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Are Bremen, Hamburg & Berlin separate federal states? Logo

The cities of Hamburg and Berlin are independent cities and at the same time federal states. They are called city-states. Bremen is a special case, consisting of the two independent cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven. These cities are considered separate federal states and are listed in the preamble of the Basic Law. You have a seat and vote in the Federal Council, which represents the interests of the federal states in the legislative process as the second chamber of parliament. The mayors of the cities, who have different titles, are members of the Prime Minister’s Conference. The city-states each have their own state constitution. The origins of the city-states each have different historical roots.

Special rights in financial equalization

In the financial equalization between the federal states, the city-states are treated with privileged status, as it is assumed that the necessary expenditures in cities are higher than in large-scale states with a high proportion of rural regions.

Dissolution of individual city-states?

The merger of city-states with the surrounding federal states is discussed again and again in order to save administrative costs. This would theoretically be possible by changing the Basic Law. Apart from the fact that real savings would be doubtful, this regularly encounters considerable resistance from the population, for whom the independence of their regions is important. In 1996 the Brandenburgers rejected a merger with Berlin by a clear majority. In Hamburg, this discussion has led to improved cooperation between the city and the states of Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony in the Hamburg metropolitan region.

The federal capital Berlin

As the capital of the State of Prussia, Berlin played a special role as a royal residence city that was ruled directly by the kings. Under Freiherr vom Stein, an urban self-government was formed for the first time, based on the communal structures built up during the Napoleonic occupation and the election of an administrative committee at the time. In 1871 Berlin became the capital of the German Empire and remained the capital of Prussia. During the Weimar Republic, the capital was considerably enlarged through incorporations.

After the collapse of the National Socialist state, the Allies divided Berlin into four sectors, each of which was assigned to one of the victorious powers Russia, USA, France and Great Britain and administered by a joint Allied headquarters. In 1948 a first city council was elected in the western zones. When the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in May 1949, the western zones of the city of Berlin, which was surrounded by the GDR, were incorporated into the Basic Law as a separate federal state.

In 1950 the first House of Representatives of the new city-state of Berlin was elected, which in turn elected the Senate of Berlin with a Governing Mayor at its head. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Berlin was integrated and Berlin became the new federal capital by resolution of the Bundestag.

Free Hanseatic City of Hamburg

Hamburg already has a long tradition as a Free Imperial City and later as a Free City in the German Confederation. During the Weimar Republic, the citizens of Hamburg were elected as the state’s parliament. The state administration and the local government are identical. The Hamburg First Mayor is head of government as President of the Senate and Mayor in personal union as well as a member of the Prime Minister’s Conference. As a representative of Hamburg, he has a seat and vote in the Federal Council. The state parliament is the Hamburg parliament, which elects the first mayor.

The two-city state of Bremen

Bremen and Bremerhaven are ruled by a mayor and together form the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. The mayor of Bremen is also the head of government of the two-city state of Bremen, which consists of Bremen and Bremerhaven. The Mayor of Bremen governs the city of Bremen with the Bremen administration in personal union with the office of President of the Senate. The Senate forms the government of the federal state, the Senate President thus corresponds to the Prime Minister in the territorial states. As President of the Senate, he also governs Bremerhaven, which is led by a Lord Mayor at district and community level. The state parliament is the Bremen citizenship, in which 15 of the 84 seats are reserved for representatives from Bremerhaven.

The overseas port area within Bremerhaven does not belong to Bremerhaven, but is determined directly from Bremen as an exclave of the city of Bremen. Bremerhaven itself was bought by Bremen from the Kingdom of Hanover in 1827 in order to build a replacement for the increasingly silted up Bremer Weser port. After the Second World War, Bremerhaven became an American enclave within the surrounding British occupation zone. The USA had its own seaport in Germany. Even before the Basic Law was passed, they proclaimed the state of the Hanseatic City of Bremen. The city of Bremerhaven joined the new federal state. The common state constitution was adopted in a referendum in autumn 1947.