ELBE RIVER, a river of central Europe that rises in Krkonoše Mountains of the northern Czech Republic and flows through Germany to the North Sea. In Czech Republic it is known as the Labe. The Elbe is 711 miles (1,144 km) long and drains an area of 55,623 square miles (145,800 sq km).
Rising in the Krkonose (Giant) mountains of the Czech Republic-Polish border, the Elbe flows first southward and then westward within the Bohemian massif. Near Melnik it is joined by the Vltava River and turns north to break through the mountain fringe of Bohemia and enter Germany. In its course beyond Dresden across the German Plain it is joined by the Muide and Saale rivers from Saxony and Thuringia and the Havel from Brandenburg. From just west of Wittenberge the Elbe forms the boundary of Germany, which it enters finally at Lauenburg. The estuary then widens past Hamburg to enter the North Sea near Cuxhaven.
The Elbe is considered to be navigable for 1,000-ton barges to Melnik, but low water frequently restricts traffic. The section upstream to Kolin and eventually to Pardubice was under improvement in the early 1970’s. The river is linked with Berlin and the Oder River by the Elbe-Havel Canal and with the Ruhr and the Rhine by the Mittelland Canal. The Elbe-Lubeck Canal gives access to the Baltic Sea.
Historically, the Elbe and Saale rivers marked the frontier between German and Slav before the eastward German colonization movement of the 12th-14th centuries. U. S. and Soviet forces met on the Elbe at the close of World War II.