Exploring the Diverse States of Germany: A Complete Guide

States of Germany Map

Welcome to our comprehensive guide exploring the diverse states of Germany! Each state offers its unique blend of culture, history, and scenery. From the rolling vineyards of Baden-Württemberg to the bustling metropolis of Berlin, the tranquil lakes of Brandenburg, and the rugged coastlines of Schleswig-Holstein, there’s a piece of Germany that caters to every traveler’s taste.

So, prepare your senses for an enlightening journey that will take you across the heart of Europe. Let’s delve into the distinct features that make each German Bundesland a world in its own right.

How Many States in Germany?

regions of Germany

Germany is a federal republic comprising sixteen states (German: Land, plural Lander; commonly informally Bundesland and Bundeslander). Germany was formed from an earlier collection of several states, so it has a federal constitution, and the constituent states retain some sovereignty.

With an emphasis on geographical conditions, Berlin and Hamburg are often called Stadtstaaten (city-states), as is the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, which actually includes the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven.

The remaining 13 states are called Flachenlander (“area states”).

The Federal Republic of West Germany

West Germany Map
Image by Wiki-vr / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was created in 1949 through the unification of the Western states (previously under American, British, and French administrations) in the aftermath of World War II.

At first, in 1949, the states of the Federal Republic were:

  • Baden (until 1952),
  • Bavaria (in German: Bayern),
  • Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse (Hessen),
  • Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen),
  • North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen),
  • Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz),
  • Schleswig-Holstein,
  • Wurttemberg-Baden (until 1952), and
  • Wurttemberg-Hohenzollern (until 1952)

While officially not part of the Federal Republic, West Berlin was largely integrated and considered a de facto state.

1952 following a referendum, Baden, Wurttemberg-Baden, and Wurttemberg-Hohenzollern merged into Baden-Wurttemberg. In 1957, the Saar Protectorate rejoined the Federal Republic as the Saarland.

When Was German Reunification?

German reunification happened in 1990, in which the area of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) became part of the Federal Republic.

It was performed by way of accession of the re-established eastern states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), Saxony (Sachsen), Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt), and Thuringia (Thuringen) to the Federal Republic, as well as the de facto reunification of West and East Berlin into Berlin and its establishment as a full and equal state.

A regional referendum 1996 to merge Berlin with surrounding Brandenburg as “Berlin-Brandenburg” failed to reach the necessary majority vote in Brandenburg, while most Berliners voted in favor of the merger.

Federalism in Germany

Reichstag Building

Federalism is one of the entrenched constitutional principles of Germany.

According to the German constitution (Basic Law, or Grundgesetz), some topics, such as foreign affairs and defense, are the exclusive responsibility of the federation (i.e., the federal level). In contrast, others fall under the shared authority of the states and the federation.

The states retain residual legislative authority for all other areas, including “culture, ” which in Germany includes topics such as the financial promotion of arts and sciences and most forms of education and job training.

Though international relations, including international treaties, are primarily the responsibility of the federal level, the constituent states have certain limited powers in this area.

In matters that affect them directly, the states defend their interests at the federal level through the Bundesrat (“Federal Council,” the upper house of the German Federal Parliament). In areas with legislative authority, they have limited powers to conclude international treaties “with the consent of the federal government.”

After 1945, new states were constituted in all four zones of occupation—the American, British, and French zones combined to form the western two-thirds of Germany. The Soviet zone comprised the third part in the east.

In 1949, the states in the three western zones formed the Federal Republic of Germany. This contrasts with the post-war development in Austria, where the Bund (federation) was constituted first, and then the individual states were created as units of a federal state.

The term Lander (‘Lands’) dates back to the Weimar Constitution 1919. Before this time, the constituent states of the German Empire were called Staaten (states).

Today, using the term Bundesland (federal Land) is very common. However, this term is used officially, neither by the Constitution of 1919 nor the Basic Law (Constitution) of 1949.

Three Lander call themselves Freistaaten (‘free states,’ an older German term for ‘republic’): Bavaria (since 1919), Saxony (originally since 1919 and again since 1990), and Thuringia (since 1994). Of the 17 states of the Weimar Republic, six still exist (though partly with different border-lines):

The other 11 states either merged into one another or were separated into smaller entities.

