The Neckar (German pronunciation: [ˈnɛkaʁ] (About this soundlisten)) is a 362-kilometre-long (225 mi) river in Germany, mainly flowing through the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, with a short section through Hesse. The Neckar is a major right tributary of the Rhine. Rising in the Black Forest near Villingen-Schwenningen in the Schwenninger Moos conservation area at a height of 706 m (2,316 ft) above sea level, it passes through Rottweil, Rottenburg am Neckar, Kilchberg, Tübingen, Wernau, Nürtingen, Plochingen, Esslingen, Stuttgart, Ludwigsburg, Marbach, Heilbronn and Heidelberg, before discharging into the Rhine at Mannheim, at 95 m (312 ft) above sea level.

From Plochingen to Stuttgart the Neckar valley is densely populated and industrialised, with several well-known companies, e.g. Daimler AG (the maker of Mercedes Benz cars) and Mahle GmbH being located there. Between Stuttgart and Lauffen the Neckar cuts a scenic, meandering, and in many places steep-sided, valley into fossiliferous Triassic limestones and Pleistocene travertine. Along the Neckar's valley in the Odenwald hills many castles can be found, including Hornberg Castle and Guttenberg Castle in Haßmersheim; the now-mothballed Obrigheim Nuclear Power Plant and the active Neckarwestheim Nuclear Power Plant are also located there. After passing Heidelberg, the Neckar discharges on average 145 m3/s (5,100 cu ft/s) of water into the Rhine, making the Neckar its 4th largest tributary, and the 10th largest river in Germany. From about 1100 Black Forest timber was rafted downstream as far as Holland, for use in shipyards.

The name Neckar might be derived from Nicarus and Neccarus from Celtic Nikros, meaning wild water or wild fellow. The grammatical gender of the name in German is masculine (Der Neckar).

During the 19th century, traditional horse-drawn boats were replaced by steam-powered chain boats that used a 155 km (96 mi) long chain in the river to haul themselves upstream towing barges. After 1899 a railway made it possible to transport timber to the port of Heilbronn, limiting timber rafting to the lower part of the Neckar. Due to the construction of 11 locks, ships up to 1500 t could travel to Heilbronn in 1935.

The Neckar in southwest Germany flows from south to north, and joins the Rhine at Mannheim.
The source of the Neckar, the Schwenninger bog
Water reflection of houses in Tübingen reflected in the Neckar
A Stocherkahn (poled boat) on the Neckar in Tübingen
The Neckar in Stuttgart
The Neckar near Neckarsulm

By 1968 the last of 27 locks, at Deizisau, was completed, making the Neckar navigable for cargo ships about 200 kilometres (120 mi) upstream from Mannheim to the river port of Plochingen, at the confluence with the Fils, and where the Neckar bends, taking a northwesterly instead of a northeasterly course. Other important ports include Stuttgart and Heilbronn.

The river's course provides a popular route for cyclists, especially during the summer months. Its steep valley sides are used for vineyards, mainly for the cultivation of Trollinger, Lemberger, Kerner, Müller-Thurgau amongst other locally grown grape varieties..

The name "Neckar" was also given to the world's first motorboat made during the summer of 1886 by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach when their Standuhr (grandfather clock) petrol engine was tested on the river near Bad Cannstatt.


River course

Drainage area

Neckar catchment area


The headwater region of the Neckar lies in the Schwenninger Moos between Schwenningen and Bad Dürrheim. The traditionally marked spring of the river lies in the city park Möglingshöhe in Schwenningen. Prior to the Landesgartenschau Villingen-Schwenningen 2010 the Neckar was in the city center of Schwenningen mostly underground. In order to protect the city better from the recently becoming more frequent flooding through overflow of the duct, the river received more space through a new, mostly open riverbed. This riverbed runs largely on the newly constructed horticultural show ground, which was used as the occasion for the remodeling.


Up to shortly before Rottweil the Neckar is only a small streamlet on the Baar plateau. In Deißlingen-Lauffen it has is only, 4 meters high waterfall, which is drained today. Afterwards the Neckar joins with the Eschach coming from the eastern slopes of the black forest which is much more water bearing. Its main tributary Glasbach, which originates at the Brogen, is hydrographically seen, the main river of the Neckar river system.

With this junction above Rottweil the Neckar enters a narrow, wooded valley and for the next 80 km it bores its way towards north between the ranges of the black forest and the Swabian Jura. It has created two cut-off meander spurs at the Neckarburg in between which the Neckarburgbrücke spans over it. Further down the river lies high above the river the old town of Oberndorf on a Calcareous sinter terrace, which fills one of the bowl-like side valleys. At Horb it turns from the Gäu Plateau towards north east and then follows the western side of the Swabian Jura (Albtrauf). Near Weitingen the valley is traversed by the 127 m high Neckar Viaduct of the A 81. At Rottenburg it enters the wider Valley of Tübingen. After Tübingen the valley narrows again. From here onwards, the surrounding elevated grounds are considerably more densely populated.

Middle reaches

At Plochingen the Neckar turns sharp north west at the „Neckarknie“ at the mouth of the Fils coming down from the east, from the Swabian Jura. Beginning from here the river has been expanded to a canalised waterway. It lies up to Stuttgart in a wide, urbanized meadow, which has been overbuilt with industry and is cut through by transportation structures. Only around the Cannstatter valley bend for a short distance interrupted by large park areas. Here again the valley sides show calc-sinter.

After Stuttgart it turns again towards the general northern direction. In a winding and narrow valley section through the Ludwigsburg (district) the Rems enters from the right at Remseck and then again from the right north of Marbach the Murr. After passing the Hessigheimer Felsengärten the water-rich Enz enters from the left at Besigheim. The former rapid at the Lauffener avulsion of the meander is today under water due to the canalization. In the Lowlands around Heilbronn the Neckar runs again through a wide meadow an open landscape. At Bad Friedrichshall it takes up in between only two kilometers the other two of his large tributaries: First his water-richest tributary, the Kocher and then the officially longest, the Jagst. In total roughly doubling its discharge.

Lower reaches

Between Bad Wimpfen with its Stauferpfalz and Mosbach the Neckar enters the Odenwald, where, again in a gorge-like valley, high, elevated, forested slopes line its riverside and especially on the right side, deeply cut valleys enter. At the last of his distinctive knees at Eberbach it turns west, enters at Hirschhorn for a short distance Hessian territory and is then up to Neckarsteinach on long parts the border between Baden-Württemberg and Hessen. At Neckargemünd the Elsenz enters from the left, its lower reaches using a part oft the Neckars former Maurer river loop (meander) which extended far south. At the city of Heidelberg, which borders in the north the Odenwald and at the south the Königstuhl (Odenwald), the Neckarvalley is cut in the deepest by over 400m through mountains. After passing the Heidelberger historic city, the river enterst he wide Upper Rhine Plain and after further about 25 kilometers in Mannheim roughly at its middle it enters the Rhine from the right.


The largest tributaries of the Neckar are the Enz with the larges drainage area, the Kocher with the highest average water drainage and the longest one, the Jagst. The Kocher tributary Lein is at its end not only longer than the Kocher, but also more water-abundant. Therefore, according to hydrographic convention the Lein would have to be regarded as the main river of the Kocher water system, making it with then 201 kilometers the longest tributary of the Neckar.

Diagram of the tributaries with 50 plus km length

Tributaries with 20 km length and more

Mouth of the Eschach in Rottweil
Mouth of the Starzel in Bieringen
Mouth of the Steinlach in Tübingen
Mouth of the Aich at Nürtingen-Oberensingen
Mouth of the Körsch on the right near Deizisau
The last of the large tributaries and the overall longest is the Jagst near Bad Friedrichshall Jagstfeld

Named from source to mouth. According to LUBW-BRSWEB, LUBW-FG10, LUBW-GEZG and TK25. Drainage area mostly according to LUBW-GEZG, else measured on the background map. Distances preferably according to the data sets of the LUBW-FG10, rarely measured on the background map. Namen preverably according to TK25.

Cities and municipalities

The Neckar touches, from the source to the mouth, the following districts, cities and municipalities:

Old Bridge, Heidelberg, built in 1788
Lock on Wieblingen channel from Heidelberg and open river at Schwabenheim

River History

The primal Neckar started of as an escarpment riverlet due to the slow rise of the black forest and the connected slow erosive retraction oft the south german Scarpland.

Historic routes of the Neckar at the mouth

For a long time it flowed on the high plains of the different Gäu created through the hard chalks of the Muschelkalk. At Horb the rivers direction was redirected to the northeast due to the rift structure of the so-called Swabian Lineament, which lies roughly parallel to the escarpment of the Swabian Jura. Following that the Neckar cut into the Muschelkalk-plateau between Rottweil and Rottenburg as well as the younger Keuper- and Jura layers in the northeast and created in the area of the morphologially hard chalks and sandstones narrow water gaps.

Neckar mouth today

The river deepening was additionally pushed forward by the further rise oft he black forest as well as the retracting erosion of the attacking younger Neckar route. This younger Neckar route tapped the primal Neckar system at plochingen (hence the „Neckarknie”), which did flow through the primal lone to the primal Danube. Influencing in this river area was also the Schurwald, a dissected cuesta oft the filder rift, working as a river guideline.

