Neman or Nemunas (Нёман, Nioman, 'nʲoman; ; Lithuanian: ; Neemen; Niemen; Неман; Німан) is a major Eastern European river rising in Belarus and flowing through Lithuania before draining into the Curonian Lagoon and then into the Baltic Sea at Klaipėda. It is the border between Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast in its lower reaches. The 14th largest river in Europe, the largest in Lithuania and the 3rd largest in Belarus, it is navigable for most of its 900-kilometer length.
The Neman River basin was formed during the Quaternary period, and is located roughly along the edge of the last glacial sheet, dating from about 25,000-22,000 BP (Before Present). Its depth varies from 1 meter in its upper courses to 5 meters in the lower basin.
In German, the river has been called die Memel at least since about 1250, when Teutonic Knights erected Memelburg castle and the town of Memel at the mouth of the Curonian Lagoon, baptizing it after the indigenous name of the river, Memel. The city of Memel, now in Lithuania, is known today as Klaipėda. On German road maps and in German lexika, only the 112 km section within Prussia (starting at Schmalleningken ) was named Memel ; the part outside Germany was labelled Niemen
The border between the Teutonic Order state and Lithuania was fixed in 1422 by the Treaty of Lake Melno and remained stable for centuries. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles made the river the border separating the Memel Territory from German East Prussia as of 1920. At that time, Germany's Weimar Republic adopted the Deutschlandlied as its official national anthem. In the first stanza of the song, written in 1841, the river is mentioned as the eastern border of a (then politically yet-to-be united) Germany:
|German lyrics||Approximate English translation|
|Von der Maas bis an die Memel,|
Von der Etsch bis an den Belt
|From the Meuse to the Memel,|
From the Adige to the Belt
Lithuanians refer to the Neman as "the father of rivers" (Nemunas is a masculine noun in Lithuania). Countless companies and organizations in Lithuania have "Nemunas" in their name, including a folklore ensemble, a weekly magazine about art and culture, a sanatorium, and numerous guest houses and hotels. Lithuanian and Polish literature often mention the Nemunas. One of the most famous poems by Maironis starts:
|Lithuanian lyrics||Approximate English translation|
|Kur bėga Šešupė, kur Nemunas teka||Where the Šešupė runs, where the Neman flows|
|Tai mūsų tėvynė, graži Lietuva||That's our homeland, beautiful Lithuania|
Almost every Lithuanian can recite these words from heart. It is so well known that it is sometimes thought to be an unofficial national anthem.
There are many other smaller rivers and rivulets in Lithuania with names that may have been derived from "Nemunas" - Nemunykštis, Nemuniukas, Nemunynas, Nemunėlis, Nemunaitis. The etymology of the name is disputed: some say that "Nemunas" is an old word meaning "a damp place," while other say that "Nemunas" was a god in Baltic mythology.
Since the loops are located in Lithuania, they are often referred to as "The Nemunas loops".
In 1992 Nemunas Loops Regional Park was founded. Its goal is to preserve the spectacular loops (Lithuanian: vingis) that the Neman makes in the Punia forest. Near Prienai, the Neman makes a 17-km long loop (like a teardrop) coming within 1.2 km of completing the loop. The Neman flows along the double bend between Balbieriškis and Birštonas for 48 kilometers and then moves in a northerly direction for only 4.5 kilometers. It is a significant historical site with castles that served as the first line of defense against forays by the Teutonic knights.
At its delta the Neman splits into a maze of river branches and canals mixing with polders and wetlands and is a very attractive destination for eco-tourism. The four main distributaries are Atmata, Pakalnė, Skirvytė and Gilija. The river plays a crucial part in the ecosystem of the Curonian Lagoon. It provides the main water inflow to the lagoon and keeps the water almost fresh. This allows both fresh water and mixed water animals to survive there. As the Neman's delta expands, the lagoon shrinks. Since the delta is located in Lithuania, it is often referred to as Nemunas Delta. Nemunas Delta Regional Park was created in the delta in 1992.
The Neman River is used for a variety of purposes such as fishing, hydropower generation, water supply, industry, and agriculture, as well as recreation, tourism, and water transport. There have been proposals to deepen its watercourse below Kaunas to make it more consistently usable.
The largest cities on the Neman are Hrodna in Belarus, Alytus and Kaunas in Lithuania, and Sovetsk in the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia. The river basin has a population of 5.4 million inhabitants. Industrial activities in the Belarusian section include metal processing, chemical industries, pulp and paper production, and manufacturing of building materials, as well as food-processing plants. In Lithuania the city of Kaunas, with about 400,000 inhabitants, is the country's principal user of the river; the local industries that impact the river are hydropower generation, machinery, chemical, wood processing and paper production, furniture production, textile and food-processing. In Kaliningrad, industrial centres near the river include Sovetsk and Neman, which have large pulp and paper production facilities.
Above Kaunas a dam for Kaunas hydroelectric plant was built in 1959. The resulting artificial lake is the biggest such lake in Lithuania named the Kaunas Reservoir (Kauno marios). It occupies 63.5 km² (24.5 square miles); its length is 93 km (58 miles); its greatest depth is 22 m (72 feet). The Kaunas Reservoir is a popular destination for Lithuanian yachting.
The following fish have been found in the Neman: perch, pike, zander, roach, tench, bream, rudd, ruffe, and bleak. Its tribitaries also contain stone loach, the three-spined stickleback, minnows, trout, sculpins, gudgeon, dace and chub.
Atlantic salmon formerly migrated upstream to spawn; the dam constructions on the river, most of which took place during the 20th century, reduced their numbers considerably. The dam at Kaunas does not provide fish ladders. The spawning season took place in the fall; ethnographic studies of the time report that night fishing, using torches and harpoons, was a common technique.
A report by the Swedish EPA (Environmental Protection Administration) rates the quality of the Neman in Lithuania as moderately polluted or polluted. High concentrations of organic pollutants, nitrates and phosphates occur in different parts of the river. Environmental issues include water quality (eutrophication and pollutants), changes in the hydrological regime, and flooding control. The environmental problems in each of the countries that make up the basin are slightly different. In Belarus the main problems are oil products as well as nitrogen and BOD (biological oxygen demand). The environmental issues in the Kaliningrad section include high concentrations of BOD, lignosulphates, and nitrogen. In Lithuania, the operations of the Kaunas hydropower station cause changes of the water level that affect the riparian ecosystem. Old wastewater treatment facilities along the entire river also contribute to pollution.
The co-operation necessary to ensure the health of the river is complicated by the political divisions in the basin - its territory is shared among Russia, Belarus and the European Union country of Lithuania. Several co-operation initiatives are underway to address the environmental issues of the river.