Bremen Council

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The Bremen Council (City Council) was the body in Bremen which determined the municipal interests of Bremen, then the Imperial Freyen Imperial and Hanseatic City of Bremen since the Middle Ages. The Senate of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen emerged from the council of the medieval estates .


The Council in the Middle Ages

Marckt in Bremmen , engraving from Matthäus Merian's Topographia Saxoniae Inferiori (1653)

From the citizens' committee to the council

Since 12./13. In the 19th century, the council developed in Bremen, which represented the municipal interests towards the city lords, the diocese of Bremen and the archbishopric of Bremen (also known as the archbishopric ). He was also a mediator in disputes among citizens.

In 1139 Bremen was named by the bishop as a civitas . 1157 was reported by a citizens' committee representing the interests of the city, which in 1158 resolved disputes with the mediation of Emperor Friedrich I. Barbarossa . In 1186, Frederick I chartered the first civil law in the Gelnhauser Privilege that no longer the church, but only the emperor and the senate could exercise government power over the city. Bremen was now formally a free imperial city .

In a document from 1206 there were regulations for the "burgenses" (citizens) by the archbishopric, who belonged to a citizens' committee, a predecessor of the council. In 1220, 16 jury members (not yet councilors ) signed a contract between the community and the Rüstringer Frisians. In 1225, consules , i.e. councilors, signed a contract with the Harlingers for the first time in a document . These first councilors known by name were Alardus de Wunestorpe, Heinricus de Borken, Walterus Ottonis filius, Heinricus de Verda, Rodolfus Osterlandi filius, Ludolfus de Nienburg and Luderus de Riden . Since 1230 the council has notarised and sealed in all community affairs .

Vogt and Gohgrefe

The city bailiff represented the archbishop and had been purely a court instance since around 1260/80. With the archbishop's increasing weakness in the 12th century, the rights of the city bailiff were pushed back, and the judgments made in the council were only confirmed in the Vogtgericht.

Since 1335 the council was able to influence the choice of the Gohgrefen (judges) for the Gohe courts in the rural Bremen Gohe .

A council of the haves

In the middle of the 11th century, only wealthy citizens and clergymen could become councilors among the citizens, residents without citizenship (often wagoners, day laborers, porters, city arms, etc.) and the clergy. Craftsmen were also excluded from the councilor's office during the 13th century.

Initially, the councilors in the four parishes (districts) Our Dear Women , St. Ansgarii , St. Martini and St. Stephani were elected by the citizens. The influence of the wealthy upper class was decisive. The councilors from the families soon became self-sufficient, which was occasionally interrupted by local elections. Most of the councilors held their office for life. Unrest and uprisings such as the council feud of 1304/1305, the banner run of 1365/66, the uprising of 104 men in 1532 and 1562, when part of the council had to evade during the Reformation, broke through this usual path.

Electoral requirements

In 1330 the incumbent council, the Wittheit and the municipality, i.e. all three constitutional organs of the city, agreed on the requirements that a councilor had to meet:

  • He had to be born free.
  • The minimum age was 24 years.
  • Owning a piece of land in the city with a value of at least 32 marks.
  • When he took office, he had to contribute one mark to pay off the city's pension debt.
  • Maintaining a horse worth three marks for the city.
  • He had to lead a befitting life.
  • As a guild master, he had to give up his craft during his time as councilor.
Councilor Heinrich von Aschen (1582–1654), painted in 1645 by Simon Peter Tileman


Until 1288 there were three councilors from each of the four parishes. So there were 12 councilors who were usually re-elected. From 1289 to 1304 there were 14 councilors. In 1303 all 14 councilors had agreed to resign from town charter and included 16 other citizens as mene town from the 16 districts in the codification.

So since 1304 there have been 36 councilors, nine from each quarter. Of these, 12 were in oath , i.e. for three years in office. They were referred to as the incumbent third of the council . All councilors together formed the Wittheit (not to be confused with the Wittheit zu Bremen from 1924). When one of the councilors, most of whom were elected for life, left, his colleagues elected his successor.

For a short time in 1330 the Wittheit grew to 114 members, of which 38, i.e. a third, were in office. In 1359 there were again 36 councilors, 12 of whom were the ruling third of the council. At this time, 15,000 people lived in Bremen.


Initially, after 1305, the guilds were still privileged in the council . Increasingly, however, the upper class gained decisive influence over the composition of the council.

The prerequisites for election to the council established in 1330 meant that craftsmen and the less wealthy were excluded from the council. Most of the councilors were initially land and pension owners and merchants. A small, wealthy, but unstable upper class of around 30 families dominated the economic foundations of the city.

The “revolt of the 104 men” by the underprivileged small craftsmen and broader classes was put down in 1532. But now again many parents were elected councilors of the city.

Since the 15th century, academically trained lawyers were appointed councilors.

Mayor since 1344

The mayor has been at the head of the ruling third of the council since 1344. Since 1398 there have been four mayors and 20 councilors, five from each of the four quarters. Half of the councilors were acting councilors. The new councilors were elected by a committee consisting of four councilors, one from each quarter. If a mayor was eliminated, his successor was elected from the council district of the resigned.


In the so-called Ratsdenkelbuch ( council memorial book ) from 1398, various officiencies (offices) that were exercised by the councilors are documented - since this was a reallocation , these posts probably existed before the end of the 14th century. The exercise of the offices was connected with the organization and control of various municipal tasks. The allocation of the positions was based on the principle of seniority and was sometimes associated with lucrative income.

Most offices were given to two councilors at the time, who shared the task and supervised each other:

  • the sealers kept the great city seal ,
  • the bulkheads had the supervision of the armory and the collection of the lap (a property tax),
  • the lords of the wall were responsible for the maintenance and expansion of the city ​​fortifications ,
  • the stables supervised the stables , in which the horses and carriages of the council were housed,
  • the wine lords ran the council cellar ,
  • the fishermen oversaw the town's fishing and ferry operations,
  • the bloodlords took part as assessors in negotiations of the high judiciary (serious crimes),
  • the Hanseatic Greven led the Bürgerbuch .

In addition, two councilors held the office of treasurer , two were responsible for the bar , two supervised the St.-Jürgen-Gasthaus , one the St.-Gertruden-Gasthaus and one the St.-Remberti-Hospital .

The town hall

The old council stalls in the Upper Town Hall

As early as 1251, a town hall was mentioned for the council as domus consulum , which stood on the corner of Sögestraße and Obernstraße . Around 1400, at the height of urban development, a new town hall was planned and built between 1405 and 1410 as a Gothic hall building. Mayor Johann Hemeling , councilors Friedrich Wigger and Hinrich von der Trupe , the builders Salomon and Martin and the stone sculptors Johannes and Henning were responsible for the construction of this Gothic town hall.

From 1426 to 1810

Bremen councilor, watercolor from the Renner Chronicle (17th century)

Foreign policy failures (including loss of territory in Friesland ), financial hardship and strife in the upper class led to the council being forced to resign from 1424 to 1426. In 1424, Mayor Herbort Duckel was overthrown and had to flee. A new council with two mayors (including Johann Vasmer , unjustifiably beheaded for high treason in 1430) and 12 councilors were elected, half of whom held office for half a year.

Duckel contributed decisively to the final enforcement of the supremacy of the old and wealthy families in Bremen from 1433 on by the Hanseatic also the Emperor ((exclusion) as imperial ban ) could muster against the advice of the 1426th The old state before 1426 with four mayors and now 24 councilors, each in equal parts from each of the four parishes, has been restored. Half of the councilors held office for one year. For the mayors, a distinction was therefore made between the four lines until 1852/53.

This division has remained the same for several centuries. Only during the uprising of 104 men in 1532 and during the Reformation disputes of 1562, when part of the council had to evade, were short-term changes effective.

While Bremer French period 1810-1813 was Wilhelm Ernst Wichelhausen as mayor only mayor of Bremen.

Isen, a feast for the new councilors

The Isen (break the ice) was Bremen's custom that has survived from the 14th century until the First World War. It referred to a (festival) meal that each newly elected councilor had to host for the city council at their own expense.

After 1813 to 1849

Since 1813, the term Senator prevailed instead of a councilor , even if it was still called “Ein Hochedler Hochweiser Rath” until 1821 and then simply “ The Senate ”. Even after 1813 the council consisted of four mayors and 24 senators.

From 1815 to 1866/71 the Senate was the government of the sovereign city-state of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen . Until 1848 the community tried to control the Senate through the citizens' convention and the parents in Bremen (head of the merchants). Since 1816, the Senate no longer complemented itself through its own decisions, but the Bremen citizenship had to be involved. Four nominees each from the Senate and four from the citizenship proposed three candidates, from which the Senate then selected the senator.

Each councilor or senator had the decision or the supervision for a multitude of sub-areas such as foreign affairs, taxes, city ​​military , courts, censorship, breeding and work house, poor and health care, foundations , coins , council cellar , savings bank (since 1824), citizens pasture , Water wheel, library , archive , city ​​theater , schools , post office, rural areas and Landherrnamt , ports and harbors in Bremerhaven . Deputations were also appointed for some areas .

From 1849 to 1918

After the revolution of 1848/49 , according to the Bremen constitution of 1849, the senate and the citizenship elected two senators and ten citizenship deputies as electors, who made three proposals for a senatorial office, of which the senate and the citizenship then jointly selected one as a senator. The government now consisted of two mayors and 24 senators, eight of them from the learned class (including five from lawyers) and five from the merchant class. Judges no longer belonged to the Senate, but to a college of judges.

In 1852, after the revolution, a new Senate Election Act determined that the citizens and the Senate each appointed five electors. These ten electors selected three candidates from five nominations by the city council, from which the Senate then elected the new senator. The Senate appointed the two mayors, each of whom remained in office for four years. As a rule, the mayors were regularly re-elected. In 1854, the constitution stipulated the number of mayors at two and that of senators at 16, of whom at least ten had to be legal scholars and four merchants. In 1884 there were only 14 senators at short notice. Senators had to be at least 30 years old and have Bremen citizenship. Women were not eligible.

See also: Bremen citizenship from 1854 to 1933: election results and members

From 1918 to 1933

Under the 1920 constitution, the Senate consisted of 14 members who were elected for an indefinite period. Men and women who were eligible for the citizenship and who had lived in Bremen for a year could become senators. There was no woman in office. Senators were not allowed to have any other occupation, only merchants could continue their business. The Senate elected two mayors; one of them was also President of the Senate.

From 1933 to 1945

During the Nazi era, the mayor became the governing mayor . The citizenship was dissolved. In accordance with the Führer principle , the government of Bremen was appointed by the Reich Governor for Oldenburg / Bremen. Senators were the heads of departments such as economics, finance, education, home affairs, labor, technology and welfare.

After 1945

Bremen town hall

After 1945 there were and are two mayors, one of them as President of the Senate, who chairs the Senate meetings, the other as his deputy. In 1945 the Senate was installed by the military government, then elected by the citizens and appointed by the military government until 1948.

According to Article 107 of the 1947 Constitution, the Senate members are elected by the citizens for one legislative period . Eligible are citizens who are eligible for citizenship. You may then no longer belong to the citizenry (Art. 108). A withdrawal of confidence for the Senate or individual members is possible (Art. 110). The two mayors are elected by the Senate (Art. 114). Although the president has no formal authority to issue guidelines for the government, he does exercise this politically.

The departmental reference of the senators remained after 1945 for u. a. the areas of justice / constitution, home affairs / sport, finance, economy, ports / shipping / transport, construction, work, welfare and social affairs, schools and / or education, science and culture, health and, at times, also for political liberation, housing, nutrition and Agriculture, foreign trade and later for women and for the environment. The departmental relationship changed more frequently.