A new delimitation of the federal territory keeps being debated in Germany, in contrast to how there are “significant differences among the American states and regional governments in other federations without serious calls for territorial changes” in those other countries.

Arthur B. Gunlicks summarizes the main arguments for boundary reform in Germany: “The German system of dual federalism requires strong Lander that has the administrative and fiscal capacity to implement legislation and pay for it from own source revenues.

Too many Lander also complicates coordination among them and the federation”. But several proposals have failed so far; territorial reform remains a controversial topic in German politics and public perception.

Federalism has a long tradition in German history. The Holy Roman Empire comprised many petty states, numbering more than 300 around 1796. The number of territories was greatly reduced during the Napoleonic Wars (1796-1814). After the Congress of Vienna (1815), 39 states formed the German Confederation. The Confederation was dissolved after the Austro-Prussian War.

Prussia and the other states in Northern and Central Germany united as a federal state, the North German Federation, on July 1, 1867.

The Southern states Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Baden, and Hesse-Darmstadt entered military alliances with Prussia. Those states joined the North German Federation in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

It was consequently renamed to German Empire, and the parliament and Federal Council decided to give the Prussian king the title of German Emperor (since January 1, 1871).

map of Germany territory textured under the flag

The New German Empire

The new German Empire included 25 states (three of them, Hanseatic cities) and the imperial territory of Alsace-Lorraine. Within the empire, 65% of the territory and 62% of the population belonged to the state of Prussia.

After the territorial losses of the Treaty of Versailles, the remaining states continued as republics of a new German federation. These states were gradually de facto abolished and reduced to provinces under the Nazi regime via the Gleichschaltung process. The states administratively were largely superseded by the Nazi Gau system.

During the Allied occupation of Germany after World War II, internal borders were redrawn by the Allied military governments.

No single state comprised more than 30% of either population or territory; this was intended to prevent any one state from being as dominant within Germany as Prussia had been in the past.

Initially, only seven of the pre-War states remained: Baden (in part), Bavaria (reduced in size), Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse (enlarged), Saxony, and Thuringia. The states with hyphenated names, such as Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Saxony-Anhalt, owed their existence to the occupation powers. They were created out of mergers of former Prussian provinces and smaller states.

Former German territory east of the Oder-Neisse line fell under either Polish or Soviet administration. Still, attempts were made, at least symbolically, not to abandon sovereignty well into the 1960s.

The former provinces of East Prussia, Posen, Silesia, and West Prussia fell under Polish administration, with the Soviet Union taking the area around Konigsburg (now Kaliningrad).

However, no attempts were made to establish new states in these territories, as they lay outside the jurisdiction of West Germany at that time. Furthermore, the former eastern territories had either been ethnically cleansed from their autochthonous German population or ceased being part of the German-speaking lands.

Upon its founding in 1949, West Germany had eleven states. These were reduced to nine in 1952 when three southwestern states (South Baden, Wurttemberg-Hohenzollern, and Wurttemberg-Baden) merged to form Baden-Wurttemberg.

From 1957, when the French-occupied Saar Protectorate was returned and formed into the Saarland, the Federal Republic consisted of ten states referred to as the “Old States” today.

West Berlin was under the sovereignty of the Western Allies and neither a Western German state nor part of one. However, it was in many ways de facto integrated with West Germany under a special status.

East Germany originally consisted of five states (i.e., Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia).

In 1952, these states were abolished, and the East was divided into 14 administrative districts called Bezirke. Despite officially having the same status as West Berlin, Soviet-controlled East Berlin was declared East Germany’s state capital and its 15th district.

Just before the German reunification on 3 October 1990, the East German states were reconstituted close to their earlier configuration as the five “New States.” The former district of East Berlin joined West Berlin to form the new state of Berlin. Henceforth, the 10 “old states” plus 5 “new states” plus the new state Berlin add up to the current 16 states of Germany.

