Swabian Alb

From Academic Kids

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A view on the Swabian Alb, with its typical hills and a juniper meadow
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The Albtrauf, which forms the western border of the Swabian Alb

The Swabian Alb (German: Schwäbische Alb) is a plateau in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, extending 220 km from southwest to northeast and 40 to 70 km in width. It occupies the region bounded by the Danube in the south and the upper Neckar in the north. In the southwest it rises to the higher mountains of the Black Forest. The highest mountain of the Swabian Alb is the Lemberg (1015 m). The Alb's profile resembles a high plateau, which slowly falls away to the east. The western edge is a steep cliff (called the Albtrauf or Albanstieg, rising up 300 m, covered with forests), while the top is flat or gently hilled.

In economic and cultural terms "Swabian Alb" includes regions just around the mountain range. For these heavily-populated industrial regions, the Swabian Alb is a popular recreation area.



The Swabian Alb is mostly limestone, which formed the seabed during the Jurassic era. 50 million years ago, the sea receded. Three layers of different limestones are stacked over each other to form the range: black jura, brown jura and white jura. White jura may be as pure as 99% Calcium carbonate. Since limestone is soluble in water, rain seeps through cracks everywhere and forms subterrenean rivers which flow through a large system of caves until they emerge. Thus there are hardly any rivers, lakes or other forms of surface water on the Swabian Alb.

In some places, former volcanic activity has left traces, such as maars and hills. In the west, the Zollerngraben (a tectonically active region) sometimes causes mild earthquakes. The Nördlinger Ries is a large meteorite crater.

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The Blautopf (literally: "blue pot"), a source which owes its name to the almost surreal blue of its water

Constant rain and other weather influences are slowly dissolving the entire range. Each year, it loses approximately 5 cm. Some millions of years ago, the mountains reached as far as Stuttgart. In some places, the limestone was more resistant to decay and thus the recession of the main range has left small mountains (called "Zeugenberge" - "witness mountains"; e.g. the Achalm) which testify to the former territory of the range. The omnipresent caves are great tourist spots, beautiful and not very crowded. Many different types can be found, from dry dripstone caves to caves that can only be entered by boat. Sometimes the discharge of the water from subterranean rivers can be spactacular, too, e.g. the Blautopf, a source for a tributary of the Danube. Also due to the porous limestone, the Danube nearly disappears near Immendingen (in 1911, 1921, 1928 and 1943 it disappeared completely), only to reappear several kilometers further down. Most of the water lost by the Danube resurfaces in the Aachtopf, a spring for a tributary to the Rhine.

The soil is not very fertile, the humus is often as thin as 10 cm. Many small limestone pebbles are found on the surface.


Mostly gently hilly, in the east often flat. The hills are often covered with small forests. Many small fields (often colza and other frugal plants). Mostly small villages.

The tradidional landscape was grass fields with juniper bushes. Sheep ate everything else. Today this has become a comparatively rare sight. However, in certain places it is protected by the government of Baden-Württemberg.


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A hammer and some loose stones are all you need to find fossils

Fossils can be found everywhere. Children find them in their backyards. But large and important fossils were and also are found here.


See also tourist destinations, below.

Prehistoric Culture

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The Lion man, the oldest known human-animal sculpture, found in the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave, near Asselfingen

In four caves (Vogelherd, Hohlenstein-Stadel, Geißenklösterle and Hohle Fels), all just a few kilometers apart, the oldest signs of human arts can be found. Best known are: a horse head, a water bird, and two statues of a lion-man (see lion man), all of surprising quality and all more than 30,000 years old. The oldest known musical instrument has been found here, too: a flute made from bones of a swan, some 35,000 years old.

The Roman Empire

This region, located south of the limes, was part of the Roman Empire from around the first to third century A.D.. A Roman road ran along the Neckar river and the Alp. In Hechingen-Stein a Roman outpost along this road was discovered in the 1970s and has been turned into an outdoor museum.

