The Elbe River, with its length of 1 094 km from the springs in the Krkonose Mountains to the North Sea mouth at Cuxhaven and with its catchment area of 148 268 km2, is the fourth biggest river in Europe; after the Donau (817 000 km2), the Visla (194 112 km2), and the Rhine (183 800 km2). The Elbe River basin spans four countries: its largest parts lie in Germany (65.5 %) and in the Czech Republic (33.7 %), tiny parts lie in Austria (0.6 %) and in Poland (0.2 %). The Elbe River basin is inhabited by 24.5 million people.
The Elbe’s major tributaries include the Vltava, the Saale, the Havel, the Mulde, the Black Elster, and the Ohre rivers (figure 1).
Figure 1: Basins of Elbe River’s major tributaries
(Source: BfG, Czech Hydrometheorological Institute, ICPER)
Looking at the Elbe from the geomorphologic angle, we can divide the Elbe watercourse into three stretches: the Upper, Middle, and Lower Elbe.
- Upper Elbe: from springs downstream to its entrance into the North German Lowland at the Hirschstein Castle, length 463 km
- Middle Elbe: form the Hirschstein Castle downstream to the Geesthacht weir, length 489 km
- Lower Elbe: from the Geesthacht weir downstream to its mouth into the North Sea at Cuxhaven-Kugelbake, 142 km
The Elbe River kilometrage we use starts with zero at the Czech-German state border. On the Czech side, the number grows in the upstream direction; on the German side in the downstream direction.