States of Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany, as a federal state, consists of sixteen partly sovereign federated states (German: Länder, sing. Land; commonly informally Bundesländer, sing. Bundesland).[lower-alpha 1] Since the German national state was formed from an earlier collection of several states (only some of which still exist), it has a federal constitution, and the constituent states retain a measure of sovereignty.

German states
  • Also known as:
  • Bundesländer  (German)
CategoryFederated state
Location Germany
Populations682,986 (Bremen) –
17,932,651 (NRW)
Areas419.4 km2 (161.92 sq mi) (Bremen) –
70,549.4 km2 (27,239.29 sq mi) (Bavaria)

Although the term Land applies to all the states, each of the states of Bavaria, Saxony, and Thuringia describes itself as a Freistaat ("free state"). The expression is based on 19th-century attempts to create a genuinely German alternative for the loanword Republik ("republic") and to express the end of the German monarchies. With an emphasis on geographical conditions, Berlin and Hamburg are frequently called Stadtstaaten ("city-states"), as is the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, which in fact includes the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven. The remaining thirteen states are called Flächenländer (roughly "area states").

The creation of the Federal Republic of Germany ("West Germany") in 1949 was through the unification of the three western zones which were previously under American, British, and French administration in the aftermath of World War II. Initially, 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, Württemberg-Baden (until 1952), and Württemberg-Hohenzollern (until 1952). West Berlin, while still under occupation and supremacy of the Western Allies viewed itself as part of the Federal Republic and was largely integrated and considered as a de facto state. In 1952, following a referendum, Baden, Württemberg-Baden, and Württemberg-Hohenzollern merged into Baden-Württemberg. In 1957, the Saar Protectorate joined the Federal Republic as the state of Saarland.

The next change occurred in the aftermath of German reunification in 1990, in which the area of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) became part of the Federal Republic. This was performed by accession of the re-established eastern states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), Saxony (Sachsen), Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt), and Thuringia (Thüringen) to the Federal Republic and by the de facto reunification of West and East Berlin into Berlin and its establishment as a full and equal state. A regional referendum in 1996, to merge Berlin with surrounding Brandenburg as "Berlin-Brandenburg", failed to reach the necessary majority vote in Brandenburg, while a majority of Berliners had voted in favour.

Federalism is one of the entrenched constitutional principles of Germany. According to the German constitution, some topics, such as foreign affairs and defence, are the exclusive responsibility of the federation (i.e., the federal level), while others fall under the shared authority of the states and the federation. The states retain residual or exclusive legislative authority for all other areas, including "culture", which in Germany includes not only topics such as the financial promotion of arts and sciences, but also most forms of education and job training (see Education in Germany). 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"), and in areas where they have the legislative authority they have limited powers to conclude international treaties "with the consent of the federal government".[3]

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