Weimar Constitution

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Basic data
Title: The constitution of the German Empire
Short title: Weimar Constitution
Abbreviation: WRV
Type: Constitution
Scope: German Empire
Legal matter: Constitutional law
References : 401-2
Issued on: August 11, 1919
Entry into force on: August 14, 1919
Weblink: Text of the WRV of August 11, 1919, RGBl. 1919, p. 1383
Please note the note on the applicable legal version.
The final page of the Weimar Imperial Constitution with the signatures of Friedrich Ebert and the members of the Bauer government
The proclamation of the constitution of the German Reich in the Reichsgesetzblatt on August 14, 1919

The Weimar Constitution (also Weimar Constitution , WRV for short ; officially: Constitution of the German Reich ) was the first democratic constitution in Germany adopted on July 31, 1919 in Weimar , signed on August 11 and announced on August 14, 1919 . With it, the German Reich became a federal republic with a mixed presidential and parliamentary system of government .

The Weimar Constitution replaced the law on provisional imperial power passed on February 10, 1919 , which described the most important future constitutional organs and their responsibilities . Some of their articles were based on the Paulskirche constitution of 1849. For their part, some were incorporated into the Basic Law in force today for the Federal Republic of Germany .

After the place of their adoption, the German Reich is called the Weimar Republic for the duration of its democratic period from 1919 to 1933 . In the following years August 11th assumed the character of a national holiday , although it never officially received this status.

History of the constitution


The German Revolution of 1848/49 was part of a Europe-wide revolutionary movement . In it the resistance to the prevailing monarchical order after the Restoration was expressed. In its wake, the constitution of the planned German Reich was passed on March 27, 1849 in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt am Main by the constituent German national assembly after long discussions. It was officially announced a day later. Because of the location of the National Assembly, it is referred to as the Paulskirche constitution or the Frankfurt Reich constitution .

The Paulskirche constitution provided for the creation of a hereditary monarchy with constitutional features. For this purpose, the Imperial Deputation proposed the German Imperial Crown to the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV . This appealed to the divine right and refused. With this the constitution of the Paulskirche parliament failed.

On April 16, 1871, Bismarck's Imperial Constitution came into effect as the constitution of the newly founded German Empire . It emerged from the constitution of the North German Confederation of 1867, which was initially replaced on January 1, 1871 by a constitution of the German Confederation with the same content. The constitution coined by Otto von Bismarck had no fundamental rights part , but was limited to provisions for the competences of the individual state organs . It also continued to provide for the constitutional monarchy that was common in Europe at that time as the form of government.

The Bismarck Reich constitution was only replaced by the coming into force of the Weimar constitution in 1919, which was based on the Paulskirche constitution and again contained a section of basic rights.

In terms of state theory , the Weimar Constitution was influenced by Robert Redslob's parliamentary theory , which was specifically incorporated into the constitutional text through the "father" of the Weimar Constitution, Hugo Preuss .

About the name of the constitution

The official name for the document is Constitution of the German Reich . In order to differentiate it conceptually from the Bismarckian constitution , which is also officially called Bismarck's constitution , it is referred to in historical studies and journalism as the Weimar constitution or the Weimar constitution after its place of origin in Weimar .

The Constitutional Process

Call for elections on the cover of the illustrated newspaper , January 1919: “Germans! Creates clarity both internally and externally. "
Memorial plaque at the German National Theater Weimar , designed by Walter Gropius in 1921

On January 19, 1919, the elections for the constituent national assembly took place. Women had both active and passive voting rights . The seats were distributed according to proportional representation . The SPD was the strongest parliamentary group and formed the so-called Weimar coalition with the center and the German Democratic Party (DDP) .

On February 6, 1919, the National Assembly met for the first time in the German National Theater in Weimar. Berlin was not the venue because unrest there endangered the independence and security of the MPs. The choice of Weimar was probably also meant as a sign of the connection to the humanity ideals of the Weimar Classicism , but it was mainly for military reasons - the Erfurt originally planned would have been more difficult to defend in the event of an attack.

The first draft of the Constitution of the State Secretary of the Office was the Interior and later Minister of the Interior Hugo Preuss instrumental in after the temporary considerations of the Council of People's Representatives , Max Weber to refer to that office, were not implemented.

Since almost all the political structures of the imperial era, such as the Federal Council , which were enshrined in the imperial constitution of 1871 , fell away or became meaningless, there were disputes between the parties who were supporters of the monarchy and those who supported the republic. On July 31, 1919, the National Assembly passed the constitution in its final form with 262 votes to 75; 84 MPs were absent. On August 11, 1919, President Friedrich Ebert signed the Weimar Constitution in Schwarzburg . It came into force with its promulgation on August 14, 1919 (Reichsgesetzblatt 1919, p. 1383). August 11th became the national holiday of the Weimar Republic because it was supposed to commemorate the "birth of democracy in Germany".

Continuation of the constitution after 1933

The Weimar Constitution was also true after the seizure of power of the NSDAP on 30 January 1933 formally continued. However, it was largely overridden by constitutional-breaking laws, initially through the ordinance of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State , better known as the "Reichstag Fire Ordinance" of February 28, 1933. The ordinance canceled the 81 mandates of the Communist Party of Germany and paved the way free for the necessary two-thirds majority to amend the constitution , which enabled the law to remedy the plight of the people and empire ("Enabling Act"). The law, initially limited to four years, was passed on March 23, 1933 and later extended several times. The final line was drawn by the law on the head of state of the German Reich passed by Hitler's Reich government on August 1, 1934, Section 1 of which "united the office of Reich President [...] with that of Reich Chancellor" and stipulated that with the death of Paul von Hindenburg all "The previous powers of the Reich President were transferred to the Führer and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler". With this law Hitler got rid of the authority of the Reich President with Hindenburg's death on August 2, 1934, which according to Art. 53 WRV could have fallen and thus brought about a return to the WRV. In a referendum on the head of state of the German Reich on August 19, 1934, almost 90% of those who voted affirmed the unification of both offices .

