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The River Oder rises in Moravia in the Czech Republic in the Hruby Jesenik Mountains at an altitude of nearly 2100ft. Starting life as a fast-flowing mountain stream, after reaching the Moravian Gate it widens and flows for 531 miles (854km) through Silesia, Opole, Lower Silesia, Lubusz and West Pomerania in Poland and through Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Germany. It disgorges into the Szczecin Lagoon and then into three branches, the Dziwna, the Swina and the Peene, that finally empty into the Gulf of Pomerania and the Baltic Sea. There are channels that connect it to the Havel, Spree (and Berlin via the Oder-Spree Canal), Vistula and Klodnica.

The Oder is vital to the Polish economy as a commercial waterway connected to the Vistula and to the waterways of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Almost the entire river is navigable. Cruises often approach the river from the mouth at Szczecin with its great lagoon full of reed beds and birds. Szczecin itself is a green city full of wide tree-lined avenues and grand squares with a wealth of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Alternatively, it can be cruised almost its entire length passing a number of important towns including Frankfurt in Germany, Ostrava in the Czech Republic and, in Poland, Raciborz, Opole, Brzeg, Wroclaw and Nowa Sol. At times the Oder can be very wide – up to six miles – and elsewhere it becomes the Oder Channel, a canal controlled by locks. The river can be covered in ice for up to 40 days of the year.