Knowing that Berg means mountain, I always assumed that cities such as Wittenberg, Wittenberge, and Perleberg (which is also my married last name) were named for nearby mountains. But there ARE no mountains in that part of Germany. Is it possible they're named for nearby hilltops? Or could -berg be an old misspelling of -burg?

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    Inside a large flat area (the "holy Roman Empire's sandbox"), anything higher might count as a mountain. ;) Wikipedia says, the highest elevation above ground in Perleberg would be 16m.
    – tofro
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 18:50
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    I can confirm, "Berg" is indeed still commonly used as a word for any elevation in northern Germany (yup, even if it's only one single meter above ground! - if the speaker feels like it).
    – Annatar
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 11:25
  • Indeed this resonates with me a resident of Kansas, USA! Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 17:16
  • In my childhood days, we often met to play at the „Beeke-Berg“, the highest elevation anyway near my village, which was just some heap of dirt about 500m away from the village, maybe 1.5m in height. Everybody called it „Berg“, although everybody knew it was not a real mountain. We knew that because only 8 km away, there were real mountains, the highest reaching 92m above sea level!So, just because you see no mountains doesn’t mean there are no mountains - it depends on what you are used to.
    – Axel
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 21:45
  • If I read about „Perleberg“ in the German Wikipedia, it definitely matches my north-German definition of a mountainous landscape... 😉 In my city (Hannover), there are different parts named after the defining „mountains“, like the Schneiderberg (5m higher than its surroundings) and the Mühlenberg.
    – Axel
    Commented Dec 29, 2020 at 22:01

4 Answers 4


According to german Wiktionary the word Berg has it origin in the proto-germanic word *bergaz which means Höhe (elevation). So in the beginning (9th century) an elevation in the terrain could be named "-berg".

And in the case of Perleberg apparently the elevation of 16 m was sufficient to call it "-berg".

The word Burg has it origin in the meaning of bergende Umgebung (protective environment). Note that bergen means recover.

And in deed, both words have a relationship in its origins in the meaning of Geborgenheit (security):

Berg = schützende, bergende Höhe = protective elevation
Burg = befestigte Höhe, befestigter Ort = fortified elevation or place

  • And everything, I would suppose, related to some protoindoeuropean *bereg (or the like), see also slavonic bereg / brjag / breg / бряг for "coast" (which is the elevated piece of land bordering a stream, lake, or sea). But the common root lies several thousand years in the past. Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 7:38
  • This is also true for Gebirge (mountains, mountain range). In the east of Austria, there is a chain of hills, called Leithagebirge en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leitha_Mountains It is about 30 km long, and at its highest point only 484 m above sea level (which is only about 300 m above the surrounding areas). Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 12:41
  • I believe this confirms my intuition that the -berg in Perleberg does refer to an elevated piece of land. "Promoting" any height of land to the status of "Berg" in that part of Germany resonates with me as a "flatlander." The same thing happens where I live in Kansas, USA. Thank you! Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 17:15

English hill translates into German Hügel but unlike in English speaking countries there are no cities, not even even villages but two named -hügel (Birkenhügel and Königshügel) and none … am … Hügel.

Perhaps because Hügel usually don't have a unique name in Germany. Or maybe because the most known Hügel are der Maulwurfshügel, der Idiotenhügel and der Grabhügel. (All these aren't good places to live at.)

What you see from time to time are hamlets on hills called -höhe.

All other places promoted their hills to be mountains a long time ago.

In addition, -berg is not a misspelling of -burg but as mountain tops are good places to build a Burg, there often existed a X-burg on top of a town named X-berg. This isn't the case for Perleberg, though, that Burg was named Gänseburg after the Gans family.

  • + for the Idiotenhügel, but still the question remains unanswered if -berg in toponyms could be a derivative of -burg. Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 19:28
  • I've added a paragraph addressing that.
    – Janka
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 20:23
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    Hügelsheim kommt von Hugo, nicht Hügel. Die anderen beiden habe ich ergänzt.
    – Janka
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 5:22
  • Sowohl Hügelsheim (bei Rastatt in Baden) als auch Hügelheim (Ortsteil von Müllheim im Markgräflerland) haben ihren Namen tatsächlich nicht vom Hügel (obwohl es bei beiden Ansiedlungen genug davon hätte), sondern vom Vornamen Hugo.
    – tofro
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 18:23
  • Dass keiner auf einem Hügel wohnen will, stimmt wohl nicht ganz - beweist wohl die Familie Krupp mit ihrer Villa Hügel in Essen.
    – tofro
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 18:29

There is a lot of similarity with Slavic languages word "breg" or " bereg". "Breg" actually means "hill", not mountain ("planina"). In the places with a lot of mountains, there is fairly clear distinction between mountain and hill.


Your mistake is translating "Berg" with "mountain", which is sometimes correct and sometimes isn't. Don't think "mountain". Think "iceberg" (only without the ice). Those can be either very big or rather small.

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