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States of Germany


Germany is a federation of 16 states called Länder (singular Land) or Bundesländer (singular Bundesland).

The 16 Länder are:

  1. Baden-Württemberg
  2. Bavaria (Bayern)
  3. Berlin (city-state)
  4. Brandenburg
  5. Bremen (city-state)
  6. Hamburg (city-state)
  7. Hesse (Hessen)
  8. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
  9. Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen)
  10. North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen)
  11. Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz)
  12. Saarland
  13. Saxony (Sachsen)
  14. Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt)
  15. Schleswig-Holstein
  16. Thuringia (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, typically for four 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 effect from December 1999. In the city Länder of Berlin, Bremen, and Hamburg, the executive branch consists of a popularly elected Senate. The senators carry out duties equivalent to those of the ministers in the larger Länder. The senate chooses a senate president in Bremen and a mayor in Berlin and 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 not subdivided. The state Bremen consists of two district-cities, Bremen and Bremerhaven. In the other Länder there are the following subdivisions:

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. Gemeinden have two major policy responsibilities. First, they administer programs authorized by the federal or Land government. Such programs typically might relate to youth, 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 and building arts centers. 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. See also: