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Germany is a Federal Republic consisting of sixteen states, known in German as Länder (singular Land). Since Land is also the German word for "country", the term Bundesländer (federal states; singular Bundesland) is commonly used colloquially, as it is more specific, though technically incorrect within the corpus of German law.

The citizens of the states form the nation of Germany, and have the right of abode within the states. The area covered by the 16 states is completely and solely the territory of Germany.

The cities of Berlin and Hamburg are states in their own right, while the State of Bremen consists of two cities, Bremen and Bremerhaven. These three are termed Stadtstaaten (city-states). The remaining 13 states are termed Flächenländer (area states).



After the end of the Second World War, the states in the western part of the former German Reich were constituted as administrative areas first and subsequently in 1949, federated into the Bund or Federal Republic of Germany. This is in contrast to post-war development in Austria, where the Bund was constituted first, and then the individual states were created as units of a federal system. In Austria, the states are also referred to as Länder in the Austrian constitution.

The use of the term Länder (countries) comes from the Weimar constitution of 1919, before they were called Staaten (states). The addition of Bundes- (federal) is very common but not the correct term in the constitution of 1919 or the Basic Law of 1949. Three Länder actually call themselves Freistaat (free state, republic), Bavaria (since 1919), Saxony (since 1990) and Thuringia (1994).

Many of the current states have the same names with territory substantially the same as their namesakes, the former sovereign countries (for example Bavaria and Saxony which have along with Bremen nearly the same territory as in 1871).



Coat of arms State Joined
the federation
Head of government Government
Votes in
Area (km²) Inhabitants
per km²
Capital German
(ISO 3166-2:DE)
Coat of arms of Baden-Württemberg (lesser).svg Baden-Württemberg 1949[1] Günther Oettinger (CDU) CDU/FDP 6 35,752 10,739 300 Stuttgart BW
Bayern Wappen.svg Bavaria
1949 Horst Seehofer (CSU) CSU/FDP 6 70,552 12,488 177 Munich BY
Coat of arms of Berlin.svg Berlin 1990[2] Klaus Wowereit (SPD) SPD/The Left 4 892 3,395 3,807 BE
Brandenburg Wappen.svg Brandenburg 1990 Matthias Platzeck (SPD) SPD/The Left 4 29,479 2,559 87 Potsdam BB
Bremen Wappen(Mittel).svg Bremen 1949 Jens Böhrnsen (SPD) SPD/The Greens 3 404 663 1,641 HB
Coat of arms of Hamburg.svg Hamburg 1949 Ole von Beust (CDU) CDU/The Greens 3 755 1,774 2,309 HH
Coat of arms of Hesse.svg Hesse
1949 Roland Koch (CDU) CDU/FDP 5 21,115 6,075 289 Wiesbaden HE
Coat of arms of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (great).svg Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
1990 Erwin Sellering (SPD) SPD/CDU 3 23,180 1,707 74 Schwerin MV
Coat of arms of Lower Saxony.svg Lower Saxony
1949 Christian Wulff (CDU) CDU/FDP 6 47,624 7,997 168 Hannover NI
Coat of arms of North Rhine-Westfalia.svg North Rhine-

1949 Jürgen Rüttgers (CDU) CDU/FDP 6 34,085 18,029 530 Düsseldorf NRW
Coat of arms of Rhineland-Palatinate.svg Rhineland-Palatinate
1949 Kurt Beck (SPD) SPD 4 19,853 4,053 204 Mainz RP
Coa de-saarland.svg Saarland 1957 Peter Müller (CDU) CDU/FDP/The Greens 3 2,569 1,050 409 Saarbrücken SL
Coat of arms of Saxony.svg Saxony
1990 Stanislaw Tillich (CDU) CDU/FDP 4 18,416 4,250 232 Dresden SN
Wappen Sachsen-Anhalt.svg Saxony-Anhalt
1990 Wolfgang Böhmer (CDU) CDU/SPD 4 20,446 2,470 121 Magdeburg ST
Coat of arms of Schleswig-Holstein.svg Schleswig-Holstein 1949 Peter Harry Carstensen (CDU) CDU/FDP 4 15,799 2,833 179 Kiel SH
Coat of arms of Thuringia.svg Thuringia
1990 Christine Lieberknecht (CDU) CDU/SPD 4 16,172 2,335 144 Erfurt TH


