States of Germany

Germany is a federation of 16 states called Länder (singular Land, which may be translated as "country") or unofficially Bundesländer (singular Bundesland, German federal state). Each Land is represented at the federal level in the Bundesrat.

The 16 Bundesländer (States) of Germany

The 16 Länder are:

  1. Baden-Württemberg
  2. Free State of Bavaria (Freistaat Bayern)
  3. Berlin (city-state)
  4. Brandenburg
  5. Free Hanseatic City of Bremen (Freie Hansestadt Bremen city-state)
  6. Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg city-state)
  7. Hesse (Hessen)
  8. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern)
  9. Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen)
  10. North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen)
  11. Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz)
  12. Saarland
  13. Free State of Saxony (Freistaat Sachsen)
  14. Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt)
  15. Schleswig-Holstein
  16. Free State of Thuringia (Freistaat Thüringen)



The Basic Law stipulates that the structure of Land government must "conform to the principles of republican, democratic, and social government based on the rule of law" (Article 28[1]). Thirteen of the Länder are governed by a cabinet led by a minister president together with a unicameral legislative body, the Landtag (pl., Landtage). The relationship between the legislative and executive branches mirrors that in the federal system: the legislatures are popularly elected (for four or five years), and the minister president is chosen by a majority vote among Landtag members. The minister president appoints a cabinet to run Land agencies and carry out the executive duties of the Land government. Until 1999, Bavaria was the only Land with a bicameral legislature; the Landtag being popularly elected, with the second chamber, the Senate, consists of representatives of the major social and economic groups in Bavaria. In 1998, voters approved a proposal to abolish the Senate, with an effective date of December 1999.

In the city Länder of Berlin, Bremen, and Hamburg, the executive branch consists of a Senate elected by the Land parliament. The senators carry out duties equivalent to those of the ministers in the larger Länder. The Land parliament also chooses a senate president in Bremen, a governing mayor in Berlin and a first mayor in Hamburg to serve as chief executive. Land cabinets consist of about ten ministers; the most important is the minister of the interior, who directs the internal administration of the Land and commands the police.

Politics at the Land level often carry implications for federal politics. Opposition victories in Landtag elections--which take place throughout the federal government's four-year term--can weaken the federal government coalition. This was the case for the fall from the chancellorship of Konrad Adenauer in 1963 and that of Willy Brandt in 1974. The Land elections are also viewed as a barometer of support for the policies of the federal government. If the parties of the governing coalition lose support in successive Land elections, those results may foreshadow difficulties for the federal government. The outcome of Land elections also directly affects the composition of the Bundesrat. In the early 1990s, the opposition SPD commanded a two-thirds majority in that legislative chamber, which made it particularly difficult for the CDU/CSU-FDP government to achieve the constitutional changes it sought. Today (2003) the situation is reversed, the SPD government being severely hindered by a large CDU majority in the Bundesrat. At the same time, the powers of the Lands in their own territories have been much diminished in the last decades with the ever-increasing amount of federal legislation. Due to these twin problems, a commission has been formed to examine the possibility of instituting a clearer separation of federal and Land powers.

Further subdivisions

The city-states of Berlin and Hamburg are subdivided into boroughs. The state Bremen consists of two urban districts, Bremen and Bremerhaven. In the other Länder 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. This was meant to ease the friction caused by uniting the two culturally quite different regions into a single Land after World War II. The Landschaftsverbände retain little power today.


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 01.01.2000, in Saxony-Anhalt on 01.01.2004 and in Lower Saxony on 01.01.2005.


Kreise (administrative districts): Every state (except the "city states" Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen) consists of rural districts, Landkreise, and urban districts, Stadtkreise (also: Kreisfreie Städte), 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 323 Landkreise and 116 Kreisfreie Städte, making 439 districts altogether. Each consists of an elected council and an executive, who is selected by the council and whose duties are comparable to those of a US county manager, supervising local government administration. The Landkreise have primary administrative functions in specific areas, such as highways, hospitals, and public utilities.


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


Gemeinden ("municipalities"): Every rural district and every Amt is subdivided into municipalities, while every urban districts constitutes a municipality at the same time; there are 13,912 municipalities, which are the smallest administrative units in Germany. Cities are municipalities as well, which have city rights (Stadtrecht). Nowadays this is mostly just the right to be called a city; however, in older times it included many privileges such as to have their own taxes or to allow industry inside cities only.

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 Länder and is uniform throughout a Land (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 Land 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 the economic infrastructure of their communities through the development of industrial parks.

Local authorities foster cultural activities by supporting local artists, building arts centers, and/or having fairs. Local government also provides basic public utilities, such as gas and electricity, as well as public transportation. Most of these functions are currently (2003) under threat since the communities are notoriously badly financed; the fact that they receive most of their money from the other levels instead of from taxes they themselves set the rates of and collect is a big factor in this.

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 Jan. 01, 2005, there were 246 such areas, most of them in Bavaria, with a total area of 4167.66 km2, or 1.2 percent of the total area of Germany. The following table givs an overview.

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
Germany 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.

Only four unincorporated areas are populated, with an aggregate population of about 2000.

See also

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