Situated in northwestern Germany, Lower Saxony is the second-largest federal state in Germany, by land area, and the fourth-largest in population. It is bordered by more states than any other, including Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia. The state of Bremen also forms two enclaves within Lower Saxony.
Lower Saxony in numbers
- Surface area: 47.614,07 km2
- Population: 7.984.849
- Foreign population: 813.080 (10,2%)
- Institutions for higher education: 26
- Unemployment rate: 5,1%
- GRP per inhabitant: 37.100 euros
- Airports: 2
A brief history of Lower Saxony
While the state of Lower Saxony itself is relatively young, having only been established after the Second World War, the territory it occupies between the Ems and Elbe rivers has been settled for nearly two millennia.
Duke Widukind & Charlemagne
The name Lower Saxony is derived from the Saxons, a loose grouping of Germanic tribal peoples who, under the leadership of Duke Widukind, were involved in a series of legendary clashes with Charlemagne in the late eighth century. When the Saxon rebellion was defeated, Charlemagne declared Saxony a Frankish province, massacred thousands of nobles and ordered the conversion of the whole area to Roman Catholicism.
The reign of Henry the Lion
Over the years Saxony managed to hold onto its prominence, thanks in part to the actions of Henry the Lion, who was Duke of Saxony from 1142 until his death in 1180. At the height of his reign, Henry’s territory stretched from the North Sea coast to the Alps. In 1174, however, he made a fatal error in refusing to support Emperor Frederick Barbarossa’s invasion of Lombardy, for when the campaign failed the Emperor turned against Henry.
With the support of the other German princes, he had Henry tried in absentia for insubordination, stripping him of his lands and exiling him. The duchy of Saxony was afterwards divided into several principalities, who over the ensuing centuries squabbled constantly over territory, succession and position.
Lower Saxony is born
After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, new borders were drawn, creating the independent states of Hannover, Oldenburg, Braunschweig and Schaumburg-Lippe. After the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, Hannover lost its independence and became a Prussian province. It was around this time that the term “Lower Saxony” began to be used to describe this region of Germany.
Against this backdrop of smaller, self-reliant states, the founding of Lower Saxony as a unified entity in November 1946 was not met with universal approval. While distinct regional identities continue to exist, over the years the once fiercely independent states have learnt to sing from the same hymn sheet and modern-day Lower Saxony has emerged as a centre of manufacturing, agriculture and tourism, thanks to its diverse, unspoilt landscape.
Geography of Lower Saxony
Lower Saxony is the only German federal state that covers both mountainous and maritime areas. The sandy, boggy northern half of the state backs onto the sea, covering the East Frisian Islands, and is almost entirely flat except for some gentle hills around the Bremen geestland. The Elbe River separates Lower Saxony from Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and Brandenburg. The Ems, Weser and Aller rivers also traverse the state.
Further south, the terrain is peppered with countless peat bogs, secluded heathlands and wooded areas. Things get more hilly as the state climbs towards the German Central Uplands, including the Weser Uplands and the Harz mountains, which contains Lower Saxony’s highest peak, the Wurmberg. Between the Weser and the Harz lies a range of low ridges known as the Lower Saxon Hills.
Weather in Lower Saxony
Lower Saxony is located in a transition zone between the maritime climate of Western Europe and the continental climate of Eastern Europe, which is clearly felt in the weather. While the northwestern part of the state typically experiences only small variations in temperature, the southwest has more clearly divided summer and winter seasons. The average temperature in is 8,8 degrees, ranging from an average high of 22 degrees in July and August to an average low of -2 degrees in January and February.
Lower Saxon dialects
The most predominant form of German spoken and taught in schools in Lower Saxony is High German (Hochdeutsch). It is often said that the German spoken in Hannover is the “purest” in the country, since they “talk by the book” and pronounce every letter.
In northern Lower Saxony, plenty of people also speak Low German (Plattdeutsch), a West Germanic language that was the official language of the Hanseatic League and is still widely-spoken in North Germany and in parts of the Netherlands. Some Frisian dialects are also officially recognised and spoken in North and Northeast Lower Saxony.
Biggest cities in Lower Saxony
The major cities in Lower Saxony are mostly concentrated in the southern and central parts of the state.
Lower Saxony’s state capital Hannover is curiously overlooked by tourists, but is all the better for it. This green, laid-back city is loved by locals because it’s cheap, has good public transport and a wealth of culture, all within easy reach of the largest urban forest in Europe.
This historically-important centre of trade was once a member of the Hanseatic League. Nowadays, it is the largest city between Hannover and Berlin, and is popularly known as the “Lion City” after the monument in its main square, erected by Henry the Lion in 1166.
Once a centre of salt production, nowadays Lüneberg is one of the primary tourist magnets of Lower Saxony, thanks to its charming, virtually-untouched old town and proximity to Lüneberg Heath, a 7.000-square-kilometre, tranquil patchwork of moorland, meadow and heath that blossoms into a breathtaking carpet of purple blooms every summer.
