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11. Political Life

I am gladly a patriot, but first I am human, and where the two are incompatible, I always go along with the human.
(Hermann Hesse, 1877-1962)

11.1 National Anthem

The origins of the German national anthem -as well as of the official banner- date back well before the revolution of 1848. The Lied der Deutschen was composed by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben on the island Helgoland in 1841, based on a melody by Joseph Haydn.

The melody, the so-called "Kaiserquartett", a quartett for strings in C-major, op. 76,3. was composed 1797 at the request of Count von Saurau, the imperial High Chancellor of the Hapsburg empire. The hymn was first sung on the birthday of Kaiser Franz II 12. Feb 1797. Haydn later set the melody with variations as the slow movement of the string quartet. The melody was based on a Croatian folk song, "Vjutro rano se ja vstanem." It was the national hymn of Austria before it was adopted as the German one. 1997-06

The first stanza begins with Deutschland, Deutschland über alles -- which in the light of that time (Germany was split into a patchwork of many small states) has to be interpreted as an expression of the desire to employ the best forces and emotions towards a unified Germany.

After the first world war the first President of the Weimar Republic, Friedrich Ebert, proclaimed the Lied der Deutschen national anthem. However, in the course of history particularly the first stanza was frequently misconstrued. And after world war II, in 1952, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and President Theodor Heuß --while confirming the Lied der Deutschen as the national anthem of the Federal Republic of Germany-- declared only its third stanza to be sung at official occasions.

With the event of the re-unification of Germany the subject was reconsidered. In their correspondence of August 1991 President Richard von Weizsäcker and Chancellor Helmut Kohl acknowledged the tradition of the Lied der Deutschen, noting that --as a document of German history-- all three stanzas form a unit; however:

The third stanza of the Lied der Deutschen by Hoffmann von Fallersleben with the melody by Joseph Haydn is the national anthem for the German people.
The lyrics of the national anthem of the Federal Republic are:
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit für das deutsche Vaterland.
Danach laßt uns alle streben, brüderlich mit Herz und Hand.
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit sind des Glückes Unterpfand.
Blüh' im Glanze dieses Glückes, blühe deutsches Vaterland.

11.2 The Federal Flag

Article 22 of the Grundgesetz states that The federal flag is black-red-golden.

This stems back to the early 19th century; among the many forces fighting in the 1813-1815 wars that raged through Europe to end the Napoleonic government the Lützower Jäger were particularly popular. The numerous students from Jena in this group continued wearing their uniform -- black and red, with golden ornaments -- even at school. When in 1817 students from all over Germany assembled at the Wartburg, those from Jena prevailed with their colors taken to symbolize the Allgemeinen Deutschen Burschenschaft (the head fraternity). By 1832 (Hambacher Fest) black-red-golden had become generally accepted as the (revolutionary) German colors. The 1848 federal assembly (in Frankfurt) declared black-red-golden as federal colors. (During the 1848 revolution the colors were often meant to signify gunpowder-black, blood-red, and future-golden.)

The official German colors changed through history, however, a number of times. In 1871 the German Reich choose black-white-red as national colors; the Weimar Republic again opted for black-red-golden and Nazi-Germany re-instated black-white-red. Finally, both parts of after-WWII Germany decided (in both cases) to use black-red-golden. 1996-04

11.3 Text of the Grundgesetz

The Grundgesetz (Basic Law) is the constitution of Germany. You can access it on the web in various languages:


Available from compuserve.de or from U Saarbrücken


Avaliable from spies.com or from U Würzburg


Available from U Saarbrücken

11.4 Government resources on the net

Germany is a federal republic. The Bundesregierung ( federal government), headed by the Bundeskanzler ( chancellor) is the main part of the executive branch. The main legislative chamber is the Bundestag, elected every four years by general, free and secret ballot. The second legislative chamber is the Bundesrat whose members are appointed by the state governments. You guessed it by now, Bund is the German word for federal. For the whole scoop on how the political system works and what the Bundespräsident does for a living, have a look at the federal government's site on the constitutional bodies. There are nice collections of links about politics and on-line political organizations at the Universität Köln and at Dr. Döblin Wirtschaftsforschung 1999-11

Germany consists of 16 Bundesländer ( english version).

There are several highest courts, depending on the matter of the case. The Bundesverfassungsgericht in Karlsruhe reviews all constitutional cases and its rulings are binding for all other constitutional organs. It is not an appellate court. Everybody can bring a case before it if they feel that their constitutional rights have been violated by a public organ. The highest appellate courts are the Bundesgerichtshof in Karlsruhe for criminal and general civil cases, the Bundesarbeitsgericht in Kassel for labor disputes, the Bundessozialgericht in Kassel for matters of social law, the Bundesfinanzhof in München for tax law and the Bundesverwaltungsgericht in Leipzig for administrative matters.

11.5 Political Parties Represented in the Bundestag

There are quite a few parties that try to get their candidates elected into the Bundestag. Most of them fail miserably to get the required 5% of the popular vote or get three candidates elected directly, the requirement to send any of their candidates into the Bundestag. Currently, these five parties are represented in the Bundestag:


Christlich Demokratische Union 1999-02

Die Grünen



Freie Demokratische Partei 1999-02


Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands1995-8


Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus 1999-02

11.6 Elections and election dates

The Bundeswahlleiter ( Federal Returning Officer) maintains a list of upcoming election dates ( english version). The page also has a well-hidden search function at the bottom that lets you search for results of past elections, the boundaries of constituencies etc.

The only federal organ directly elected is the Bundestag. It is elected every four years by general, free and secret ballot. The state parliaments (Landtage) are elected every four or five years, depending on the state. Elections for local governments, such as mayors and city councils, are also held every four or five years. All the local governments in a state are usually elected on the same date, with sometimes very complicated election procedures (kumulieren and panaschieren will evoke fond memories in anybody who has ever filled in a multipage ballot). 1999-11

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o Last modified: 2001-09-03 Page created: 1999-02-06 Send comments about this page to