Lower Saxony, German NIEDERSACHSEN, constituent Land (state) of Germany. The second largest Land in size, it occupies an important band of territory across the northwestern part of the nation. Lower Saxony stretches from The Netherlands border in the west to the border of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and Saxony-Anhalt Länder in the east. The neck of land occupied by Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, and, farther north, Denmark borders it on the north, while to the south are the Länder of North Rhine-Westphalia (containing the industrial zone of the Ruhr), Hesse, and Thuringia. Its capital is Hannover.
Lower Saxony was established on Nov. 1, 1946, by the British military government, which merged the former Prussian province of Hanover with the states of Braunschweig, Oldenburg, and Schaumburg-Lippe.
With the exception of a small highland area to the south, the landscapes of the state are dominated by the great North German Plain. Much of the Land's northern half consists of sandy lowlands of heath, bog, and polder, interspersed with scattered forests. In the northwest the East Frisian Islands--12 islands in the North Sea--and about 325 square miles (840 square km) of coastal land are actually below sea level and are protected from inundation by dikes similar to those nearby in The Netherlands. More than half of Lower Saxony is drained by the Weser River and its tributaries, the Fulda and the Werra, although the major settlement of Bremerhaven (at the mouth of the Weser) and Bremen itself (40 miles [64 km] up the river) form a separate political entity that is the smallest of the German Länder. At the mouths of the Weser and other rivers flowing into the North Sea, fertile marshes are found, mostly supporting a pasture economy. In the Land's northeastern region there is a less fertile area of land partly covered with forests. This contains the Lüneburger Heath, which is noted for its old-fashioned red farmhouses and the ancient megalithic structures known as "graves of giants." It is now a celebrated nature preserve. In the south-central part of the Land are two sizable lakes: Steinhuder Lake (12 square miles) and Dümmer Lake (6 square miles). The highland area occupies the southern portions of the Land and contains the Weser, Deister, and Harz Mountains. The important Mittelland (Midland) Canal runs east-west across the south-central part of Lower Saxony. (see also Index: Mittelland Canal)
The sandy lowlands of the north are sparsely populated in comparison to the south-central belt. The troughlike valleys of the forested southern uplands provide good-quality agricultural land, as do their foothills farther north. The latter form part of a treeless belt of rich, often windblown, soils known as the Börde, which runs in a narrow east-west zone across the Land. In addition to supporting an arable farming population, this area, situated on the boundary between plain and upland, became a historical nucleus for the growth of a string of small towns. Lower Saxony's climate offers mild winters, moderately warm summers, and a steady year-round rainfall ranging from 24 to 35 inches (600 to 900 mm).
The population of Lower Saxony regards itself as Lower German, linked by a common ancient Saxon origin and use of the Lower German dialect known as Plattdeutsch. The latter, a dialect closely related to Dutch, Frisian, and English, is quite distinct from the official High German. Some regional literature is still produced in this form, and it remains the language of the home in much of the state. This feeling of cultural unity helps to bind together such diverse areas as the parts of ancient Hanover east of the Weser, the younger regions of Braunschweig, Emsland, Osnabrück, and South Oldenburg (which were formerly under Westphalian influence), and the Frisian portions of northern Oldenburg and Ostfriesland. About four-fifths of the population is Protestant, with a Roman Catholic minority in the state's western part.
In 1939 the population of Lower Saxony as presently defined amounted to 4,500,000. By 1946 the influx of refugees from other areas of war-torn Europe had caused an increase to 6,200,000, and this in spite of war losses. By 1950 the population had reached 6,744,000. During the 1950s more than 340,000 refugees were transferred to other states of the Federal Republic of Germany that were able to offer better living conditions. By the middle of 1968 the population passed the 7,000,000 mark. This growth was mainly caused by natural increase and, to a certain degree, by immigration. The major cities of Lower Saxony are Hannover, Braunschweig, Osnabrück, Oldenburg, Salzgitter, Göttingen, and Wilhelmshaven.
Agriculture, the traditional mainstay of the local economy, remains more important in Lower Saxony than in most other German states, with farms producing wheat, rye, oats, potatoes, and dairy and beef cattle. A substantial portion of the land is covered by forests, with small portions of uncultivated moors and wasteland. Manufacturing and services now form the base of the economy, however, and Hannover and Braunschweig are major centres with diversified industries. The Land's chief manufactures include trucks and other motor vehicles, heavy machinery, rubber goods, chemicals, radio and other electronics equipment, and dyes and inks. Lower Saxony also has considerable reserves of iron ore and smaller amounts of coal and oil.
Lower Saxony is well provided with transport facilities, and Hannover is the most important road and rail junction in northwestern Germany. The state's importance in the regional economy of Germany was enhanced by the building of such inland waterways as the Mittelland Canal, the Dortmund-Ems Canal, and a host of others. In addition, the major rivers, notably the Weser and the Elbe, are navigable for considerable distances. Many tens of millions of tons of goods pass through the ports of Wilhelmshaven, Emden, Nordenham, and Brake each year, an indication of Lower Saxony's importance in regional and world trade. The state's main airport is Hannover-Langenhagen. The scenic beauties of the Lüneburger Heath and the southern uplands, together with the seaside resorts of the northwest, attract a considerable tourist traffic.
Government and social conditions.
The governmental structure of Lower Saxony is composed of a prime minister, state chancellory, and eight ministries. The Land is divided into four governmental districts (Braunschweig, Hannover, Lüneburg, and Weser-Ems). Lower Saxony entered the late 20th century with several political parties, the Social Democrats (left-wing), the Christian Democrats (centre right), the Free Democrats (centre left), and the Greens (left-wing). Justice is administered by means of a constitutional court, courts of appeal, regional courts, and local courts. Public primary, middle, and secondary schools are available to students, as are special schools. University education is offered by the Georg August University of Göttingen (1737), the institutes of the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, technical universities at Hannover and Braunschweig, and a number of smaller institutes.
In common with other German Länder, Lower Saxony has a thriving and well-subsidized cultural life. There are state theatres at Hannover, Oldenburg, and Braunschweig. Hannover, the state's cultural capital, boasts three other theatres, among them the Landesbühne, which gives performances in more than 40 towns in the region. Other notable theatres are, in Wilhelmshaven, the Landesbühne Niedersachsen-Nord; in Göttingen, the Deutsches Theater; in Hildesheim, the Stadttheater; and in Celle, the Schlosstheater, whose plays are performed in a fine Baroque building dating from 1674. In addition, several hundred cinemas cater to more popular tastes. The Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung is the leading state newspaper. Hannover is also the centre of the agricultural and forestry press. A famous cultural periodical, Westermanns Monatshefte, is edited from Braunschweig. Radio and television are broadcast by the Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), based in Hamburg but with studios at Hannover and Oldenburg. Area 18,282 square miles (47,351 square km). Pop. (1992 est.) 7,475,800.