States of Germany
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Germany is a Federal Republic made up of 16 States, known in German as Länder (singular Land). Since Land is the German word for "country", the term Bundesländer (states of the federation; singular Bundesland) is commonly used as it is more specific. Three cities (Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen) are states in their own right, termed Stadtstaaten (city states). The remaining 13 states are termed Flächenländer (area states).
After the end of the Second World War, the Länder in the western part of the former Deutsches Reich were constituted as administrative areas first and then federated into the Bund or Federal Republic of Germany. This was in contrast to the post-war development in Austria, where the Bund was constituted first, and then the states as units of a federal system followed. In Austria, the states are also referred to as Länder in the constitution.
Before the German reunification in 1990, West Germany consisted of ten states , while in 1952 East Germany reorganized its territory into 15 administrative districts (Bezirke). West Berlin was in many ways integrated with West Germany, but was de jure under the sovereignty of the Western Allies, and did not constitute a Land or part of one.
Just prior to the reunification on 3 October 1990, 14 of the East German districts were reconstituted into the five Länder (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Saxony) that existed until 1952. The former district of East Berlin was combined with West Berlin to form the new Land of Berlin.
The 16 Länder, by reference to the numbers on the map above, are:
- Free State of Bavaria (Freistaat Bayern)
- Free Hanseatic City of Bremen (Freie Hansestadt Bremen)
- Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg)
- Hesse (Hessen)
- Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern)
- Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen)
- North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen)
- Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz)
- Free State of Saxony (Freistaat Sachsen)
- Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt)
- Free State of Thuringia (Freistaat Thüringen)
The description free state / Freistaat is merely used for historical reasons. Legally a Freistaat is no different from the other states. The usual official name is Land of [...]. Each Land is represented at the federal level in the Bundesrat ("Federal Council").
 Structure of government
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).
Most of the Länder are governed by a cabinet led by a Ministerpräsident (Minister-President), together with a unicameral legislative body known as the Landtag (State Diet). The relationship between the 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 Land's agencies and to carry out the executive duties of the Land's government. The governments in Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg are called 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 Länder the term Land Government (Landesregierung) is used.
Before January 1, 2000, Bavaria had a bicameral parliament, with a popularly elected Landtag, and an appointed Senate made up of representatives of the state's major social and economic groups. The Senate was abolished following a referendum in 1998.
The Länder 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 Land's parliament; the senators carry out duties equivalent to those of the ministers in the larger Länder. 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 Länder 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" (the upper chamber of the federal parliament), which must also approve many laws after passage by the "Bundestag" (the lower chamber of 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 Land 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 act and thus unpopular owing to state leaders in the Bundesrat blocking legislation.
The powers of the state governments and legislatures in their own territories have been much diminished in recent decades with an ever-increasing amount of federal legislation. A commission has been formed to examine the possibility of instituting a clearer separation of federal and state powers. The states are in particular responsible for culture, law enforcement and the entire educational system (schools and universities).
 Further subdivisions
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 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-Lippe. 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 very 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 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 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 all together. Each consists of an elected council and an executive, who is chosen by either the council or the people, depending on the Bundesland, 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"): In some states there is an administrative unit between districts and municipalities. These units are called Ämter (singular Amt), Amtsgemeinden, 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 1 March 2006) 12,320 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 impose its 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 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 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 centres, and having fairs. Local government also provides public utilities, such as gas and electricity, as well as public transportation. The majority of 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, 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 gives an overview.
|State||01. Jan. 2004||01. Jan. 2000|
|Number||Area in km²||Number||Area in km²|
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
- List of cities in Germany
- List of subnational entities
- For a list of German states prior to 1815 see List of states in the Holy Roman Empire
- New Länder