Traditional Alb Life

Life was extremely hard on the Swabian Alb. The lack of water and the poor quality of the soil made it a backward region. For many villages fetching water required a long journey by horse. Since water often needed to be stored over a long time, it was often stagnant. Thus disinfection via alcohol was very popular: "Most" (apple wine) was mixed with water and even given to babies. The number of mentally retarded children was higher than in other regions. A modern water supply system (outstanding for its time) was built in the late 1880s, which eased the situation.


Due to their harsh living conditions, the Swabians were, and are to this day, notorious for their tight-fistedness, hard work and resourcefulness – all important attributes where there are only very limited resources available.

A Swabian phrase, "Schaffa, Spara, Häusle baua" – loosely translated "work, save, build a house", reflects these attributes.

Especially in the remoter regions of the Alb, the inhabitants tend to be rather provincial and rough. However, straightforwardness, pragmatism and honesty are often associated with them as well.


The Alb dialect is strong, even stronger than in the rest of Swabia. If politely asked, most are able to speak an understandable version of standard German. Generally, Swabians are rather proud of their dialect.

Once simple thing to look for is the addition of a "-le" suffix on many words in the German language.

  • Zug (train) becomes Zügle
  • Haus (house) becomes Häusle
  • Kerl (guy) becomes Kerlle
  • Mädchen (girl) becomes Mädle
  • Baum (tree) becomes Bäumle

There are also a few sound shifts.

"t" to "d"

  • Tasche (bag) becomes Dasch'
  • Tag (day) becomes Dag

"p" to "b"

  • putzen (to clean)becomes butzen

Many surnames in Swabia are also made to end in "-le".


The "Swabian-Alemannic" carnival is an important tradition in many of the villages.


Since raising crops was not easy, raising sheep was popular. This yielded the development of a strong textile industry. In the 1950s, Reutlingen was the German town with the highest number of millionaires, until the decline of the German textile industry hit them as well. Still, many high quality textile companies can be found, such as Hugo Boss, Trigema, Reusch, Groz-Beckert and others (the town of Metzingen is widely known as a "luxury outlet town", with people from all over Europe coming to buy expensive clothes cheaper).

From this, machine building and advanced engineering developed. With the invention of cars and the founding of Daimler-Benz, right next to the Swabian Alb, the car industry and later also electronics and computer industries developed. The "Neckar-Alb" region is the third largest industrial zone in Germany, and the most stable. The best known company is still Daimler-Benz, today known as Daimler-Chrysler, followed by Robert Bosch.

The region has one of the highest patents-to-population ratios in the world. Many products fall into the high-tech category. The small and medium enterprise sector (100-5,000 employees) predominates. In general, products are expensive but compete through high quality. Several districts are recognised as especially attractive to business, e.g. Reutlingen as the town in Germany where it is simplest to open a new business. Educational resources are at a high level. The schools and universities of the region all reach top places in German rankings. The Swabian Alb and its neighbouring region have developed from one of the poorest regions of Germany to one of its richest. The unemployment rate is low.


Moderate. In winter often snow. Skiing is sometimes possible (though the hills are not steep or high). Often windy and a bit colder than the rest of Germany. Due to a special micro climate, a small weather station near the town of Stetten am kalten Markt is known as the "coldest spot in Germany".


The Swabian Alb is not densely populated (by German standards). Most larger towns are just next to the Alb (yet the are often counted as part of the region). These towns often have some of the highest rents in Germany, while land on the Swabian Alb itself is considered cheap (by south German standards). Many town names end in "-ingen". There are several military training grounds, some also used by NATO troups. The region has several larger and many small nature reserves.

Important Towns

Tourist Locations

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Burg Hohenzollern at Hechingen

There are many castles, monasteries, churches, ruins and old towns. Here only a small selection.


Churches and Monasteries

  • Kloster Zwiefalten
  • Ulmer Münster (highest church spire in the world)


  • Nebelhöhle (mist cave)
  • Bärenhöhle (bear cave)




Note that the translation "Swabian Alps" is incorrect, since these mountains are not part of the Alps, though the words "Alb" and "Alps" are of the same etymological origin. The Alps (die Alpen) is plural, whereas the Alb (die Alb) is singular.

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