Map of current states of Germany that are completely or mostly situated inside the old borders of Imperial Germany’s Kingdom of Prussia (in dark green)

The Holy Roman Empire, a predecessor of Germany that existed before 1806, comprised numerous petty states. After its breakdown during the Napoleonic Wars, they were restructured to larger units. In 1871, 22 smaller monarchies, three city-states and the Imperial territory of Alsace-Lorraine unified to form the German Empire. Following World War I, the remaining states constituted Weimar Germany, whose federative division was left in place after the Nazis came to power, but was suppressed by the Nazi Gau system.

During the Allied occupation of Germany after World War II, the territory in each Occupation Zone was re-organized on behalf of the Allied Council into new states to prevent any one state from ever dominating Germany (as Prussia had done). Initially, only 7 of the pre-War states remained: Bavaria, Bremen, Hamburg, Baden, Saarland, Saxony, and Thuringia. The rest were amalgamations of Prussian provinces and smaller states. For example, the Prussian Province of Saxony and the state of Anhalt were merged to create Saxony-Anhalt.

Upon founding in 1949, West Germany had eleven states, which were reduced to nine in 1952 as three south-western states (Baden, Württemberg-Hohenzollern and Württemberg-Baden) merged to form Baden-Württemberg. Since 1957, when the French-occupied Saarland was returned (the "small reunification"), the Federal Republic consisted of ten states (today called the Old States). West Berlin was in many ways integrated with West Germany, but due to its special status de jure under the sovereignty of the Western Allies, did not officially constitute a state or part of one.

In East Germany, originally five states (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Saxony) existed, until 1952, when the GDR divided them into 14 administrative districts (Bezirke). Soviet-controlled East Berlin, despite officially having the same status as West Berlin, was declared capital of the GDR, as a (15th) district.

Just prior to the German reunification on 3 October 1990, 14 of the East German districts (not including East Berlin) reconstituted themselves, mainly along the old borders, into the five New States. The former district of East Berlin joined West Berlin to form the new state of Berlin. Thus the 10 "old states" plus 5 "new states" plus Berlin add up to 16.

Later, the constitution was changed to state that the citizens of the 16 states had successfully achieved unity in freedom, and that the constitution now covers all German people. Article 23, which had allowed "other parts of Germany" to join, was abolished as its continued inclusion might have been regarded as an invitation for other German-speaking states and areas to join (e.g. Austria, South Tyrol, Liechtenstein, the Swiss cantons, Alsace, Luxembourg, South Jutland, Upper Silesia, and Eastern Belgium).

Unlike other federations, the German states retain the right to act on their own behalf at an international level. They retain the status of subjects of international law, independently from their status as members of a federation. This unique status is enshrined in Articles 23, 24, and 32 of the Basic Law.

The description free state (Freistaat) is merely a historic synonym for republic—a description used by most German states after the abolishment of monarchy. Today, Freistaat is associated emotionally with a more independent status, especially in Bavaria. However, it has no legal meaning. All sixteen states are represented at the federal level in the Bundesrat (Federal Council), where their voting power merely depends on the size of their population.

Structure of government

The states of the Weimar Republic, with the Free State of Prussia (Freistaat Preußen) as the largest

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The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, the federal constitution, stipulates that the structure of each Federal State's government must "conform to the principles of republican, democratic, and social government, based on the rule of law" (Article 28[1]).

Most of the states are governed by a cabinet led by a Ministerpräsident (Minister-President), together with a unicameral legislative body known as the Landtag (State Diet). The states are parliamentary republics and the relationship between their legislative and executive branches mirrors that of the federal system: the legislatures are popularly elected for four or five years (depending on the state), and the Minister-President is then chosen by a majority vote among the Landtag's members. The Minister-President appoints a cabinet to run the state's agencies and to carry out the executive duties of the state's government.

The governments in Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg are designated by the term Senate. In the three free states of Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia the government is referred to as the State Government (Staatsregierung), and in the other ten states the term Land Government (Landesregierung) is used.

