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Elbe(ĕl`bə), Czech Labe, a major river of central Europe, c.725 mi (1,170 km) long, rising in the Krknoše Mts., NW Czech Republic, and traversing NW Czech Republic in a wide arc. It then cuts through steep sandstone cliffs, enters E Germany, and flows generally NW through E Germany (past Dresden, Wittenberg, and Magdeburg) and onto the North German plain. The Elbe forms part of what was the East German–West German border before flowing across N central Germany (past Hamburg) and into the North Sea at Cuxhaven. In Hamburg, the river divides into two arms before forming a 60-mi-long (97-km) estuary. The chief tributaries of the Elbe are the Vltava, Mulde, Saale, and Havel rivers. One of the chief waterways of Europe, the Elbe is navigable for c.525 mi (845 km); freight-laden barges can move on the river as far as Prague. A canal system connects the Elbe with Berlin and the Oder River (to the east); with the Ruhr region and the Weser and Rhine rivers (to the west); and with the Baltic Sea (to the north). There are numerous dams in the Elbe River basin. Known as the Albis to the Romans, the river marked the farthest Roman advance into Germany (9 B.C.) and was later the eastern limit of Charlemagne's conquests. The Treaty of Versailles (1919) internationalized its course from the Vltava River to the sea, but Germany repudiated its internationalization after the Munich Pact (1938). In 1945 the river was made part of the demarcation line between East and West Germany.
(Czech, Labe), a river in Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). The Elbe, which is 1,165 km long and drains an area of 145,800 sq km, rises on the southwestern slopes of the Krkonoše Hory (Riesengebirge) of the Sudetes mountain system. In its upper course the river has a large gradient and forms the Elbe Waterfall, with a height of approximately 70 m; it then flows along the hilly plains of northern Bohemia. Taking a northwesterly direction, which it maintains to its mouth, the Elbe cuts, in gorges, through the eastern spurs of the Erzgebirge and the mountains of Saxonian Switzerland.
Below the city of Meissen the Elbe flows across the Central European Plain, forming a broad valley with marshy sections and lakes. In certain sections dikes have been constructed, and the bends have been straightened. Between Dresden and Hamburg the river increases in width from 100–150 m to 300–500 m. The Elbe empties into the North Sea, forming an estuary about 100 km long and 2.5–15 km wide. The river’s chief right tributaries are the Iser, Schwarze Elster, and Havel; the principal left tributaries are the Vltava, Ohře, Mulde, and Saale.
In spring, melting snow results in high water. The summer low-water period is characterized by occasional freshets brought on by rain: the water level is higher throughout the remainder of the year. Annual fluctuations average 7–8 m. The mean flow rate near the border between Czechoslovakia and the GDR is about 300 cu m per second; in the river’s lower course, it is about 750 cu m per sec. The Elbe is tidal for a distance of 160 km from the mouth. In its upper course the river freezes over for a period of 1.5–2 months; the lower course remains frozen for 2–3 weeks, and in mild winters it does not form an ice cover at all.
The Elbe is navigable for 950 km, as far as the city of Kolin, Czechoslovakia; oceangoing vessels reach as far as Hamburg. The river is linked by a system of canals with the Baltic Sea and with the Rhine, Weser, Ems, and Oder rivers. The cities of Hradec Králové, Pardubice, and Ústi nad Labem in Czechoslovakia; Dresden, Meissen, and Magdeburg in the GDR; and Hamburg in the FRG are situated on the Elbe.
A. P. MURANOV