips, the Spreewald Museum and the open-air museum in Lübbenau / Spreewald. The Spreewald was recognized by UNESCO in 1991 as a biosphere reserve with remarkable riverside and floodplain forest flora.
Due to the poor economic situation from 1989 to 1994, the population steadily decreased due to emigration. A slightly positive population development has been evident since 1995. After Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg has the second lowest population density in Germany with 88 residents / Km². Only the vicinity of Berlin, the so-called Speckgürtel, and the industrial area of Niederlausitz are densely populated . The largest cities after Potsdam are Cottbus, Brandenburg an der Havel and Frankfurt / Oder.
In addition to the German population, the Sorbian minority with around 20,000 members lives in Niederlausitz. The Sorbs, formerly also called Wends, are a West Slavic people. They are descendants of the Slavic population that survived the eastern German settlement. Around 40,000 Sorbs live in Saxony. The Sorbs have their own language, culture and folk art.
Around 20% of the population belong to the Protestant regional churches and just under 4% to the Catholic Church.
Brandenburg has universities in Potsdam and Cottbus (TU), the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) and a university for film and television in Potsdam-Babelsberg.
Economy and Transport
Before German reunification, agriculture and forestry as well as the lignite-based energy and chemical industry determined the economic structure in what is now Brandenburg (Fig. 6). After the fall of the Wall, there was a structural change from material, energy and labor-intensive to research-intensive and environmentally friendly manufacturing and products. This restructuring process has cost a third of the jobs. The unemployment rate today fluctuates around 11%.
- The “bacon belt” around Berlin is the most important industrial area with iron metallurgy, machine and electric locomotive construction as well as electrical engineering / electronics in Potsdam, Teltow, Hennigsdorf and Oranienburg. Another industrial area developed in the Niederlausitz lignite district, where the lignite industry with large opencast mines, large power plants (e.g. Jänschwalde) and chemical industry emerged in the Senftenberg (Black Pump), Spremberg and Cottbus area, which led to the most severe environmental pollution (Fig. 7). Since 1950, around 540 km² of cultivated land has been destroyed by lignite mining. Large recreational areas were replaced by recultivation measures. The excavations were filled with groundwater to create bathing lakes and large areas were reforested. Today, lignite is only extracted in half of the opencast mines and used to generate energy in large-scale power plants (Fig. 8).
- About half of the country’s area can be used for agriculture. Agriculture with the cultivation of wheat, rye, oil crops, potatoes and sugar beet is concentrated on the relatively fertile clay soils of the ground moraines in the northwest of the Prignitz, in the Neuruppin area, in the Uckermark, and on the clay-covered slabs. In the Havel lowlands around Werder and Buckow, important fruit-growing areas emerged. The wetlands are the focus areas of vegetable production, especially Spreewald and Oderbruch, and grassland farming with cattle breeding.
- The landscapes rich in lakes and forests offer incentives for tourism (Fig. 9). Recreational areas are the Ruppiner Schweiz around Neuruppin and Rheinsberg, the lake landscapes around Templin, the Schorfheide with the Werbellinsee, the Scharmützelsee, the Märkische Schweiz around Buckow and the Spreewald. Landscape parks designed by well-known landscape architects also provide relaxation.
- The transport network is traditionally geared towards the German capital. Railway lines and trunk roads run in a star shape through Brandenburg to Berlin and are connected to each other by the Berlin motorway and railway ring, which is located in Brandenburg (Fig. 10). The navigable rivers Oder, Spree, Havel and Elbe are connected by the Oder-Havel, Oder-Spree and Elbe-Havel canals. The most important inland ports are Königs Wusterhausen, Wittenberge, Brandenburg an der Havel and Potsdam.
The province of Brandenburg was from 1815, the largest Prussian province with the previously Saxon Niederlausitz. The Altmark fell to the new province of Saxony. In 1920 Berlin was enlarged and spun off through incorporations. After the Second World War came in 1945, the territories east of the Oder-Neisse line to Poland. They were initially under Polish administration; their final affiliation was regulated in the German-Polish Border Treaty of 1990. Brandenburg was a province from 1945–1947, from July 24th, 1947 a state on the territory of the Soviet occupied zone (SBZ), and from October 7th, 1949 a state of the GDR. Brandenburg was born in 1952 divided into the GDR districts of Neubrandenburg, Potsdam, Frankfurt and Cottbus. On October 3rd, 1990 the state of Brandenburg was reestablished as a federal state of the Federal Republic of Germany.