Lower Saxony  (German: Niedersachsen [ˈniːdərˌzaksən]) is a federal state (Bundesland, plural Bundesländer) in northwestern Germany. It is the second largest state by area (47,618 km²) and fourth largest by population (nearly eight million) among the country's sixteen states. It was created after the Second World War by the occupying forces of the British; most of its territory had been the Kingdom, later Province, of Hanover. The remaining historical portions of Lower Saxony constitute the formerly independent regions of Brunswick, Oldenburg and Schaumburg-Lippe making the federal-state's borders a post-war creation. The name derives from the Old Saxons which inhabited the area circa 1000 AD. Historic "Upper" Saxony on the other-hand, lies further down the River Elbe in eastern Germany with Dresden as its modern day capital and should not be confused.
The predominant spoken form of German taught and spoken Lower Saxony is High German or hochdeutsch. Although there are different accents in several regions and some grammatical variations are regionally widespread, the language closely follows written German and is thus easy to understand.
In the north, Low German or plattdeutsch is widespread and even spoken alongside hochdeutsch, but it is not an official language. In some areas there are even different forms of plattdeutsch albeit very locally.
In the north and northeast, variants of the Frisian dialects are still officially recognised and spoken by a few thousands of people.
Whilst English is a compulsory foreign language for schoolchildren, many adults only have a basic knowledge of the language or are not confident enough to speak it. In tourist areas, many of the signs are in two or more languages. The German national railway, Deutsche Bahn, use two languages on all their signs and, in long-distance trains, even the announcements are also made in English.
Each state in Germany can set its own public holidays. For Lower Saxony they are:
The largest station in Lower Saxony is Hanover Central (Hauptbahnhof Hannover), which has hourly connexions to Hamburg, Frankfurt and Munich as well as other long-distance destinations. It is on the high speed lines from Hanover to Würzburg and Hanover to Berlin; travel times to Hamburg are also attractive.
Other large regional hubs are Brunswick (regional services to East Germany and the Harz) and Göttingen (regional services to the South Harz).
The two largest transport associations are GVH (Großraumverkehr Hannover) in Hanover and VRB (Verbundtarif Region Braunschweig) in Brunswick. It should be noted that tickets for journeys within those transport association zones must be purchase before travelling as they are not available on the trains.
The largest motorways (autobahnen) are the A2 running from east to west and the A2 running from north to south. The A1 in the north is also an important link. The A2 has three lanes throughout, the A1 and A7 on those sections where traffic levels are highest. In spite of that all three motorways, especially the A2, are very busy, prone to accidents and thus traffic jams.
Large cities like Hanover and Brunswick have their own networks of city motorways.
Important federal roads (Bundesstraßen) are the B1, B3, B4 (Harz) and B6 (Buxtehude - Celle - Hanover). Several have also been upgraded to near-motorway standard, in that they have dual carriageways each with two lanes.
The density of fixed safety cameras varies from region to region, but they are especially common in the Harz even on steep section of road. In wooded areas the risk of accidents involving wildlife is very high; wild boar in particular can cause a lot of damage to vehicles and danger to life if struck. In rural areas, straight roads with avenues of trees are also dangerous and frequently claim lives as a result of speeding or reckless overtaking.
The largest port is Hamburg which, although not part of Lower Saxony, is embedded entirely within it on the Elbe river.
There is a special ticket called the "Niedersachsen Ticket"  which offers unlimited travel by regional trains inside Lower Saxony area, up to Bremen and Hamburg in one day. This ticket is not valid in high speed trains (D, EC, IC, ICE) so make sure you board the right trains (RE, RB, S-Bahn, Metronom) when using this ticket. It is valid from 9am to 3am the following day during weekdays and the whole day on weekends. There are many types of tickets, the group ticket (up to 5 people, €37) and the single ticket (€21). These tickets are also valid inside public transport network in some of the cities (Hanover, Hamburg, Bremen, Brunswick).
Lower Saxony has a number of traditions when it comes to cuisine that are often widespread, but with local regional variations. Many of the recipes are based on local food and tend to be basic, hearty and flavoursome, rather than haute cuisine. An exception, perhaps, is Welf Pudding, a layered pudding made from milk, eggs, wine and vanilla, that was created by one of the chefs to the royal household in Hanover.
Unsurprisingly fish dishes using, for example plaice, flounder and mackerel, feature strongly in the coastal region. Herring is served in various guises, popular ones being Matjeshering (soused), Brathering (fried) or Rollmops (pickled). Inland, trout (Forelle) and eels (Aale) are popular.
As elsewhere in Germany, pork is the most form of popular meat, with beef a poor second and lamb rarely seen. There are the inevitable regional types of pre-cooked sausage (Kochwurst) which is very popular in the Lüneburg Heath, the Bremen area and Schaumburg Land; local varieties include Bregenwurst, Kohlwurst, Pinkelwurst. Other meat dishes from that area are Knipp a kind of smoked sausage, venison, wild boar and hare. Another heath speciality are Heidschnucken dishes created using mutton from the local moorland sheep. Two specialities from the Hanover region are Schlachteplatte, a dish of assorted meat, and the Calenberger Pfannenschlag (also known as Rinderwurst, a beef sausage). The internationally known Braunschweiger sausage presumably originates from Brunswick. Around Gifhorn and Wolfsburg a form of black pudding called Pottwurst, served with Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage), is popular in the autumn.
The most common accompaniment is the humble potato, boiled potatoes (Salzkartoffeln) being by far the most common. Another popular vegetable, very typical of the area, is Grünkohl (kale), sometimes known as Braunkohl especially in Bremen and Brunswick Land.
Asparagus (Spargel) is eaten as a great delicacy in Lower Saxony. It is grown mainly around the towns of Burgdorf, Nienburg, Brunswick and in the Oldenburg Münsterland as well as the southern part of the Lüneburg Heath and on the Stade Geest.
Soup is a common form of starter. Particularly popular is Hochzeitssuppe ("wedding soup"), a meat broth. On the North Sea coast there a plant called arrowgrass, known locally as Stranddreizack or Röhrkohl, grows in salt meadows immediately by the coast and is prepared, like Grünkohl, as a thick stew. Other country dishes in the coastal region are Steckrübeneintopf and Birnen, Bohnen und Speck, both types of stew.
The Germans are great cake eaters, popular regional varieties being butter cakes (Butterkuchen) and, around the Lüneburg Heath, Buchweizentorte (buckwheat cake) which is like a gateau and very tasty.
Two of the oldest beers, brewed since the Middle Ages, are Braunschweiger Mumme and Goslarer Gose.
In general the Lower Saxons prefer coffee to tea, except in the regions of East Frisia and Friesland where tea is popular and often drunk with Kluntjes (rock candy) and cream.