Later, the constitution was amended to state that the citizens of the 16 states had successfully achieved the unity of Germany in free self-determination and that the Basic Law thus applied to the entire German people.

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The Constitution

German Constitution Of 1949

Article 23, which had allowed “any other parts of Germany” to join, was rephrased. It had been used in 1957 to reintegrate the Saar Protectorate as the Saarland into the Federal Republic, and this was used as a model for German reunification in 1990. The amended article now defines the participation of the Federal Council and the 16 German states in matters concerning the European Union.

The German states can conclude treaties with foreign countries in matters within their own sphere of competence and with the Federal Government’s consent (Article 32 of the Basic Law). Typical treaties relate to cultural relationships and economic affairs.

Some states call themselves a “free state” (Freistaat). It is merely a historic synonym for “republic” and was a description used by most German states after abolishing the monarchy after World War I.

Today, Freistaat is associated emotionally with a more independent status, especially in Bavaria. However, it has no legal significance. All sixteen states are represented at the federal level in the Bundesrat (Federal Council), where their voting power depends on their population size.

Article 29 of the Basic Law states that “the division of the federal territory into Lander may be revised to ensure that each Land be of a size and capacity to perform its functions effectively.”

The somewhat complicated provisions regulate that “revisions of the existing division into Lander shall be effected by a federal law, which must be confirmed by referendum.”

A new delimitation of the federal territory has been discussed since the Federal Republic was founded in 1949. Committees and expert commissions advocated a reduction of the number of states.

Academics (Rutz, Miegel, Ottnad, etc.) and politicians (Doring, Apel, and others) made far-reaching proposals to redraw boundaries, but hardly anything came from these public discussions. The richer states sometimes propagate territorial reform to avoid or reduce fiscal transfers.

The only successful reform was the merger of the states of Baden, Wurttemberg-Baden, and Wurttemberg-Hohenzollern to form the new state of Baden-Wurttemberg in 1952.

Article 29 also reflects a debate on territorial reform in Germany that is much older than the Basic Law. The Holy Roman Empire was a loose confederation of large and petty principalities under the nominal suzerainty of the emperor. Approximately 300 states existed on the eve of the French Revolution in 1789.

Territorial boundaries were essentially redrawn as a result of military conflicts and interventions from the outside: from the Napoleonic Wars to the Congress of Vienna, the number of territories decreased from about 300 to 39; in 1866, Prussia annexed the sovereign states of Hanover, Nassau, Hesse-Kassel, and the Free City of Frankfurt; the last consolidation came about under Allied occupation after 1945.

The debate on a new delimitation of the German territory started in 1919 as part of discussions about the new constitution. Hugo Preuss, the father of the Weimar Constitution, drafted a plan to divide the German Reich into 14 roughly equal-sized states. His proposal was turned down due to opposition of the states and concerns of the government.

Article 18 of the constitution enabled a new delimitation of the German territory but set high hurdles: “Three fifth of the votes handed in, and at least the majority of the population are necessary to decide on the alteration of territory.”

flag of the Federal Republic of Germany is waving in front of the national German parliament

Configuration Changes

Marienplatz In Munich, Germany
Image by Szekrényesy Réka / CC BY-SA 3.0

In fact, until 1933, there were only four changes in the configuration of the German states: The 7 Thuringian states were merged in 1920, whereby Coburg opted for Bavaria, Pyrmont joined Prussia in 1922, and Waldeck did so in 1929. Any later plans to break up the dominating Prussia into smaller states failed because political circumstances were unfavorable to state reforms.

The Lander increasingly lost importance after the Nazi Party seized power in January 1933. They became administrative regions of a centralized country. Three changes are of particular note:

On January 1, 1934, Mecklenburg-Schwerin was united with the neighboring Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and the Greater Hamburg Act (Gros-Hamburg-Gesetz) of 1937, the area of the city-state was extended. While Lubeck lost its independence and became part of the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein.

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Between 1945 and 1947, new states were established in all four zones of occupation:

  • Bremen, Hesse, Wurttemberg-Baden, and Bavaria in the American zone
  • Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, and North Rhine-Westphalia in the British zone
  • Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden, Wurttemberg-Hohenzollern, and the Saarland- which later received a special status in the French zone
  • Mecklenburg(Vorpommern), Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia in the Soviet zone.

