Honorary citizen

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Awarded honorary citizenship of the city of Dresden to Manfred von Ardenne in 1989
Certificate of honorary citizenship of the city of Uetersen from 1879
Certificate conferring honorary citizenship of the Salem community to Berthold Margrave of Baden in 1934
Certificate from Gau-Odernheim conferring honorary citizenship on Adolf Hitler on May 25, 1932, signature of Heinrich Ritter

Honorary citizen is usually the highest distinction given by a city or a municipality for a personality who has made an outstanding contribution to the well-being of the citizens or the reputation of the place. If it is not revoked, honorary citizenship lasts until the end of life. The appointment or withdrawal of honorary citizenship in Germany is usually regulated in the main statute, usually a two-thirds majority of the municipal council is required. In addition, universities award honorary citizenship.


Honorary citizenship is usually granted for life. Honorary citizenship is sometimes associated with special privileges , for example the granting of preferential treatment (free travel, free theater tickets, etc.) in city-owned institutions. It has also become quite common to show prominent people in this way who, as the son or daughter of this place, have achieved particular national fame. The honorary citizenship certificate is usually presented personally, so that the acceptance also represents a tribute to the city.

Honorary citizenship originally goes back to the French Revolution and its title “citoyen d'honneur”. The first German cities to award a similar honorary title were Saarbrücken and Hanover in 1790 and Frankfurt am Main and Bremen in 1795 .

In Germany, honorary citizenship was designed as an honorary right and was originally only granted to non-citizens . For example, the 1st honorary citizen of Berlin Konrad Gottlieb Ribbeck (* 1759, † 1826) was awarded this award on July 6, 1813, although he was not a landowner in Berlin and, according to Stein's city code of 1808, was not entitled to acquire citizenship .

The citizenship to the award was granted by the city authorities. As a rule, there were no legal effects associated with this honorary citizenship .

Variants of the award

With regard to the media effect of lower weighted awards, honors with medals, rings of honor or badges of honor as well as the title of city ​​elder are awarded for many years of reliable engagement in city parliaments or other important honorary offices.

In 1995 the city ​​of Gotha created the title of "Honored Citizen of the City" for Josef Ritter von Gadolla , the last " combat commandant " of Gotha executed in the spring of 1945 for attempting to surrender the city . In addition, so far (as of 2015) a further 31 personalities who had made a contribution to the development and the good reputation of the city, but who had already passed away, were named "Honored Citizens".

In 2003, the city ​​of Delmenhorst invented the symbolic title "Honorary Ambassador" for the pop singer Sarah Connor , as honorary citizenship was out of the question due to a lack of long-term voluntary commitment.

The deceased can be honored at the local level through an honorary grave , at a higher level through a state act . Sometimes a memorial plaque is put up in the town hall or in another prominent place on which the names of all honorary citizens are recorded; Often, streets and squares are also named after honorary citizens (but usually only after death). However, the honorary citizenship as such is usually not the reason for this, but the circumstances that led to its award also justify the designation.

In the United States , states also give honorary citizenship. This honorary citizenship can also come about by donating a certain amount. In Texas, u. U. a donation of US $ 500 to obtain honorary citizenship.

Universities can appoint honorary senators or honorary citizens of the university in accordance with their statutes and their origins . B. Cardinal Karl Lehmann honorary citizen of the University of Mainz . This is based on their own tradition, according to which, since the Middle Ages , the universities formed a jurisdiction independent of the city in which they were located .

In rare cases, states also grant honorary citizenship. Thus Theodor Wolf honorary citizen in 1921 Ecuador appointed. Sir Winston Churchill became an honorary citizen of the United States of America in 1963 by a resolution of the US Congress . Franklin Chang-Diaz is an honorary citizen of Costa Rica . Raoul Wallenberg was even made an honorary citizen of three states ( Israel , USA and Canada ).

Honorary citizenship traditionally ends with the death of the recipient.

Revocation of honorary citizenship

Since honorary citizenship traditionally only ends with the death of the honored person, it can also be revoked again during his or her lifetime.

The posthumous revocation of honorary citizenship is controversial , as this has already legally expired at this point in time.

January 16, 1946: Decision of the City Council of Braunschweig regarding the removal of the entries of Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring, Dietrich Klagges and Baldur von Schirachs from the city's Golden Book as well as the revocation of honorary citizenship.

This was increasingly practiced especially for representatives of the Nazi regime in order to symbolically distance themselves from it. Adolf Hitler received them in around 4,000 cities (see Adolf Hitler as an honorary citizen ). For (living) war criminals, the loss of honorary citizenship was determined in accordance with Article VIII, Section II, Letter i of Directive 38 of the Allied Control Council in Germany of October 12, 1946. Of course, this required a judicial conviction and therefore did not apply to Hitler.