The Senate has been supported by coalitions of the parties in the citizenry since around 1947: SPD / BDV  - SPD / CDU / FDP  - SPD / FDP - only SPD from 1971 to 1991  - SPD / FDP / Greens - SPD / CDU - SPD / Greens.

After 1945 women were elected as senators. The first female senator in Bremen was Käthe Popall ( KPD ) from 1945 , the first female mayor since 1967 Annemarie Mevissen (SPD).

The number of senators ranged from seven to thirteen. Few senators were represented in the Senate, especially from 1945 to 1951. Some senators were initially unpaid members of the Senate.

Control of the council

The community, represented by the four parishes were in the Middle Ages in the meenheit as Bürgerconvent organized.

Then in the 15th century the parents in Bremen (olderlude) claimed to be the head of the merchants to represent the citizens of Bremen. The Bremen merchants were recognized as a political body as early as the 12th century (1186, Gelnhauser privilege). She advised the city's "council" on their trade agreements.

In the new concord , since 1534 in the constitutional order as Bremen Town right specified in § 18 that the Council representatives from the meenheit , the merchants and the guilds (offices) could invite for consultation. This citizens' convention met irregularly and seldom, until 1810 separately in the four parishes.

House of Citizenship on Bremen's market square

It was not until after the French era that the convent met regularly and now took part in the legislative process and in financial management to a more decisive extent. Individual areas were dealt with in the deputations . The parents of the merchants had the decisive influence until 1848.

Since 1848/49 the democratically legitimized Bremen citizenship has existed as the state parliament of Bremen, which controls the Senate, which was only possible due to the general, direct, free, equal and secret electoral law in the period from 1920 to 1933 and since 1946.

Names of the Council

From the 16th to the 18th century, the name “Wohl-Edler Hochweiser Rath der Kayserl” is found in the documents. Freyen Reichs-Stadt Bremen ”, whereby the spelling Raht can also be found. Some documents also begin with the mayor and council of the Kayserl. Freyen Imperial City of Bremen . Koster also reports on the Senatus in his chronicle from the 17th century when he reports on advice.

See also


  • Hermann von Post : Fasti consulares et senatorii inclutæ reipublicæ Bremensis from anno 1433, repetiti et in praesens tempus producti. Brauer, Bremen 1726 (list of all councilors with life and official dates).
  • Herbert Black Forest : The Great Bremen Lexicon . 2nd, updated, revised and expanded edition. Edition Temmen, Bremen 2003, ISBN 3-86108-693-X .
  • Herbert Black Forest: History of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. Volume 1-4. Extended and improved edition. Edition Temmen, Bremen 1995, ISBN 3-86108-283-7 .
  • Nicola Wurthmann: Senators, friends and families . State Archive Bremen, vol. 69, Bremen 2009, ISBN 978-3-925729-55-3 .
  • Peter Koster: Chronicle of the Imperial Free Imperial and Hanseatic City of Bremen 1600–1700 . Temmen, Bremen 2004, ISBN 3-86108-687-5 .
  • Johann Hermann Duntze: History of the free city of Bremen . Heyse Verlag, Bremen 1848.
  • Werner Hennig: The councilors of Bremen in the Middle Ages. A contribution to Hanseatic social history. Diss. Mach. Goettingen 1958.

Individual evidence

  1. Hans G. Trüper: Knights and Knappen between Weser and Elbe . Landscape Association of the Former Duchies of Bremen and Verden, Stade 2000, p. 875
  2. ^ Konrad Elmshäuser : The manuscripts of the Bremen city law codifications of 1303, 1428 and 1433 . In: 700 years of Bremen law , p. 62 f.
  3. ^ Herbert Black Forest: History of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. Volume I, p. 70
  4. Konrad Elmshäuser, Hans-Christoph Hoffmann, Hans-Joachim Manske : The town hall and the Roland on the market square in Bremen (printing of the UNESCO World Heritage application). Edition Temmen, Bremen, 2002, ISBN 3-86108-682-4
  5. ^ Peter Koster: Chronicle of the Imperial Free Imperial and Hanseatic City of Bremen 1600–1700 . I.a. P. 36