The Provinces of the Kingdom of Prussia (green) within the German Empire (1871-1918)

Before January 1, 2000, Bavaria had a bicameral parliament, with a popularly elected Landtag, and a Senate made up of representatives of the state's major social and economic groups. The Senate was abolished following a referendum in 1998.

The states of Berlin, Bremen, and Hamburg are governed slightly differently from the other states. In each of these cities, the executive branch consists of a Senate of approximately eight selected by the state's parliament; the senators carry out duties equivalent to those of the ministers in the larger states. The equivalent of the Minister-President is the Senatspräsident (President of the Senate) in Bremen, the Erster Bürgermeister (First Mayor) in Hamburg, and the Regierender Bürgermeister (Governing Mayor) in Berlin. The parliament for Berlin is called the Abgeordnetenhaus (House of Representatives), while Bremen and Hamburg both have a Bürgerschaft. The parliaments in the remaining 13 states are referred to as Landtag (State Parliament).


Politics at the state level often carries implications for federal politics. Opposition victories in elections for State Parliaments, which take place throughout the federal government's four-year term, can weaken the federal government, because state governments have assigned seats in the Bundesrat, which must also approve many laws after passage by the Bundestag (the federal parliament).

State elections are viewed as a barometer of support for the policies of the federal government. If the parties of the governing coalition lose support in successive state elections, those results may foreshadow political difficulties for the federal government. In the early 1990s, the opposition SPD commanded a two-thirds majority in the Bundesrat, making it particularly difficult for the governing CDU/CSU-FDP coalition to achieve the constitutional changes it sought; by 2003 the situation was the reverse, with an SPD-led government being severely hindered by a large CDU majority in the Bundesrat. This led to Konrad Adenauer and Gerhard Schröder losing the federal chancellorship in 1963 and 2005 respectively because their governments became unable to decisively act, thus losing popular support, all because of the efforts of the various state leaders in the Bundesrat in blocking legislation.

The powers of the state governments and legislatures in their own territories have been much diminished in recent decades due to ever-increasing federal legislation. A commission has been formed to examine the possibility of instituting a clearer separation of federal and state powers. The states, in particular, are responsible for cultural development, law enforcement and the educational system in its entirety (both primary and secondary schools, and the universities as well). In Germany, the military is a federal affair. Hence, the states have no armies.

Further subdivisions

Administrative divisions of Germany.svg

The city-states of Berlin and Hamburg are subdivided into boroughs. The state of Bremen consists of two urban districts, Bremen and Bremerhaven, which are not contiguous. In the other states there are the following subdivisions:


Landschaftsverbände ("area associations"): The most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia is uniquely divided into two Landschaftsverbände, one for the Rhineland, one for Westphalia-Lippe. This was meant to ease the friction caused by uniting the two culturally quite different regions into a single state after World War II. The Landschaftsverbände retain very little power today.

The constitution of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in §75 states the right of Mecklenburg and Vorpommern to form Landschaftsverbände, although these two constituting parts of the Land are not represented in the current administrative division.


Regierungsbezirke (governmental districts): The large states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony are divided into administrative regions, or Regierungsbezirke. In Rhineland-Palatinate, the Regierungsbezirke were dissolved on January 1, 2000, in Saxony-Anhalt on January 1, 2004 and in Lower Saxony on January 1, 2005.


Kreise (administrative districts): Every state (except the city-states Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen) consists of rural districts (Landkreise), and District-free Towns/Cities (Kreisfreie Städte, in Baden-Württemberg also called urban districts, Stadtkreise), cities which are districts in their own right. The state of Bremen consists of two urban districts, while Berlin and Hamburg are states and urban districts at the same time.

There are 313 Landkreise and 116 Kreisfreie Städte, making 429 districts altogether. Each consists of an elected council and an executive, who is chosen by either the council or the people, depending on the state, and whose duties are comparable to those of a county executive in the United States, supervising local government administration. The Landkreise have primary administrative functions in specific areas, such as highways, hospitals, and public utilities.


Ämter ("offices" or "bureaus"): In some states there is an administrative unit between districts and municipalities. These units are called Ämter (singular Amt), Amtsgemeinden, Gemeindeverwaltungsverbände, Landgemeinden, Verbandsgemeinden, Verwaltungsgemeinschaften or Kirchspiellandgemeinden.