As early as 1933, leading commentators from the Nazi era considered the Weimar Constitution to be repealed and described the Enabling Act as the "Provisional Constitutional Law of the New Germany". The transfer of the constitutional power to the Reich government (and thus the removal of its reservation that the Reichsrat and Reichstag remain untouched) was then regulated by Article 4 of the law on the reconstruction of the Reich of January 30, 1934. According to this approach, the Weimar constitution has become irrelevant.

Even after the Allied Control Council took over government on June 5, 1945, the Weimar Constitution remained inoperative.

The WRV was not explicitly repealed by the Basic Law. According to Art. 140 GG , however, only the provisions on religion and religious societies of Articles 136, 137, 138, 139 and 141 of the Weimar Constitution of August 11, 1919 are part of the Basic Law. The former constitutional judge Udo Di Fabio said: “The constitution was never formally and expressly suspended, neither by Nazi rule nor by Allied occupation law. With the entry into force of the Basic Law, which is a fully valid constitution, according to general principles of constitutional replacement by new constitution (see Article 146 of the Basic Law), it must be assumed that the Weimar Constitution will also formally expire. "

According to Article 123 (1) of the Basic Law, Article 109 (3) sentence 2 of the WRV continues to apply as simple federal law with regard to the treatment of names of nobility . According to this, nobility designations are "only part of the name and may no longer be awarded."

Content of the constitution

According to the German constitutional tradition, the constitution was functionally divided into three parts. On the one hand, in external relations, the competence of the Reich was delimited from the competence of the Reichsländer (the former federal states of the Kaiserreich ) (association competence of the Reich). On the other hand, the constitution represented an organizational statute in which the state organs of the Reich were named and their competencies were established among one another (organ competence). As far as the regulations of the Reich constitution regulated the authority, the constitution constituted internal law. A third kind of regulation regulated the relationship between the citizens and the state. In contrast to Bismarck's constitution , the second main part of the Weimar constitution contained a comprehensive catalog of fundamental rights.

First, the responsibilities of the Reich are presented, then an overview of the state organs (Reichstag, Reich President and Reich government, Reichsrat, State Court) and their competencies are given. Finally, the relationship between citizens and the Reich (basic rights, basic duties) is discussed.

Development of the Weimar Constitution

Book cover of the Weimar Constitution
  • preamble
  • First main part: Structure and tasks of the empire
  • Second main part: Basic rights and basic duties of Germans
    • First section: the individual
    • Section Two: Community Life
    • Third Section: Religion and Religious Societies
    • Fourth section: education and school
    • Fifth Section: Economic Life
  • Transitional and final provisions

Powers of the empire

The constitution follows the principle of limited individual authority. Where the Reich was not expressly declared responsible by the constitution, the Reichsländer were appointed (“in case of doubt for the Reichsländer”). However, the competences of the empire were expanded considerably compared to the Bismarckian constitution.


The empire could only legislate where the constitution expressly granted it a title. A distinction was made between legislative titles in the subject area of ​​which only the Reich was allowed to regulate (Art. 6 WRV, exclusive legislation), and titles in which the Länder could legislate if the Reich did not act (Art. 7 f. WRV , so-called competing legislation ) and titles on which the Reich was only allowed to base a law when there was a need for a uniform regulation (Art. 9 WRV). A framework legislative competence was also provided for in Art. 10 WRV. As far as the Reich had passed laws, Reich law broke state law ; the state law became null and void.

Did the exclusive legislation still include areas that were traditionally incumbent on the rich ( state treaties and colonial affairs , nationality , freedom of movement in the Reich, immigration and emigration, extradition, military law, coinage, customs law including the unity of customs and trade territory and the free movement of goods, mail - and telecommunications), the competing legislation went far beyond the usual. In addition to the traditional subjects of imperial law (judicial policy: civil law , commercial law , criminal law , procedural law and law enforcement; domestic policy: passport law, aliens police, press, association, assembly system; social and labor policy: labor law , social insurance, establishment of professional representations for the Reich territory; Transport policy: maritime shipping, railways, inland shipping, vehicle traffic on land, in the water and in the air; economic policy: insurance, banking, stock exchange, trade law, socialization, expropriation law, trade, the measurement and weight system, the issuance of paper money) were legislative competences with regard to the Poor welfare, welfare for hikers, welfare for the war participants and their survivors, establishment of professional representations for the Reich territory, road construction, mining, health care, veterinary services, traffic with food and beverages, coastal fishing, plant protection, theater and d Movie theater and in particular about tax law (taxes and contributions) including the associated procedural law. Politically, this responsibility of the Reich for the states meant that the Reich was no longer their “boarder”, but that it now had the opportunity to determine its own revenues. It could even determine the taxes that went to the countries. The empire only had to take into account the viability of the countries. In terms of power politics, the requirements legislation on regulatory and police law could also be significant, although the Reich made no use of it. Therefore, the state police law remained. Even in traditional state affairs such as school and university policy, the Reich was able to enact framework laws. The framework legislation also extended to the rights and obligations of religious societies, the scientific library system, the law of civil servants of the federal states and other corporations, land law, land distribution, settlement and homesteads, the binding of landed property, housing, population distribution and the funeral service.

