What was a catastrophe nearly 15 million years ago is now turning out to be a stroke of luck for the region near Nördlingen. The Ries crater was created by the impact of a huge asteroid and today attracts more and more scientists, astronauts and tourists. It has now also received the long-awaited “UNESCO Global Geopark” label.
The Nördlinger Ries is one of the best preserved impact craters in the world and has been scientifically studied accordingly. It is already the seventh Geopark in Germany – there are now 177 UNESCO Geoparks in 46 countries. These parks are regions that make their geological features and the earth’s significant history accessible and understandable to visitors. Particularly important are the protection and conservation of the geological heritage, as well as the education and promotion of sustainable development.
From the crater of the asteroid …
The new UNESCO Geopark is an ancient crater of 25 kilometers in diameter. It was created 14.5 million years ago by the sudden impact of a 1.5 km wide asteroid. This ran to earth at 70,000 km / h and wiped out all life within a radius of hundreds of kilometers at the time. Today, however, the crater plain offers one of the most fertile soils in Bavaria. For this reason agriculture has been practiced intensively for centuries, while outside the crater there are only forests. That is why the Ries is seen so well on Google Maps: on the satellite images you can see exactly this circular level cultivated in the middle of a forest area. The one kilometer wide hole in the earth shows us directly how our planet has been shaped by cosmic events. It is still unimaginable what happened at the moment of the asteroid impact! You will have at least an idea of this by visiting the numerous viewpoints around the Ries. In Ehingen, Mönchsdeggingen or Kirchheim, for example, you can stand on the wooded edge of the crater and get a broad view of the entire Ries from the viewpoints.
… from the point of view of international research
The discovery that Nördlinger Ries is a meteorite crater was made only 60 years ago, thanks to a church. In Nördlingen there is the Gothic church of St. George, built with a special rock: the so-called suevite, which was formed when different types of molten rock mixed and then cooled again. It was an American geologist who, on vacation in Bavaria, noticed that the church was built with a very special stone. Laboratory tests later confirmed his hypothesis: the Ries is a huge impact crater – that’s why there are these special stones here.
Today the geopark is an important research site because suevite is very similar to the moon rock. Even the US space agency NASA regularly uses the region to familiarize themselves with the very rare suevite. In the 1970s, Apollo 14 astronauts even spent several days training in quarries for their mission to the moon.
… to the UNESCO World Geopark
Various guided tours can be booked in the Nördlinger Ries: either you can find out more about the crater on a guided hike or you can find out more about how people lived in the Ries centuries ago on a historical city tour. If you prefer to leave alone, you can instead opt for one of the six nature trails, on which you pass numerous information boards and panoramic points. Visitors to the Geopark can also learn more about the formation and effects of the Ries crater at the information centers in Nördlingen, Oettingen and Treuchtlingen, as well as at the information points in Wemding, Monheim, Deiningen and Harburg. For the occasion, it is worth visiting the numerous monuments that the geopark houses: there are castles, palaces, churches, monasteries, ruins and former battlefields that bear witness to significant historical events. Not only the old town of Nördlingen with its accessible city walls is worth a visit, but also the idyllic pilgrimage site Wemding or the castle town of Harburg an der Wörnitz are not to be missed.