In 1948, the military governors of the three Western Allies handed over the so-called Frankfurt Documents to the minister-presidents in the Western occupation zones.

They recommended revising the boundaries of the West German states so that none of them should be too large or too small compared to the others.

As the premiers did not agree on this question, the Parliamentary Council was supposed to address this issue. Its provisions are reflected in Article 29. There was a binding provision for a new delimitation of the federal territory: the Federal Territory must be revised (paragraph 1).

Moreover, in territories or parts of territories whose affiliation with a Land had changed after 8 May 1945 without a referendum, people were allowed to petition for a revision of the current status within a year after the promulgation of the Basic Law (paragraph 2).

If at least one-tenth of those entitled to vote in Bundestag elections favored a revision, the federal government had to include the proposal in its legislation.

Then a referendum was required in each territory or part of a territory whose affiliation was to be changed (paragraph 3). The proposal should not take effect if a majority rejects the change within any affected territories.

In this case, the bill had to be introduced again and, after passing, had to be confirmed by referendum in the Federal Republic (paragraph 4).

The reorganization should be completed within three years after the Basic Law had come into force (paragraph 6).

In their letter to Konrad Adenauer, the three Western military governors approved the Basic Law but suspended Article 29 until a peace treaty should be concluded. Only the special arrangement for the southwest under Article 118 could enter into force.

In southwestern Germany, territorial revision seemed to be a top priority since the border between the French and American occupation zones was set along the Autobahn Karlsruhe-Stuttgart-Ulm (today, the A8).

Article 118 stated, “The division of the territory comprising Baden, Wurttemberg-Baden, and Wurttemberg-Hohenzollern into Lander may be revised, without regard to the provisions of Article 29, by agreement between the Lander concerned.

If no agreement is reached, the revision shall be effected by a federal law, which shall provide for an advisory referendum.” Since no agreement was reached, a referendum was held on December 9, 1951, in four different voting districts, three of which approved the merger (South Baden refused but was overruled, as the result of total votes was decisive).

On 25 April 1952, the three former states merged to form Baden-Wurttemberg.

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The Paris Agreements

With the Paris Agreement, West Germany regained (limited) sovereignty. This triggered the one-year start as set in paragraph 2 of Article 29. As a consequence, eight petitions for referendums were launched, six of which were successful:

The Federal Minister of the Interior originally rejected the last petition about the referendum of 1951. However, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany ruled that the rejection was unlawful: the population of Baden had the right to a new referendum because the one of 1951 had taken place under different rules from the ones provided for by Article 29.

In particular, the outcome of the 1951 referendum did not reflect the wishes of the majority of Baden’s population.

The two Palatine petitions (for reintegration into Bavaria and integration into Baden-Wurttemberg) failed with 7.6% and 9.3%. Further requests for petitions (Lubeck, Geesthacht, Lindau, Achberg, and 62 Hessian communities) had already been rejected as inadmissible by the Federal Minister of the Interior or were withdrawn, as in the case of Lindau. The Federal Constitutional Court confirmed the rejection in the case of Lubeck.

In the Paris Agreement of 23 October 1954, France offered to establish an independent “Saarland” under the auspices of the Western European Union (WEU).

Still, on 23 October 1955, in the Saar Statute referendum, the Saar electorate rejected this plan by 67.7% to 32.3% (out of a 96.5% turnout: 423,434 against, 201,975 for) despite the public support of Federal German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer for the plan.

The rejection of the plan by the Saarlanders was interpreted as support for the Saar to join the Federal Republic of Germany.

On October 27, 1956, the Saar Treaty established that Saarland should be allowed to join Germany, as the Grundgesetz constitution art provided—23 for the Federal Republic of Germany. Saarland became part of Germany effective January 1, 1957.

Paris agreements

The Franco-Saarlander currency union ended on 6 July 1959, when the Deutsche Mark was introduced as a legal tender in the Saarland.