Gemeinden ("municipalities"): Every rural district and every Amt is subdivided into municipalities, while every urban district is a municipality in its own right. There are (as of 6 March 2009 (2009 -03-06)) 12,141 municipalities, which are the smallest administrative units in Germany. Cities and towns are municipalities as well, which have city rights or town rights (Stadtrechte). Nowadays, this is mostly just the right to be called a city or town. However, in older times it included many privileges, such as the right to impose its own taxes or to allow industry only within city limits.

Gemeinden are ruled by elected councils and an executive, the mayor, who is chosen by either the council or the people, depending on the Bundesland. The "constitution" for the Gemeinden is created by the states and is uniform throughout a Bundesland (except for Bremen, which allows Bremerhaven to have its own constitution).

Gemeinden have two major policy responsibilities. First, they administer programs authorized by the federal or state government. Such programs typically might relate to youth, schools, public health, and social assistance. Second, Article 28(2) of the Basic Law guarantees Gemeinden "the right to regulate on their own responsibility all the affairs of the local community within the limits set by law." Under this broad statement of competence, local governments can justify a wide range of activities. For instance, many municipalities develop and expand the economic infrastructure of their communities through the development of industrial parks.

Local authorities foster cultural activities by supporting local artists, building arts' centres, and by having fairs. Local government also provides public utilities, such as gas and electricity, as well as public transportation. The majority of the funding for municipalities is provided by higher levels of government rather than from taxes raised and collected directly by themselves.

In five of the German states, there are unincorporated areas, in many cases unpopulated forest and mountain areas, but also four Bavarian lakes that are not part of any municipality. As of January 1, 2005, there were 246 such areas, with a total area of 4167.66 km² or 1.2 percent of the total area of Germany. Only four unincorporated areas are populated, with an aggregate population of about 2000. The following table gives an overview.

Unincorporated areas in German states
State 01. Jan. 2004 01. Jan. 2000
Number Area in km² Number Area in km²
Bavaria 216 2725.06 262 2992.78
Lower Saxony 23 949.16 25 1394.10
Hesse 4 327.05 4 327.05
Schleswig-Holstein 2 99.41 2 99.41
Baden-Württemberg 1 66.98 2 76.99
Total 246 4167.66 295 4890.33

The table shows that in 2000 the number of unincorporated areas was still 295, with a total area of 4890.33 km². Unincorporated areas are continually being incorporated into neighboring municipalities, wholly or partially, most frequently in Bavaria.

See also


  1. ^ In 1949 the states of Baden, Württemberg-Baden and Württemberg-Hohenzollern joined the federation. These states were united in 1952 as the current state of Baden-Württemberg.
  2. ^ Berlin has only officially been a full Bundesland since reunification, even though West Berlin was largely treated as a state of West Germany.

External links

Simple English

Germany has 16 states (German: Bundesländer, singular: Bundesland). The biggest is Bavaria and the smallest is Bremen. Most of them were created after the Second World War, although their historical roots can be traced back to the early Middle Ages in some cases.

Exceptions are:

Flag and Bundesland Capital Population Area in km² Part of the Federal

Republic since

Template:Country data Baden-Württemberg Stuttgart 10.661.320 35 752 1952
File:Flag of Bavaria (lozengy).svg Bavaria (Bayern) München (Munich) 12.387.351 70 550 1949
 Berlin Berlin 3.392.425 892 1990
 Brandenburg Potsdam 2.582.380 29 476 1990
 Bremen Bremen 662.100 404 1949
 Hamburg Hamburg 1.728.800 755 1949
 Hesse (Hessen) Wiesbaden 6.911.620 21 114 1949
 Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) Schwerin 1.744.620 23 173 1990
 Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) Hannover (Hanover) 7.980.470 47 616 1949
 North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen or NRW) Düsseldorf 18.076.355 34 082 1949
 Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz) Mainz 4.057.730 19 847 1949
 Saarland Saarbrücken 1.064.988 2 568 1957
 Saxony (Sachsen) Dresden 4.349.060 18 413 1990
 Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt) Magdeburg 2.548.911 20 447 1990
 Schleswig-Holstein Kiel 2.816.507 15 761 1949
 Thuringia (Thüringen) Erfurt 2.392.040 16 172 1990


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