The river was mentioned by ancient Egyptian historian Ptolemy, and was known to the Romans, as the Albis, meaning “river” or “river bed.” The Latin root of the river name can also be interpreted as meaning “white” or “shining.” The origin of this descriptive name for the river may become clear to modern cruise visitors experiencing its shining beauty on a river cruise. Elbe is the Germanic translation; the Czechs call the river Labe. In the Middle Ages, the Elbe River formed the eastern border of Charlemagne’s empire. In the final days of World War II, Nazi Germany was caught between the armies of the western Allies and the Soviet Union; these two forces linked up on the 25th of April near Torgau on the Elbe River, and the event was marked as “Elbe Day.” After the war, the Elbe formed part of the border between East and West Germany.
The Elbe River provides a trade route as far inland as Prague, and is linked by canals to Berlin, the industrial areas of Germany and the Baltic Sea. A river cruise on the Elbe River includes stops at Dresden, Meissen, Torgau, Wittenberg, Dessau and Magdeburg, and features the dramatic rock formations of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. The remarkably natural state of the river means that cruise visitors will see wetlands and woodlands along the course of the river that have been virtually untouched. Preservation is therefore a priority in this area. A biosphere reserve region of the river provides an important wetlands habitat for hundreds of bird, fish and amphibian species and unique plant life. Lucky cruise guests may glimpse red and black kites, storks and even cranes as they cruise along the river.
In addition to its wildlife, the river supports several wine-producing areas. Many cruise visitors enjoy sampling wines from the Saxonian Wine Route that follows the river, as well as from the important Bohemian wine-producing areas of Melnik and Litomerice. The scenery visible from a cruise, including picturesque terraced vineyards and charming wine villages, also enchants many cruise travelers. An Elbe River cruise is the ideal way to enjoy the natural landscapes while visiting the historic cities and towns along the course of the river.