Swabian Alb

Swabian Alb

The Swabian Alb ( _de. Schwäbische Alb) is a low mountain range in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, extending 220 km from southwest to northeast and 40 to 70 km in width. It is named after the region of Swabia.

The Swabian Alb occupies the region bounded by the Danube in the southeast and the upper Neckar in the northwest. 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 southeast. The northwestern edge is a steep escarpment (called the Albtrauf or Albanstieg, rising up 400 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 subterranean 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 geological depression in a tectonically active region) sometimes causes mild earthquakes. The Nördlinger Ries is a large meteorite crater (15 million years old).

Tertiary relicts can be found at the southern part of Swabian Alb. Famous locations are known of Ulm area (e.g.Turritellenplatte of Ermingen). [J. Baier: "Über die Tertiärbildungen im Ulmer Raum" - Documenta Naturae, vol. 168, München, 2008. ISBN 978-3-86544-168-3 ]

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" or the "Hohenstaufen") 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 spectacular, too, e.g. the Blautopf, a source for a tributary of the Danube. Also because of 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 traditional 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.


Fossils can be found everywhere. Children find them in their backyards. But large and important fossils were and also are found here. At Holzmaden (outside of Weilheim unter Teck) a small private museum also provides visitors with the opportunity to "dig" for fossils in their shale deposits.


See also tourist destinations, below.

Prehistoric Culture

In four caves (Vogelherd, Hohlenstein-Stadel, Geißenklösterle and Hohle Fels), all just a few kilometers apart, the oldest signs of human arts can be foundFact|date=February 2008. 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 instruments have been found here, too: a flute made from bones of a swan, some 35,000 years old, and in 2004 a flute carved from the tusk of a mammoth dating from the Ice Age, around 37,000 years ago.

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 Alb. In Hechingen-Stein a Roman outpost along this road was discovered in the 1970s and has been turned into an outdoor museum. The limes actually cuts across the Alb at Aalen, which gets its name from the original Roman cavalry post, or "Ala", on the outskirts of the modern town. Here too, the Roman ruins are being excavated and a museum has been open to the public since the late 80s.

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. A modern water supply system (outstanding for its time) was built in the late 1880s, which eased the situation.


Because of 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.

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

They are stereotypically shrewd, especially with their money, and traditionally entrepreneurial, depending on a knack for inventing specialized gadgetry and processes. The Alb and Black Forest are still dotted with small companies turning out high-tech products such as machine tools for worldwide consumption in towns of less than 10,000 inhabitants.


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.

One simple thing to look for is the addition of a "-le" suffix on many words in the German language. With the addition of this "-le" (pronounced /lə/), the article of the noun automatically becomes "das" in the German language. The Swabian "-le" is the same as standard German "-lein" or "-chen", which is a diminutive: A small house (German: Haus) is a Häuschen (standard German) or a Häusle (Swabian).

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

There are also a few sound shifts. In technical terms, the voice onset time is about halfway between where we would expect it for a clear contrast between voiced and unvoiced-aspirated stops. To the layperson, this difference is most noticeable on the unvoiced stops, rendering them extremely similar to or indistinguishable from voiced stops. For example:

"t" to "d"
*Tasche (bag) becomes Dasch'
*Tag (day) becomes Dag

"p" to "b"
*putzen (to clean) becomes butzen

The "ch" is sometimes omitted or replaced.

*"ich" becomes i
*"dich" becomes di
*"mich" becomes mi

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


The "Swabian–Alemannic" carnival is an important tradition in many of the villages, called variously "Fastnacht", "Fasnacht", "Fasnet", or "Fasching".Of particular cultural importance is the Fasnet celebration in Rottweil. Typical of the Allemannic tradition are the witches and forest- or well-spirits, who typically signify Winter or the forces of nature coming to drive Winter out. The various roles are often claimed to have been defined in pre-Christian times and here the exact traditions vary from village to village, creating a fantastic variety of heroes, villains and good and evil creatures. It is also often the case that, while in one town a strong tradition of celebrating Fasnet has survived, the neighboring town will have almost no tradition. This is in many instances linked to the after-effects of the Protestant Reformation and the later influence of the Calvinistic Pietists, who more or less strictly opposed such frivolous - even heathen - behaviour. Catholic regions to this day tend to have a stronger Fasnet tradition. A Swabian Fasnet celebration in any case has little or nothing in common with the simultaneous celebrations along the Middle Rhein, which are well known across Germany because they are televised every year. Swabians generally are expected to go to work as normal on Rose Monday and Fat Tuesday, unlike their neighbors to the northwest.


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 simply as Daimler AG, 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. Perhaps as a result, the unemployment rate is low. 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 enjoy top rankings within Germany. The Swabian Alb and its neighbouring region have developed from one of the poorest regions of Germany to one of its richest within the past 150 years.


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. Because of 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 they 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 were several military training grounds, some also used by NATO troops. On the Münsingen training ground which existed for over 100 years, a biosphere reserve is in the making. The region has several larger and many small nature reserves.

Important Towns

* Reutlingen (the "gateway" to the Swabian Alb, foreland of the Alb)
* Sigmaringen
* Albstadt
* Münsingen
* Tübingen (in the foreland of the Alb)
* Göppingen (foreland of the Alb)
* Ulm (at the south-eastern border of the Alb)
* Rottweil (oldest town in Baden-Württemberg)
* Balingen
* Heidenheim (north-eastern border)

Tübingen, Reutlingen and Göppingen are in the foreland of the Swabian Alb. These towns officially don't belong to it.

Tourist Locations

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


* Burg Hohenzollern
* Schloss Lichtenstein
* Schloss Sigmaringen
* Burg Hohenneuffen
* Hohenstaufen Castle (ruin)
* Schloss Hellenstein
* Burg Teck(ruin)
* Burg Hohenrechberg (ruin)

Churches and Monasteries

* Zwiefalten Abbey
* Ulm minster church (highest church spire in the world)
* Beuron Abbey


* Nebelhöhle (mist cave)
* Bärenhöhle (bear cave)
* Blauhöhle


* Blaubeuren
* Tübingen
* Heidenheim


* Blautopf
* Donauversickerung (Danube disappearing)
* Nusplingen (fossil hunting)
* Schäfbuch forest (48.3°N, 9.35°E)


A good way for tourists to get to know the Swabian Alb is to travel on the "Schwäbische Albstaße", a "National Scenic Byway", leading from Tuttlingen or Trossingen to Nördlingen or Aalen.


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.


External links

* [http://www.schwaebischealb.de/index.htm Tourist website]
* [http://www.showcaves.com/english/de/region/SchwaebischeAlb.html List of caves and other sites]
* [http://www.mitglied.lycos.de/nuspl_fossil_smns/home.htm Finding fossils in Nusplingen]
* [http://www.preussen.de/en/today/burg_hohenzollern.html Hohenzollern castle]
* [http://www.villa-rustica.de/indexe.html Museum at the Roman "villa rustica" near Hechingen-Stein]

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