Paragraph 6 of Article 29 stated that a referendum should be held within three years if a petition was successful. Since the deadline passed on 5 May 1958 without anything happening, the Hesse state government filed a constitutional complaint with the Federal Constitutional Court in October 1958.

The complaint was dismissed in July 1961 because Article 29 had made the new delimitation of the federal territory an exclusively federal matter. At the same time, the Court reaffirmed the requirement for a territorial revision as a binding order to the relevant constitutional bodies.

The grand coalition decided to settle the 1956 petitions by setting binding deadlines for the required referendums. The referendums in Lower Saxony and Rhineland-Palatinate were to be held by 31 March 1975, and the referendum in Baden was to be held by 30 June 1970.

The quorum for a successful vote was set at one-quarter of those entitled to vote in Bundestag elections. Paragraph 4 stated that the vote should be disregarded if it contradicted the objectives of paragraph 1.

In his investiture address, given on 28 October 1969 in Bonn, Chancellor Willy Brandt proposed that the government consider Article 29 of the Basic Law a binding order. An expert commission was established, named after its chairman, the former Secretary of State Professor Werner Ernst.

After two years of work, the experts delivered their report in 1973. It provided an alternative proposal for the north and center-southwest regions.

In the north, either a single new state consisting of Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, and Lower Saxony should be created (solution A) or two new states, one in the northeast consisting of Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg and the northern part of Lower Saxony (from Cuxhaven to Luchow-Dannenberg) and one in the northwest consisting of Bremen and the rest of Lower Saxony (solution B).

In the center and southwest, either Rhineland-Palatinate (except for the Germersheim district but including the Rhine-Neckar region) should be merged with Hesse and the Saarland (solution C), the district of Germersheim would then become part of Baden-Wurttemberg.

The Palatinate (including the region of Worms) could also be merged with the Saarland and Baden-Wurttemberg, and the rest of Rhineland-Palatinate would then merge with Hesse (solution D). Both alternatives could be combined (AC, BC, AD, BD).

At the same time, the commission developed criteria for classifying the terms of Article 29 Paragraph 1. The capacity to perform functions effectively was considered the most important, whereas regional, historical, and cultural ties were hardly verifiable. A population of at least five million per state was considered necessary to fulfill administrative duties adequately.

The proposals were shelved after a brief discussion and mostly negative responses from the affected states. Public interest was limited or nonexistent.

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The Referendums

The referendum in Baden was held on 7 June 1970: With 81.9%, most voters decided for Baden to remain part of Baden-Wurttemberg. Only 18.1% opted for the reconstitution of the old state of Baden. The referendums in Lower Saxony and Rhineland-Palatinate were held on 19 January 1975:

Hence, the two referendums in Lower Saxony were successful. Consequently, the legislature was forced to act and decided that Oldenburg and Schaumburg-Lippe should remain part of Lower Saxony.

The justification was that the reconstitution of Oldenburg and Schaumburg-Lippe would contradict the objectives of paragraph 1. An appeal against the decision was rejected as inadmissible by the Federal Constitutional Court.

On 24 August 1976, the binding provision for a new delimitation of the federal territory was altered into a mere discretionary one. Paragraph 1 was rephrased, now putting the capacity to perform functions first.

The option for a referendum in the Federal Republic (paragraph 4) was abolished. Hence, a territorial revision was no longer possible against the will of the population affected by it.

The debate on territorial revision restarted shortly before German reunification. While academics (Rutz and others) and politicians (Gobrecht) suggested introducing only two, three, or four states in East Germany, legislation reconstituted the five states that had existed until 1952, however, with slightly changed boundaries.

Article 118a was introduced into the Basic Law. It allowed Berlin and Brandenburg to merge “without regard to the provisions of Article 29, by agreement between the two Lander with the participation of their inhabitants who are entitled to vote”.

Article 29 was again modified and provided an option for the states to “revise the division of their existing territory or parts of their territory by agreement without regard to the provisions of paragraphs (2) through (7).”

The state treaty between Berlin and Brandenburg was approved in both parliaments with the necessary two-thirds majority, but in the popular referendum of 5 May 1996, about 63% voted against the merger.