The elements of direct democracy in the Weimar constitution were completely new . The people had the opportunity to influence legislation through referendums and referendums . According to Article 73, Paragraph 3, a referendum was to be held if at least 10% of the eligible voters requested such a referendum. The Reichstag was able to ward off a referendum by passing a law with the content of the referendum unchanged. A decision of the Reichstag could only be overridden by referendum if the majority of those eligible to vote participated in the vote. The Reich President could determine that a law had to be confirmed by a referendum (Art. 73).

Government and Administration

The Reich administration initially follows the German constitutional tradition: Reich laws are implemented by the authorities of the federal states. According to this, the legislative competence was apparently regulated in excess of the administrative competence: Land laws were implemented by the Länder in their own affairs; the same applied to imperial laws, unless the imperial constitution provided for enforcement by imperial authorities. Completely different from Bismarck's Imperial Constitution and the Basic Law , today's constitution of Germany, the Reich could take on the enforcement authority through a simple Imperial Law (Art. 14 WRV). Such a Reich law did not even trigger the approval of the Reichsrat. The empire thus had the political power to equate the enforcement of imperial law with the legislative competence of the empire through imperial law.

The Reich government was responsible for overseeing the implementation of Reich laws by the states . With the consent of the Reichsrat, the Reich government could issue administrative regulations for the laws that were implemented by the Länder . She could instruct state authorities. For the purpose of supervision it could send representatives to the highest state authorities and, with their consent, to the middle and lower authorities.

A unified Reich administration by constitution existed z. B. for the foreign service, the customs and consumption tax administration, the postal and telecommunications system, the Reichsbahn, the Reich waterway administration. The tax administration was, however, a matter for the states. The Reich could, however, issue instructions to the federal states regarding the implementation of the Reich tax laws and set up control authorities.

Judicial power

The Länder only had their usual jurisdiction in terms of case law . The states were judges, unless the empire was constitutionally a judge. The empire could not create jurisdiction over the courts by simple imperial law. According to the constitution, an imperial court was provided; a state court for the German Reich was also set up. The previously existing military jurisdiction of the Reich was dissolved in favor of ordinary jurisdiction. Administrative courts should also exist in both the Reich and the Länder . However, a Reich Administrative Court was not brought into being until 1942.

State organs

The constitution of the Weimar Republic

According to the Weimar Constitution, the German Reich had the Reichstag, the Reich President, the Reich Government, the Reichsrat and the State Court as state organs . The empire acted through its state organs. Article 1 of the constitution constituted the new form of government, a republic . The election of the Reichstag and Reich President by the German people, the ability of the people to influence legislation through referendums and referendums, formed the state authority emanating from the people in the form of a mixed representative plebiscitary democracy ( popular sovereignty ). Article 1 WRV also emphasized this again. Every country that is part of the German Reich must have a free-state constitution, and its representative body must be determined in a general, equal, direct and secret proportional representation of men and women (Art. 17 WRV); this ensured that the basic internal structure of the empire and the states is the same.


The most important organ was the popularly elected Reichstag , which exercised legislation (legislative power) and reviewed the Reich government. Parliamentarianism was shaped by the possibility of a vote of no confidence . The Reichstag was elected for four years. The principle of proportional representation was applied, that is: the composition of parliament corresponded exactly to the proportion of the votes cast. Even under the imperial constitution of 1871, there was equal voting rights. The representatives, who are elected by general, secret, equal and direct proportional representation of persons over 20 years of age (Art. 22), as representatives of the people, are only subject to their conscience and are not bound by orders (Art. 21). The Reichstag can be dissolved by the Reich President in accordance with Article 25 , but only once for the same reason. However, the Reichstag can pass a referendum on the removal of the Reich President with a two-thirds majority (Art. 43).

It was also stipulated that the Reich constitution can only be changed by the Reichstag if at least two-thirds of the statutory number of members is present with a two-thirds majority of those present or by a majority of those who are eligible to vote in a referendum that takes place on the basis of a referendum (Art . 76). The power to change the constitution was completely free in terms of content; In particular, it was not bound by certain basic state structure provisions (e.g. separation of powers , federalism , etc.). The constitutional amendment did not have to be made in the constitution itself, but could also be made by way of individual laws with constitutional status. Changes to the constitution could be limited in time. This extensive freedom of the Reichstag enabled him to pass temporary constitutional changes in individual laws, which provided for the transfer of legislative power to the Reich government (Enabling Act).

President of the empire

The Reich President is elected “by the entire German people”. He must be at least 35 years old (Art. 41). The term of office of the Reich President is seven years, the Reichstag can pass a referendum on the removal of the Reich President with a two-thirds majority (Art. 43). The Reich President is the representative of the Reich under international law (Article 45) and Commander-in-Chief over the entire armed forces of the Reich (Article 47). In order to restore peace in the Reich, he can suspend fundamental rights and take the measures necessary to restore public security and order (Art. 48, Paragraph 2). The latter competence was understood in state practice and jurisprudence as the authority to issue emergency ordinances.

In order to limit the power of parliament, the office of the Reich President was given far-reaching powers. In his position he was comparable to the strong head of state of the constitutional monarchy ("substitute emperor"). The Reich President appointed and dismissed the members of the Reich Government, represented the people, appointed judges (on the proposal of the Reichsrat) and had supreme command of the Reichswehr. Art. 25 (dissolution of the Reichstag) and 48 (right to override basic rights when order is at risk) in particular clearly demonstrated his strong position of power.