Today's lower reaches used to be those of the primal Enz. Until, through the erosive retraction of a tributary oft he primal Enz near Besigheim, the Neckar river network was tapped. That is how the Enz became a tributary of the Neckar.[2] Another clue of the formerly reaching far north west Danube river network is the Eschach running from north west to south east, hence towards the primal donau. With the retraction of the escarpment it was tapped by a Neckar tributary and redirected by about 90° to the east. Considering river history, she was never a headstream of the Neckar.

Up until 2000 years ago the Neckar flowed through a pastureland in the Oberrheinische Tiefebene in a tangle of meanders, slings, old waters and cut of arms between the Rhine in the west and the foot of the Odenwald in the east until it finally entered the Rhine only north of Darmstadt at Trebur. Roughly 50 km north of today's mouth in Mannheim. On large stretches you can still see it on aerial photos.

In the 13th century the mouth was south of Mannheim. As a consequence of a large flooding the Neckar redirected itself at about 1275. Since then it enters the Rhine north of the city.[12] The last change here took place in connection with the straightening of the Rhine by the „Friesenheimer Durchstich“ (Friesenheimer breakthrough) west of today's Friesenheimer Island. Before the Neckar entered the Rhine in the area of today's industrial port of Mannheim. Its new riverbed was also the reason for the relocation of the Neckar. After the old Neckar was cut off early 1869, it followed the path of the new Neckar breakthrough, which was finished by 1880.[3]

River landscape

Natural landscape

Remarkable ist the alternation between narrow and widening valleys. The narrows are mostly deepenings into the Muschelkalk plateau and the Buntsandstein below. Widenings the river developed in the area of morphologically soft clay and marl. Wide valley meadows also developed through the strong backfilling with Aue clay since the start of settlement in the Neolithic and the accompanying deforestation and soil erosion. In the area of the Narrows the meander and cut-off meander spurs stand out. The meanders were formed through the primal Neckar, which flowed sluggishly through the almost even Muschelkalk plateau. They formed the morphological basic structures during the deepening phases and were cut into the hard Muschelkalk. The most known cut-off meander spur is the one at Lauffen, whose meander throat cut through in historical times and created a waterfall (historic: Laufen). At the cutbanks you can often find rocks, which are formed by the chalks of the upper Muschelkalk. For example, the rock gardens at Hessigheim. They lie on the marls and clays of the middle Muschelkalks and can sag in whole stone packages, so called Schollen, down towards the Neckar. In the Odenwald narrow ravines and gorges lead into the Neckar from both sides. For example, the Wolfschlucht and the Margarethenschlucht.

Cultural landscape

View from the Hessigheimer rock gardens into the Neckar valley
Stone terraces at the Cannstatter Zuckerle, located on the Neckar slopes in Stuttgart
The Neckar in Neckarsulm, in the background the coal power station of Heilbronn.
The Neckar loop around the Dilsberg castle, as seen from the Hinterburg
Heidelberg, the Neuenheim riverside with the neckar meadow and the Heiligenberg

There are conflicts regarding the land usage of the flat valley plains. You can find nutritious and due to their good structure very arable land. But in the strongly textured Neckar area the neckar valley is the only possibility for transportation infrastructure. Furthermore, large even spaces are sought after for industrial sites. Additionally the plains are subject to the dynamics of the Neckar and its tributaries. Floodings can limit the human usage or endanger it. At last the river itself also fullfills the function of habitat for numerous animals and plants.

Due to the risk of flooding the valley plains remained unsettled for a long time, but where intensively agriculturally used. The paths usually went over the heights and only crossed the valleys where there were fords over the Neckar. Only the starting industrialisation in the 19th century brought a fundamental change of usage. The Neckar was mostly straightened in order to prevent flooding and to gain areas for industrial buildings. At the same time began the construction of railway lines and avenues in the valley plains. In large parts the landscape of the Neckar valley changed from a cultural to an industrial landscape. An example for that is the Neckar valley between Plochingen and Bad Cannstatt, which is traversed by large transportation arteries. Moreover, recreational facilities with large area consumption like the Mercedes-Benz Arena, the Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle or the Cannstatter Wasen, the second largest fair of Germany, have found their place there. The term Wasen gives a clue, that there used to be a floodplain on which the fair was held. Distinctive points in the industrial landscape of the Neckar valley are the high chimneys of the coal-fired power station Altbach/Deizisau and Heilbronn as well as the assembly halls of the Daimler-engine plant in Untertürkheim and the Audi plant in Neckarsulm.

But to a large degree the valley plains are still used agriculturally. Mainly it allows the cultivation of lucrative special crops like vegetable or hops. For example, between Rottenburg and Tübingen.

A point of friction is the gravel pit quarrying in the valley plains. On the one hand it takes away agricultural land. On the other large lakes were created which nowadays are intensively used for recreational purposes like bathing, wind surfing and fishing. These borrow pits also became habitat for birds, amphibians and aquatic creatures. Such large borrow pits can be found for example near Kirchentellinsfurt and between Freiberg am Neckar and Pleidelsheim. But the gravel bodies of the Neckar have an additional role as water reservoir. They are in many places used for the drinking water production.