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The German Political System

The Cover Of Grundgesetz
Image by bpb.de / CC BY-SA 4.0

Germany is a federal, parliamentary, representative democratic republic. The German political system operates under a framework in the 1949 constitutional document called the Grundgesetz (Basic Law).

By calling the document the Grundgesetz rather than Verfassung (constitution), the authors intended that a true constitution would replace it once Germany was reunited as one state.

Amendments to the Grundgesetz generally require a two-thirds majority of both chambers of the parliament; the fundamental principles of the constitution, as expressed in the articles guaranteeing human dignity, the separation of powers, the federal structure, and the rule of law are valid in perpetuity. Despite the original intention, the Grundgesetz remained in effect after the German reunification in 1990, with only minor amendments.

The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, the federal constitution, stipulates that the structure of each Federated State’s government must “conform to the principles of republican, democratic, and social government, based on the rule of law” (Article 28).

Most states are governed by a cabinet led by a Ministerprasident (minister-president), together with a unicameral legislative body known as the Landtag (State Diet).

The states are parliamentary republics. The relationship between their legislative and executive branches mirrors the federal system: the legislatures are popularly elected for four or five years (depending on the state). A majority vote then chooses the minister-president 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.

Berlin, Bremen, and Hamburg governments are the “senates.” In the three free states of Bavaria, Saxony, and Thuringia, the government is the “state government” (Staatsregierung); and in the other ten states, the “Land government” (Landesregierung).

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

Berlin, Bremen, and Hamburg are governed slightly differently from the other states. In each of those 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 Senatsprasident (president of the senate) in Bremen, the Erster Burgermeister (first mayor) in Hamburg, and the Regierender Burgermeister (governing mayor) in Berlin. The parliament for Berlin is called the Abgeordnetenhaus (House of Representatives), while Bremen and Hamburg both have a Burgerschaft.

The parliaments in the remaining 13 states are referred to as Landtag (State Parliament).

The City-States

Berlin Germany In 1916

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

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

The constitution of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern at 75 states the right of Mecklenburg and Vorpommern to form Landschaftsverbande. However, the current administrative division does not represent these two constituent parts of the state.

The large states of Baden-Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Hesse, and North Rhine-Westphalia are divided into governmental districts or Regierungsbezirke.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, these districts were abolished on January 1, 2000, in Saxony-Anhalt on January 1, 2004, and in Lower Saxony on January 1, 2005.

From 1990 until 2012, Saxony was divided into three districts (called Direktionsbezirke since 2008). In 2012, these districts’ authorities were merged into one central authority, the Landesdirektion Sachsen.

The Districts of Germany (Kreise) are administrative districts. Every state except the city-states of Berlin and Hamburg and the state of Bremen consists of “rural districts” (Landkreise), District-free Towns/Cities (Kreisfreie Stadte, in Baden-Wurttemberg, also called “urban districts,” or Stadtkreise), cities that are districts in their own right, or local associations of a special kind (Kommunalverbande besonderer Art).

Free Hanseatic City of Bremen consists of two urban districts, while Berlin and Hamburg are states and urban districts simultaneously.

Munich architectural sunset view

What are the three city-states in Germany?

There are three city-states in Germany: Hamburg, Bremen, and Berlin.

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German Districts

Map Of Germany
Image by TUBS / CC BY-SA 3.0

Each consists of an elected council and an executive, which is chosen either by the council or by the people, depending on the state, the duties of which are comparable to those of a county executive in the United States, supervising local government administration.

The Landkreise has primary administrative functions in specific areas, such as highways, hospitals, and public utilities.

Local associations of a special kind are an amalgamation of one or more Landkreise with one or more Kreisfreie Stadte to form a replacement of the aforementioned administrative entities at the district level. They are intended to implement simplification of administration at that level.

Typically, a district-free city or town and its urban hinterland are grouped into an association or Kommunalverband besonderer Art. Such an organization requires issuing special laws by the governing state since the normal administrative structure of the respective states does not cover them.