Imperial government

The Reich government consisted of the Reich Chancellor and the Reich Ministers proposed by him, who, like the Chancellor himself, were appointed by the Reich President (Articles 52 and 53) and not elected by the Reichstag. The Reich government formed a real collegial body within which each Reich Minister made his own decisions within his area of ​​expertise ( departmental principle ). According to Article 56, Paragraph 2, each Reich Minister managed the branch of business entrusted to him independently and under his own responsibility to the Reichstag. The Reich ministers had to submit to the Reich government all bills, further matters for which the constitution or statute stipulated this, as well as disagreements on issues affecting the business area of ​​several Reich ministers, for consultation and resolution.

The Reich Chancellor was responsible for fundamental questions and matters relating to coordination between the departments within the scope of his guideline competence. Alternatively, the cabinet could also decide by a majority of votes; in the event of a tie, the vote of the Reich Chancellor decided. With the approval of the Reich President, the Reich Government adopted rules of procedure.

The Reich government had the right to initiate legislation in the Reichstag. She also had the right to propose to the Reichsrat.

It was also the supreme supervisory authority for the implementation of the Reich laws by the states. The Reich government was able to issue uniform administrative regulations with the consent of the Reichsrat. It was even able to give general instructions to the state authorities regarding the execution of imperial laws in individual cases. It was authorized to send representatives to the state central authorities to monitor the implementation of the Reich laws and, with their consent, to the lower authorities.

Both the Reich Chancellor and the Reich Ministers must resign if the Reichstag withdraws their trust (Art. 54). This regulation, which resulted in a parliamentary system of government , found its forerunner regulation in the October constitution . With this destructive vote of no confidence , the Reichstag was able to overthrow every single Reich Minister - and not just the Reich government as a whole - without a parliamentary majority for a new Reich government or for a new Reich Minister in the Reichstag. In practice, this destructive vote of no confidence was used by the NSDAP and the KPD from the point in time at which the Weimar coalition no longer had a parliamentary majority to overthrow the governments without them being able to form a coalition government together. Art. 54 contributed significantly to the destabilization of the republic, which was expressed in a total of 21 governments of the Weimar Republic.


The Reichsrat was formed as a further constitutional organ. He represented the states in the legislation and administration of the Reich (Art. 60 WRV). The number of votes of the individual countries was dependent on the size and number of inhabitants of the country (Art. 61 Para. 1 WRV). However, according to Art. 61 Para. 1 Sentence 4 WRV, no country was allowed to be represented by more than two fifths of all votes. As a result, Prussia only received 26 of the 66 votes. If the proportional principle had been strictly implemented, Prussia would have allowed 53 votes. Bavaria came in second with 11 votes. According to Article 63, Paragraph 1, Sentence 1 of the WRV, the Reichsrat was composed of representatives of the state governments. However, according to Art. 63 para. 1 sentence 2 WRV, half of the Prussian votes are appointed by the Prussian provincial administrations in accordance with a state law. Thus the Prussian state government sent only 13 representatives, whereas the remaining 13 votes were taken by one representative each from the 13 Prussian provinces. The representatives of the state governments had an imperative mandate , while the representatives of the Prussian provinces had a free mandate . Article 61 (2) provided that German Austria was granted the right to participate in the Reichsrat after it became part of the German Reich (which in the end did not happen).

The Reichsrat had the right to veto the resolutions of the Reichstag. He was also allowed to make suggestions for the composition of the Imperial Court. In contrast to the Reich President and the Reichstag, he had only a very small share of power in the Weimar Republic; in general it is rated as weaker than the Bundesrat in the German Empire or in the Federal Republic.

State Court

In accordance with a Reich law, a state court for the German Reich was established. The State Court was responsible in particular for constitutional disputes within a country in which no court exists to settle them, as well as for disputes of a non-private nature between different countries or between the Reich and a country at the request of one of the disputing parties. Furthermore, the State Court of Justice was responsible for indicting the President, Reich Chancellor or Minister at the request of the Reichstag with the assertion that the Reich President, the Reich Chancellor or a Reich Minister had culpably violated the Reich constitution or a Reich law.

Basic rights and basic duties of Germans

First section: the individual

The first section of the second main part explains the equality of all Germans before the law and the abolition of class differences (Art. 109). Legal equality is therefore still a civil right , not a human right , as under the Basic Law. No further titles of nobility are awarded, the state does not award any medals or decorations, and no German may accept foreign titles or medals (Art. 109). The inviolability of the home (Art. 115) and the right to free opinion (and expression) are guaranteed. For the first time in German history, the constitution also contained an article guaranteeing so-called “foreign-speaking parts of the people” (e.g. Lithuanians , Sorbs and Poles ) the right to use their language (Art. 113).

Section Two: Community Life

The second section stipulates the protection of marriage and motherhood (Art. 119), as well as freedom of assembly (Art. 123), freedom of choice (Art. 125) and equal rights for female civil servants (Art. 128). Civil servants are not servants of one party, but of society as a whole (Art. 130).

Third Section: Religion and Religious Societies

In the third section, freedom of belief and freedom of conscience are guaranteed. A state church is dispensed with; thus the " sovereign church regiment " , which had been in effect until then, was abolished, according to which the sovereign was the bearer of government power in the Protestant regional church. In Article 138, the constitutional mandate is given to replace state services to the churches.

Fourth section: education and school

The fourth section explains that the state oversees the school system. There are public schools and compulsory education. According to the Weimar School Compromise , a supplementary Reich School Act was to determine the democratic structure of the school system more precisely. Incidentally, in this section, the protection of monuments is set as a task of the state.