This historic medieval city is known for being the venue where the peace treaty that ended the Thirty Years’ War was signed. Nowadays, Osnabrück is a bustling city of live music, modern art and gourmet restaurants. Terra.vita, one of the UNESCO network of geoparks, is also an easy day trip from the city.
Ringed by canals, Oldenburg’s pedestrianised, pleasant city centre is awash with restaurants, cafes and bars. Being handed back and forth between Danish and German rule has left this relaxed city with an interesting mix of architecture and cultures.
Having celebrated its 1.200th birthday in 2015, Hildesheim can officially be called one of the oldest cities in Germany. Its historic town centre was razed to the ground during WWII but has been lovingly restored, making it a very pleasant day’s wander. The Romanesque St Mary’s Cathedral and St Michael’s Church are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
It’s not technically a city, but Wolfenbüttel deserves a place on this list for having the largest concentration of timber-framed buildings in Germany. It’s also home to the Jägermeister distillery and the internationally-renowned Herzog August Library.
Wolfsburg was originally founded in 1938 as a town to house the workers assembling Volkswagen Beetles in the nearby factory. It’s still the location for Volkswagen’s headquarters and nowadays is home to the biggest car plant in the world.
Famous for its university that has produced more than 40 Nobel Prize winners to date, Göttingen is an intellectual city with a youthful feel. Back in 2003, some 45 percent of its inner city population was aged between 18 and 30.
Traditional food in Lower Saxony
Lower Saxon cuisine focuses on local food and tends to be rich and flavoursome. While plenty of traditional dishes are eaten all over the state, some regional specialities can only be found in certain areas. As you would expect, fish dishes enjoy especial popularity in North Lower Saxony, with herrings appearing on lots of menus, either soused, fried or pickled. Eel, served in a creamy sauce and garnished with dill, is also considered a delicacy.
Almost every region in Lower Saxony has its own type of sausage (Knipp, Bregenwurst, Kohlwurst and Pinkelwurst are some of the most famous), typically served with boiled potatoes and kale (known locally as “Braunkohl” or brown cabbage). If you attend a wedding in Lower Saxony, you’re more likely than not to be served Hochzeitssuppe (wedding soup), a meat broth that typically contains dumplings made of pork, asparagus and eggs. Lower Saxony also shares a devoted love of asparagus (Spargel) with the rest of the country and is the largest producer of white asparagus in Germany.
Lower Saxony is home to plenty of well-known breweries. Two of the oldest German beers, Braunschweiger Mumme and Goslarer Gose, have been produced here since the Middle Ages.
Sights & Attractions in Lower Saxony
Whether you’re just stopping through, or staying in Lower Saxony for good, make sure to check these sights and attractions off your list.
Wattenmeer & Harz National Parks
Some 20 percent of Lower Saxony’s area has been designated as protected and the state is home to not one but two national parks, meaning that visitors have acres and acres of unspoiled countryside to explore. Ramble through the ancient mud flats of the Wattenmeer National Park at low tide, or give your thighs a challenge with a spot of hiking in the dramatic mountains of the Harz National Park.
Adventure Zoo, Hannover
Take a trip around the world at Hannover Zoo, where 22 hectares of land are home to more than 3.000 animals spread across seven themed lands. As well as a daily programme of animal shows, the zoo offers a petting zoo, feeding times and an ice cream factory!
Like most federal states in Germany, Lower Saxony has its fair share of stunning castles and palaces but Hämelschenburg has to be the cream of the crop. This Renaissance-style palace lies on a former pilgrimage road that once led all the way to Spain. Arrive in style, taking in the gorgeous views from all angles, by cycling the four kilometres up to the castle from the Weser River.
The Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen
One of the most famous attractions in Hannover, Herrenhausen Gardens are the centrepiece of Herrenhausen Palace and considered one of the most important baroque gardens in Europe. Channel the opulence of times gone by, strolling through the intricately-designed flowerbeds, sculptures and painstakingly trimmed hedges.
Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp
A leftover from one of the darkest chapters of German history, the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated in 1945 by British troops. It is most commonly associated with Anne Frank, who died there together with her sister Margot in February or March 1945. Nowadays, there is a memorial with an exhibition centre on the site.
Situated just outside Soltau in northern Lower Saxony, Heide Park is one of the largest amusement parks in Germany and offers fun for the whole family, including one of the steepest wooden rollercoasters in the world and Germany’s first-ever wing coaster.
Flags of Lower Saxony
The flag of Lower Saxony consists of the coat of arms of Lower Saxony, which features a white rearing horse on a red background, mounted onto the tricolour flag of the Federal Republic of Germany, shifted slightly to the hoist.
The flag was officially introduced on May 1, 1951. Prior to that, the separate entities of Hannover, Brunswick, Oldenburg and Schaumberg-Lippe all had their own flags, which they used at official functions. These flags are still sometimes used at folk events or festivals.