Amter (“offices” or “bureaus”): In some states, there is an administrative unit between the districts and the municipalities, called Amter (singular Amt), Amtsgemeinden, Gemeindeverwaltungsverbande, Landgemeinden, Verbandsgemeinden, Verwaltungsgemeinschaften, or Kirchspiellandgemeinden.

Municipalities (Gemeinden): 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 [update]) 12,141 municipalities, Germany’s smallest administrative units.

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German Municipalities

Cities and towns are municipalities as well, also having city rights or town rights (Stadtrechte). Nowadays, this is mostly just the right to be called a city or town.

However, there were many other privileges in former times, including the right to impose local taxes or to allow industry only within city limits.

The municipalities are ruled by elected councils and by an executive, the mayor, who is chosen either by the council or directly by the people, depending on the state. The states create the “constitution” for the municipalities, and is uniform throughout a state (except for Bremen, which allows Bremerhaven to have its constitution).

The municipalities have two major policy responsibilities.

First, they administer programs authorized by the federal or state government. Such programs typically relate to youth, schools, public health, and social assistance.

Second, Article 28(2) of the Basic Law guarantees the municipalities “the right to regulate on their responsibility all the affairs of the local community within the limits set by law.”

Under this broad statement of competence, local governments can justify various activities. For instance, many municipalities develop and expand their communities’ economic infrastructure through industrial trading estates.

Local authorities foster cultural activities by supporting local artists, building arts centers, and holding fairs. The local government also provides public utilities, such as gas and electricity, as well as public transportation.

Most of the funding for municipalities is provided by higher government levels rather than taxes raised and collected directly by themselves.

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Unincorporated Areas In Germany

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 a population of about 2,000. The following table gives an overview.

In 2000, the number of unincorporated areas was 295, with a total area of 4,890.33 square kilometers (1,888.17 square miles).

However, the unincorporated areas are continually being incorporated into neighboring municipalities, wholly or partially, most frequently in Bavaria.

What Are the 16 German States?

The German states are as follows:

  • Berlin
  • Bayern (Bavaria)
  • Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony)
  • Baden-Württemberg
  • Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate)
  • Sachsen (Saxony)
  • Thüringen (Thuringia)
  • Hessen
  • Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia)
  • Sachsen-Anhalt (Saxony-Anhalt)
  • Brandenburg
  • Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
  • Hamburg
  • Schleswig-Holstein
  • Saarland
  • Bremen

Each of these German states has its state capital. Berlin is also not just the capital of Germany but is also the capital of itself. Berlin, like Hamburg and Bremen, is a Stadtstaat or city-state.

This means it is a state that consists of only one city. Bremen, however, does have two cities.

How Are States Divided in Germany?

The states of Germany are divided into 16 states or Bundeslander. Two states are city-states, and Bremen and Bremerhaven combine to create a third city-state.

There are also seven major regions of Germany. These include the Northeast German Plain, the Northwest German Plain, the Western Central Uplands, the Eastern Central Uplands, the South German Scarplands, the Alpine Foreland, and the North Sea and Baltic Sea.

How Much Power Do German States Have?

Regarding power in Germany, the federal and state governments share concurrent powers in different areas, including business law, civil law, welfare, taxation, and more.

What Are the Visa Requirements for German Citizens?

Visas are not required, and German citizens can travel to approximately 120 countries visa-free. These places include the European countries that signed the Schengen Agreement. German passport holders can freely move around with a valid ID card.

What is the Largest State in Germany?

The largest state in Germany is Bavaria, followed by Lower Saxony, Baden-Wurttemberg, and North-Rhine Westphalia. The most populated federal state is North-Rhine Westphalia which can be found in the west. They have a population of approximately 18 million people.


What’s the Capital of Germany?


How Many States Are There in Germany?

There are 16 different states in Germany. Each state has its own government and is responsible for its own laws. States can decide to work together on certain issues, but they are not required to do so.

Does Germany have states or provinces?

Germany is a federation of sixteen states, which are further subdivided into 438 districts.

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Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He's a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he'd heard.

Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he's learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.

He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time. Read more about his portfolio of work.

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