Fifth Section: Economic Life

The fifth section regulates economic life and sets out what was rather unusual for this time, also “social rights” (Art. 162). According to Article 151, Paragraph 1, Clause 1, economic life must “ conform to the principles of justice with the aim of ensuring a dignified existence for all”. The economic freedom of the individual is guaranteed, but finds its limits in these principles. Article 153, Paragraph 3 states: “Property obliges. Its use should at the same time serve the common good. ”In addition, the right to adequate housing (Art. 155) is mentioned, and mothers, the sick and the elderly are given special protection (Art. 161). In addition, this section contains the regulation of inheritance law and the creation of uniform labor law . The protection of copyrights (Art. 158) and employee rights is guaranteed, which also includes the formation of works councils . The constitutional mandate to create a Reich Economic Council remained unfulfilled until the end of the Weimar Republic. Only a Provisional Reich Economic Council came into being in 1920 (Articles 161 to 164).

Transitional and final provisions

The transitional and final provisions regulate the entry into force of the individual articles of the constitution. It is also determined that the National Assembly will take over its position until the first Reichstag meets.


In 1925 a contemporary assessment called "retrospectively" was:

“If you look back at the Weimar Constitution, you can see that it is not without defects and flaws. But of which constitution could and should not this be said, and of which human works does it not apply? In any case, it was a blessing for our people just because it came about. Because without them we would not have come to a reasonably quiet state activity so quickly. And even if the situation may sometimes have deviated from the constitution under the compulsion of circumstances, one has generally got used to the fact that it represents our supreme right. Anyone who truly loves his fatherland will not inadvertently let it come to the point that awe for the values ​​of a constitution dwindles and one fights it with unfair means. Naturally, this must not mean that it is rigid and immutable. [...] Not overthrow, but natural re-training and further education leads in a healthy way. "

- Friedrich Stahl

The extent to which individual parts of the Weimar constitution contributed to the downfall of the republic is discussed again and again. The authors of the constitution were accused of failings that ultimately contributed to the downfall of the first German democracy.

However, many of the “design flaws” must be critically discussed and the domestic and foreign political and social circumstances under which the constitution was created must be taken into account. Furthermore, it must be noted that the Parliamentary Council of 1949 was able to learn from the mistakes of the Weimar Constitution, but the authors of the Weimar Constitution around the Berlin constitutional lawyer and local politician Hugo Preuss had no comparable model except for the attempt by the Paulskirche. In addition, it must be noted that a constitution can only provide a framework that is to be filled in by concrete politics, but can also remain unfilled.

  • The lack of a blocking clause and the lack of a party ban for unconstitutional parties have made it possible for too many parties to get into parliament. But in 1919 a threshold clause was rejected precisely because it would have restricted or falsified the will of the voters. With a threshold clause based on the German model , the two liberal parties would also have disappeared from the Reichstag from 1930. After the Reichstag election in 1930, the Reichstag would have consisted only of the SPD, KPD , NSDAP , the center and the nationalist-reactionary DNVP - which would probably have changed little in terms of ungovernability. On the other hand, a threshold clause cannot always keep new parties out of parliament (see the example of the Greens in the 1983 federal election ). In addition, the Weimar Republic did not perish because of the splinter parties, but because of the strength of the KPD and the NSDAP, because when these became strong in the Reichstag towards the end of the Weimar Republic, the splinter parties disappeared. Incidentally, the absolute majority voting rights of the empire allowed a similar number of parties into parliament.
  • It was a serious mistake not to mention the parties in the constitution (or only once, negatively, in a different context). In fact, at that time there was hardly a constitution in the world that mentioned the political parties. In other countries, parties are either controlled by a simple party law or by the law on associations.
  • Even during the constitutional negotiations, violent disputes broke out over the position of the Reich President. Max Weber, among others, pleaded for a strong president who was independent from parliament and directly elected by the people of the state . The majority of the committee decided in favor of a strong Reich President primarily out of distrust of the politically divided parliament. They wanted to confront this one political leader legitimized by the people as the embodiment of the whole state, who can act without parliament if necessary. The Reich President was consequently given extensive powers: he could appoint or dismiss the Reich Chancellor (Art. 53), he could dissolve the Reichstag (Art. 25), he had so-called dictatorship , that is, he had the right to execute the Reich , for the deployment of the Reichswehr and for the issue of emergency ordinances "to restore public safety and order" (Art. 48). Today's criticism of the office of Reich President is derived from this abundance of power. In so-called emergencies, he was able to transform the republic into a kind of dictatorship with himself at the helm. The dangerous thing was that Parliament was able to escape its political responsibility.

Problem was also z. B. the practice of passing so-called " constitution-breaking " Reich laws. Laws were allowed to contradict the constitution if they were supported by a two-thirds majority. The four enabling laws are part of this development. The Basic Law therefore stipulates that a constitutional amendment must consist of an explicit change to the constitutional text. However, the practice is again not so much the fault of the constitution, but of politics.

However: Without the flexibility of the Weimar Constitution or its pragmatic application, the republic might not have survived the first five years. The Weimar Constitution appeared so successful that in the first Austrian republic, parts of it (namely the position of President) were adopted by the amendment to the Federal Constitutional Act of 1929.

The reasons for the failure of the republic cannot therefore be seen solely in the deficiencies in the power structure of the constitution; In addition, there was a great distance of many citizens who were still used to the monarchy and the monarchical father figure from parliamentary democracy, the disagreement of the democrats, the economic problems of the time, the civilization of the world war, which had also led to brutalization of the people, political extremism and finally also the actions of political actors such as Franz von Papen , Kurt von Schleicher and President Paul von Hindenburg .

