The Elbe River is one of Central Europe’s most important rivers, flowing from the mountains of the Czech Republic through Germany to the North Sea. The Elbe River basin comprises 52,247 sq. mi./148,268 sq. km. and drains from four countries, the Czech Republic, Austria, Poland and Germany. Ships enter the river at Cuxhaven, on the southwestern bank of the estuary across from Brunsbüttel where the Kiel Canal begins. The lower reaches of the river comprise the 68 miles/110km between Cuxhaven and Hamburg. The Elbe divides into two branches above Hamburg, which then rejoin just below the city. The lower branch, called at that point the Köhlbrand, flows by Hamburg’s Elbe Philharmonic Hall in the city center. Cruising in the lower reaches, your ship passes between the German states of Schleswig-Holstein on the northeast and Lowers Saxony on the southwest.