The mostly steep slopes make a contrast to the plains, being in most areas forested and therefore in forestry use. The sun exposed south facing sites are often used for vineyards and are terraced with dry walls. There the local red wine grapes Trollinger, Schwarzriesling and Lemberger are cultivated, which are also traditionally mostly drunk in Württemberg. Especially the middle Neckar around Besigheim and Lauffen is characterized by in parts extremely steep vineyards, which only can be manually cultivated.

The vine terrasses at the Neckar deliver with the drainage area of the tributaries the largest part of the cultivation area of the Württemberg wine region. The vineyards at the lower reaches from Heinsheim to Heidelberg count to the Baden wine region. Until the end of the 19th century vineyard cultivation was more spread in the Neckar valley. Still today many fallow terraces tell of the abandoning especially of unfavorable sites. An abundant wildlife has reclaimed those areas. An example are the southern slopes of the Spitzberg located above the Neckar near Tübingen.

The slopes of the Neckar are often also preferred areas for high-level residential areas because they allow wide, unobstructed views.

The river itself was, due to its importance for the inland navigation (see below) on and on expanded over the course of centuries. With the development into a heavy shipping lane in the early 20th century the last freely flowing parts between Plochingen and the mouth disappeared and the whole river in this part nowadays is characterized by dam areas.


The not regulated old Neckar at Freiberg am Neckar

The diverse usage of raw water and waterway, as well for the production of hydropower brought with it substantial interventions into the ecological structure of the river. Multiple initiatives are advocating the land restoration the Neckar, the ecological enhancement of the river network, the improvement of the water quality, improved flood control and the creation of attractive local recreational areas alongside the river. Only recently within the frame of the nationwide campaign lively rivers and the initiative Lebendiger Neckar (German: lively Neckar), it was begun to free it from ist partly existing concrete corsett. Despite that, the river has been in stretches already redeveloped as a local recreational area and habitat for animals and plants. The Neckar still remains as a symbol of endangered Nature – nowhere in Germany you have a higher power plant density –, but there has been created numerous nature reserves and several riversides have been renaturated. At an oxygen content of below 4 mg/l the power plant owners have to run specially designed turbines to get air into the water. Through that there was no mass fish die-off due to the lack of oxygen in the last 20 years (2003).[4]


The Neckar valley functions as a cold air basin, which means that at cloudless skies the heavier, nightly cold air, which has developed on the sparsely vegetated plateaus and hills, flows into the basin and concentrates there. Especially during the cold season, such “cold lakes” can contribute to the creation of fog while all around on the plateaus the sun shines. önnen besonders in der kalten Jahreszeit zur Nebelbildung beitragen, während auf den Höhen ringsum die Sonne scheint. The Orography of the Neckar valley facilitates such inversive weather conditions.

On the other hand, the Neckar valley is known for its wine cultivation climate. The cultivation of the “Württemberger Wein“ is mostly restricted to the southfacing slopes with high radiation gain in the Neckar valley and ist side valleys. In previous times vineyards were more commonly spread in the Neckar valley. The wine cultivation is work intensive and in Württemberg today only competitive to other countries in the best sites.

Water Transport

Numerous excavations of ports and findings allow the conclusion that, especially on the lower Neckar, the Neckar water transport already existed at Roman times since the middle of the first century. Mostly probably for the transportation of construction material for the Limes and for provisions. Later the Franks probably restarted the Neckar navigation.


In music

The Neckar is mentioned prominently in Gustav Mahler's "Rheinlegendchen" ('Little Rhine Legend'), composed in August 1893. "Rheinlegendchen" was first published in 1899 in a cycle of 12 songs under the title Humoresken ('Humoresques'); it is today known as one of Mahler's Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Songs from The Youth's Magic Horn),


  1. ^ a b Map services of the Baden-Württemberg State Office for the Environment, Survey and Conservation (Landesanstalt für Umwelt, Messungen und Naturschutz Baden-Württemberg)
  2. ^ "Abteilung 2: Geologie und Bodenkunde" (PDF). Landesamt für Geologie, Rohstoffe und Bergbau. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2004-07-30. Retrieved 2017-03-20. Abbildung 22
  3. ^ M. Eisenlohr. "Die Flußkorrektion bei Mannheim und deren Einwirkung auf die Entwicklung der Stadt" (PDF 15 MB). pp. 15 und Tafel 7. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
  4. ^ [Archived [Date missing] at ikone-online.de [Error: unknown archive URL] Gütezustand der Fließgewässer im Neckar-Einzugsgebiet] Check |url= value (help), IKoNE 5 (in German), p. 18, retrieved 2017-03-20 Archived [Date missing] at ikone-online.de [Error: unknown archive URL]

External links