Constitution Day

Constitution Day 1923. Crowd
at the Brandenburg Gate
3 RM coin for constitution day August 11, 1922

The constitution day on August 11 was the national holiday of the Weimar Republic from 1921 to 1932 . Reich President Ebert had signed the constitution at his vacation spot at the dining table; a grand, solemn ceremony for the signing would have been alien to his character. Nevertheless, on August 11, 1921, the Wirth government ordered that Constitutional Day be celebrated for the first time and that the buildings of all Reich authorities be flagged accordingly. The Constitutional Days in Berlin, which subsequently became more and more elaborate under the direction of Reichskunstwart Edwin Redslob , attracted many visitors and were held on August 11, 1932. Only the National Socialists abolished the custom.

However, the intensity of the celebrations in the empire differed considerably from one another. In Hesse, Baden and Prussia August 11 was an official holiday, in other places the employees of the Reich authorities celebrated alone, while the respective state authorities ignored the day. The Reichsbanner Black-Red-Gold played an important role in the design of the celebrations, and August 11th was an integral part of its own festival calendar.

The WRV in the German constitutional tradition

Comparison with the Imperial Constitution of 1871

According to Bismarck's constitution of April 16, 1871, the German Empire was a constitutional monarchy . The head of state was the Kaiser , who was also King of Prussia. He held the executive power: he appointed the Reich Chancellor, who had the rank of minister as an individual (head of the Reichsleitung ), was commander in chief of the army and determined the officials (state secretaries). The German Kaiser convened the Reichstag and Bundesrat ("Bundesrath"). He had the right, with the consent of the Bundesrat, to dissolve the Reichstag or to declare war on other states. Even if the emperor had a strong influence on legislation and was relieved of any responsibility towards other state organs, all imperial laws required the express consent of the Bundesrat. The Federal Council not only issued administrative regulations, but was also a fully fledged chamber of parliament. Initially there was no control mechanism that could prevent or restrict abuse on the part of the emperor within the limits of his powers. Only shortly before his abdication, after strong domestic political pressure , Wilhelm II granted the Reichstag more extensive powers with the law amending the Reich constitution of October 28, 1918, thus complying with the demands for more parliamentary control.

The Bismarckian constitution served as a compromise between the conservative monarchy and civil society after the founding of the Reich in January 1871, especially the state organization, and contributed to the growing together of the federal territory with a unified indigenous community of all "subjects" in all federal states.

The executive was the Reichsleitung. The emperor appointed the imperial officials, who, like the imperial chancellor, were obliged to the emperor and not to parliament. Parliament could criticize or control the government, but it could not withdraw its trust and thus ensure that a new government was formed. The emperor himself was able to dissolve the parliament, which was thus in his hand and had to approve draft laws on the part of the emperor. In the Weimar Constitution, parliament was not so severely restricted by the Reich President as it determined the legislature.

The Reichstag was elected by men aged 25 and over for three years and, from 1888, for five years. The choice was equal and secret. The Reichstag formed the legislature together with the Federal Council. He submitted bills to which the Federal Council had to approve. In the Weimar Republic, the Reichstag was elected by men and women aged 20 and over in a general, direct, equal and secret ballot. The legislature was divided between the Reich President, Reichstag and Reichsrat. There was also the right of people's legislation .

The Federal Council was composed of representatives from the 25 state governments. He set administrative regulations for the Reich and controlled the Reich leadership. There were a total of 58 votes, 14 of which were enough for a veto. Prussia alone had 17 votes. The Reichsrat was composed of the representatives of the state governments and the number of votes was dependent on the size of the respective country.

Even after the October reform of 1918, the German Reich remained a monarchy. The November Revolution led to the Weimar Constitution of 1919 for the Republic with an elected directly by the people the President as head of state (presidential). This appointed national leadership and -kanzler could dissolve the Reichstag, adopted by emergency decree laws , had the command of the Army and appointed the judges of the Supreme Court. Unlike the Imperial Constitution of 1871, the Weimar Constitution contained an extensive section of fundamental rights .

Influence on the Basic Law

When the Parliamentary Council drafted the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (GG) between September 1, 1948 and May 23, 1949 in Bonn , it was based on the Weimar Constitution. So to speak, one learned from their mistakes and the legal seizure of power in the era of National Socialism . The Basic Law is similar to the Weimar Constitution in many respects, but also contains major differences. The Federal President does not play the prominent role that the Reich President does. Overall, the separation of powers was rebalanced with the Federal Constitutional Court as guardian of the constitution .

During the Weimar Republic, a large part saw the constitutional lawyer the fundamental rights merely state goals , even though the Weimar Constitution, the fundamental rights designated as such. According to this idea, the basic rights were only bound by the administration, not the legislature. According to the Basic Law, on the other hand, the fundamental rights are clearly directly applicable law (Article 1, Paragraph 3 of the Basic Law), which binds the entire state authority - including the legislature.

In addition, the essential content of the fundamental rights must not be affected ( Art. 19 (2) GG). The constitution-amending legislature may amend the articles of the Basic Law, only the principles laid down in Articles 1 and 20 of the Basic Law are inviolable ( Article 79 (3) of the Basic Law).

Art. 140 GG stipulates that Art. 136 , Art. 137 , Art. 138 , Art. 139 and Art. 141 of the Weimar Constitution are part of the Basic Law. They are also known as "articles of religion" or "incorporated articles of the Weimar Imperial Constitution" and form the core of the current state church law . The replacement of state services according to Art 138 (1) through state legislation, for which the federal government sets the principles, has not yet been implemented.