Some cities have symbolically denied honorary citizenship to those in power who had already died. The Berlin magistrate withdrew honorary citizenship from Hitler and Joseph Goebbels in 1948 . Further revocations of the honorary citizenship of Hitler in recent times took place u. a. in Düsseldorf (2000), Saarbrücken (2001), Aschersleben (2006), Bad Doberan , Biedenkopf (2007) and Kleve (2008) and in Forst (Lausitz) (2009). In Austria he was stripped of his honorary citizenship of Amstetten in May 2011 .

On the other hand, some municipalities argue that the honorary citizenship of the dead cannot be redeemed, since honorary citizenship as a personal distinction can only be granted and withdrawn to a living person. Such municipalities then occasionally symbolically distance themselves from the former honorary citizens without formal disqualification. a. 2013 in Schmidmühlen and 2016 in Lünen . This approach corresponds to the view of constitutional lawyer Theo Öhlinger : The withdrawal “is not legally necessary, but it is a symbolic act if certain people are honorary citizens who [...] do anything but contribute to the honor of the community, then of course it has makes sense to [...] publicly distance oneself. "

After German reunification , honorary citizenships that had been granted by the leadership of the GDR were withdrawn in municipalities in the new federal states . In 1992 the honorary citizenship of Berlin was revoked from the living Erich Honecker and posthumously Wilhelm Pieck , Friedrich Ebert junior as well as numerous partly living and partly deceased Soviet military personnel and functionaries.

Honorary citizenship posthumously

The revocation of the honorary citizenship of the dead, which began after 1945, was followed in 1970 by the granting of honorary citizenship to the dead. In that year East Berlin awarded honorary citizenship to Heinrich Zille, who died in 1929, and Otto Nagel, who died in 1967, and to Nikolai Erastowitsch Bersarin, who died in 1945, in 1975 . In 2002, reunified Berlin honored Marlene Dietrich, who died in 1992, with honorary citizenship. Sixty years after his death, in 2003, the Saarland capital of Saarbrücken granted the resistance fighter against National Socialism Willi Graf, who was executed in 1943 , honorary citizenship , and in 2016, following approval by the German Association of Cities, the Social Democrat Max Braun, who died in 1945 . After the Thuringian Ministry of the Interior first approved a posthumous award of honorary citizenship in 2017, the last Gotha combat commander, Josef Ritter von Gadolla , who was shot dead in 1945, was made an honorary citizen of Gotha in May 2018.


The 1st Polish Armored Division liberated the Dutch city of Breda (which had been occupied by the Wehrmacht since May 1940 ) on October 29, 1944 . For this, all soldiers of this unit were made honorary citizens of the city.

Certificate of appointment to the "Hippo of Honor" of the city of Kronberg im Taunus

See also


  • Karlheinz Spielmann : Honorary Citizen and Honors Past and Present. A documentation on German and Central European history. 2 volumes, self-published, Dortmund-Barop 1965, 3rd, significantly expanded edition, self-published, Dortmund-Barop 1967, supplementary volume, self-published, Dortmund-Barop 1971.

Web links

Commons : Honorary Citizenship  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The clever alphabet . Third volume, Berlin [1935], keyword "Ehrenbürrechte", p. 83, column 1
  2. ^ Fleischmann, Birgit: Die Ehrenbürger Berlins , Berlin 1993, p. 8; ISBN 3-7759-0380-1
  3. ^ Meyer's Large Conversational Lexicon . Fifth volume (6th edition), Leipzig and Vienna 1908, keyword "Ehrenbürger", p. 412, column 1
  4. Honored Citizens . In: gotha.de . City administration Gotha. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  5. Hitler no longer an honorary citizen in Amstetten. . In: orf.at . ORF. May 24, 2011. Archived from the original on December 30, 2012. Retrieved on May 24, 2011.
  6. ^ At a distance to honorary citizenships. In: Mittelbayerische from April 26, 2013.
  7. See the em. Univ.-Prof. Theo Öhlinger, constitutional lawyer at the University of Vienna and author, interviewed on the subject in ZIB 2 of the ORF on May 24, 2011. ( Transcript of the contribution Hitler as an honorary citizen from ORF TVthek on May 24, 2011; the broadcast was only available for 7 days. )
  8. ^ Josef von Gadolla: Dead rescuer of the city of Gotha becomes an honorary citizen . In: mdr.de . MDR THURINGIA. May 16, 2018.