Comparison with the Basic Law

In contrast to the Weimar Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany is not a presidential but a parliamentary democracy . The German Bundestag is directly elected by the people ( Article 38.1 of the Basic Law) and in turn elects the Federal Chancellor ( Article 63 of the Basic Law). This determines the guidelines of politics and is responsible to Parliament ( Art. 65 , Art. 67 GG). The Federal President is elected by the Federal Assembly ( Article 54.1 sentence 1 GG). Its tasks in the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany are beyond day-to-day politics .

In the Weimar Imperial Constitution, the basic rights were not at the beginning of the text, unlike in the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany of 1949. However, the Basic Law is more cautious than the Weimar Constitution when it comes to basic social rights. While the fifth section of the Weimar Constitution lays down social rights in some detail, the Basic Law essentially only adopted the sentence that property is an obligation ( Article 14, Paragraph 2, Sentence 1 of the Basic Law) and deliberately defines the Federal Republic as a "social federal state" ( Art. 20 para. 1 GG).

The power of the Federal President was severely restricted by the Basic Law in favor of the Federal Chancellor and the government. Orders and rulings by the Federal President must be countersigned by the Federal Chancellor or the responsible Federal Minister ( Art. 58 (1) GG) to be valid . Today, the German President primarily has a representative function. With the countersignature, execution and promulgation of laws, he confirms decisions already made by parliament ( Article 82.1 of the Basic Law).

The position of the government was strengthened. It is only dependent on the confidence of the German Bundestag and not, as in the past, on the Reichstag and the Reich President. The Bundestag can only remove a chancellor by electing a new one at the same time ( constructive vote of no confidence ). This procedure ensures more stability, since during the Weimar period political groups were able to unite to vote out the chancellor without having to propose their own candidate. In the Weimar Republic one could also withdraw trust in the Reich ministers.

In contrast to the Weimar era, constitutional changes must now be explicit. Laws that breach the constitution and come into existence with the necessary two-thirds majority do not change the constitution, an amendment to the constitutional text is necessary. Article 79.3 of the Basic Law also states that the principles laid down in Article 1 and Article 20 as well as the federal state may not be affected. Federal states can be changed in terms of their area or number (after referendums ), but abolition is not possible. The separation of powers enshrined in Article 20 of the Basic Law cannot be overridden. The “ eternity clause ” of Art. 79 Para. 3 GG binds the pouvoir constitué (constitutional authority = state authority). Whether it also binds the pouvoir constituant (constituent power) is disputed.

The federal states are more closely involved in legislation through the Bundesrat than they used to be through the Reichsrat. The Reichsrat did have a veto right, but this was rather weak.

The Reich President, today the Federal Defense Minister, had the supreme command of the army, and in the event of a defense the Federal Chancellor. This too should not be overestimated; so the Austrian Federal President also has the supreme command, but this has little significance for constitutional practice. What it could mean in a serious domestic crisis is unpredictable.

The Basic Law speaks of “elections and votes”, but referendums have been abolished at the federal level, except for the restructuring of the federal states - they are entirely possible at the state level alone. This possibility of participation was restricted because it was used for propaganda by the Communists , National Socialists and other parties during the Weimar period and because the Allies mistrusted the German population after the Second World War.

Comparison with the GDR constitutions

The constitutional committee of the German People's Council prepared the draft for a "constitution of the German democratic republic" by October 1948, which was a synthesis of the bourgeois-democratic Weimar constitution, the SED draft constitution of November 1946 with unity of power and economic planning as well as the five state constitutions of the Soviet zone of occupation Germany (SBZ) can be viewed.

In the constitution of the German Democratic Republic of 1949, 80 out of 144 articles contain similarities with the WRV, whose welfare state elements are defined by a general commitment to social justice and social progress (preamble), by a stronger elaboration of basic social rights (Art. 15 –18) and detailed regulations on the economic system (Art. 19–29). The GDR was a democratic, parliamentary and federal constitutional state, which, however, did not reflect the actual balance of power in the SED regime.

This is what it says about economic life in the WRV (Art. 151):

(1) The order of economic life must correspond to the principles of justice with the aim of guaranteeing a dignified existence for all. The economic freedom of the individual must be secured within these limits.

The GDR constitution (Art. 19) renounces the "economic freedom of the individual":

(1) The order of economic life must correspond to the principles of social justice; it must ensure a dignified existence for everyone.

The political system of the GDR differed considerably from that of the WRV. While the Federal Republic had primarily strengthened the Federal Chancellor instead of the Reich President, according to Article 50 of the GDR Constitution, the People's Chamber was the “highest organ of the Republic”. The GDR government was to be composed of representatives from all parliamentary groups according to parliamentary group size.

The WRV on the Chancellor and the guidelines of politics (Art. 56):

The Reich Chancellor determines the guidelines for politics and is responsible to the Reichstag for them. Within these guidelines, each Reich Minister manages the branch of business entrusted to him independently and under his own responsibility to the Reichstag.

The GDR constitution (Art. 98) emphasizes the importance of parliament:

(1) The Prime Minister determines the guidelines of government policy in accordance with the principles established by the People's Chamber. He is responsible for the People's Chamber.
(2) Within these guidelines, each minister manages the branch of business entrusted to him independently under his own responsibility to the People's Chamber.

The second constitution of 1968 was socialist and enshrined the leading role of the SED. The connection to the German nation disappeared from the constitution of 1974. Instead, the GDR was now "forever and irrevocably allied with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics".


On August 1, 2019, the first day of issue, Deutsche Post AG issued a postage stamp with a face value of 95 euro cents with the text “ The German Reich is a republic. State power emanates from the people. 100 years of the Weimar Constitution ”. The design comes from the graphic designer Jens Müller from Düsseldorf .



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  • Fritz Poetzsch-Heffter : Hand Commentary on the Reich Constitution of August 11, 1919. A manual for constitutional law and constitutional policy. 3. Edition. Berlin 1928.




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  • Reinhard Mußgnug : 90 years of the Weimar Constitution - August 11, 2009 . (PDF) In: Journal for Legal Studies , 2009, p. 346.

See also

Web links

Commons : Weimar Constitution  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Manuela Achilles: With a Passion for Reason: Celebrating the Constitution in Weimar Germany . In: Central European History . tape 43 , no. 4 , December 2010, p. 666-689 , doi : 10.1017 / s0008938910000750 .
  2. ^ Kirsch, Martin: Monarch and Parliament in the 19th Century. Monarchical constitutionalism as a European type of constitution - France in comparison. Göttingen 1999.
  3. ^ Frank Boblenz: The memorial plaque for the Weimar Constitution of 1919 at the German National Theater Weimar. A Thuringian commission for Walter Gropius Die Große Stadt. The cultural history archive of Weimar – Jena 2009, pp. 24–39.
  4. cf. The constitution of the German Reich on August 11, 1919 with information on factual changes due to the laws of the National Socialist Reich government since January 30, 1933. verfassungen.de, accessed on May 28, 2019.
  5. RGBl. I 747
  6. Reinhard Mußgnug : 90 Years Weimar Constitution ─ August 11, 2009 . (PDF) In: Zeitschrift für das Juristische Studium , 2009, pp. 346–358.
  7. Gerhard Werle : Justice criminal and police fight crime in the Third Reich , Habil. Crying, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York, 1989. ISBN 3-11-011964-1 , pp 59, 60 with Fn 5-7. .
  8. Udo di Fabio : The Weimar Constitution. Departure and failure. A constitutional historical analysis. CH Beck, Munich 2018, ISBN 978-3-406-72388-9 , p. 245.
  9. The Constitution of the German Reich, here Article 109 BGBl. III / FNA 401-2. beck-online.de, accessed on March 16, 2019.
  10. cf. Name change with nobility under English law (deed poll) Press release of the Federal Court of Justice No. 188/2018.
  11. Erich Eichmann: State, religion, religious communities according to the new imperial constitution. Munich 1930.
  12. Friedrich Stahl: The foundations of state life in Germany . In: Kurt Krause (Ed.): The new adult education center . Library for modern intellectual education. tape 4 . Publishing house E. G. Weimann, Leipzig 1925, p. 45 .
  13. Focus on the Weimar Constitution
  14. Eberhard Kolb : The Weimar Republic , Oldenbourg, Munich 1984, p. 19 ( excerpt ( memento from September 19, 2011 in the Internet Archive )).
  15. Hans Boldt: The Weimar Imperial Constitution . In: Karl-Dietrich Bracher , Manfred Funke and Hans-Adolf Jacobsen (eds.): The Weimar Republic 1918–1933. Politics, economy, society , Droste Verlag, Düsseldorf 1987, p. 61 f. ( Excerpt ( memento from September 6, 2011 in the Internet Archive )).
  16. Times and People 1 , Schöningh, ISBN 3-14-024962-4 , p. 324.
  17. ^ Nadine Rossol: Performing the Nation in Interwar Germany: Sport, Spectacle and Political Symbolism, 1926-1936. Houndmills, 2010, ISBN 978-0-230-21793-5 , ISSN  0265-6914 .
  18. Böhles, Marcel, 1984-: In lockstep for the republic: the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold in the southwest, 1924 to 1933 . ISBN 978-3-8375-1485-8 .
  19. The term “ Reich Government ” was deliberately avoided by Bismarck in order to take into account the sovereignty of the federal members.
  20. ^ Law amending the Imperial Constitution. from October 28, 1918. dokumentarchiv.de, accessed on March 20, 2019.
  21. Johannes Leicht: The Constitution of the German Reich Living Museum Online , October 9, 2005.
  22. Strengths and weaknesses of the Weimar Imperial Constitution. A comparison (PDF) Scientific Services of the German Bundestag , elaboration from June 22, 2012.
  23. Christoph Gusy : The Weimar Constitution and its effect on the Basic Law. ZNR 2010, pp. 208-224.
  24. Hans D. Jarass, in: Jarass / Pieroth, Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Commentary , 3rd edition, Munich 1995, Art. 140 Rn 1.
  25. Presidential Democracy bpb 2019
  26. Gerd Strohmeier : The Federal President: What he can, may and must or could, should and should . ZfP 2008, pp. 175-198.
  27. Heike Amos: Constitution of the German Democratic Republic, October 7, 1949 1000dokumente.de, accessed on March 19, 2019.
  28. Markus Würz: The emergence of the GDR. Constitution and leadership of the Living Museum Online SED , accessed March 19, 2019.
  29. Questions about the GDR Constitution in comparison with the Basic Law (PDF) Scientific Services of the German Bundestag , elaboration of April 29, 2009, p. 4.
  30. Andreas Grau: Neue Verfassungs Lebendiges Museum Online , accessed on March 19, 2019.
  31. ^ GDR / Constitution: Happy Life . In: Der Spiegel . No. 6 , 1968 ( online ).
  32. Winfried Sträter: 50 years ago: Only the second constitution of the GDR was socialist . Deutschlandfunk , April 9, 2018.