The Federal Republic of Germany is a federal parliamentary democracy with a two-chamber system. This consists of the Bundestag (Federal Lower House of Parliament) and the Bundesrat (Federal Upper House of Parliament).
At present, the following parties are represented in the Bundestag:
Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU)
Christlich-Soziale Union (CSU)
Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD)
Freie Demokratische Partei(FDP)
Die Linke (The Left)
Buendnis 90/Die Gruenen(Alliance 90/The Greens)
The Bundestag has its permanent seat in the Reichstag building in Berlin. The composition of the Bundestag is determined every four years by a parliamentary election. The Bundestag elects the Federal Chancellor, who then proposes the members of the government.
The Bundestag is responsible for the passage of laws. If the laws of the Federal Laender are affected, their representatives (the Bundesrat) must also approve.
The Bundesrat is composed of members of the governments of the 16 Bundeslaender (states). The number of votes per Bundeslaender depends on the number of inhabitants of the individual Laender, and varies from three to five votes.
The Federation and the Laender work within a mutual checks-and-balance system. Individual federal state governments participate directly in the decisions of the national state or Federation. This is done through the Bundesrat. Administrative tasks in are split between the Federal Government, Federal Laender and local authorities. In general, the Federal Government allocates the Federal Laender and local authorities tasks and the appropriate financial resources.
The Chancellor of Germany is the head of government of Germany and they have executive powers. The official title is Bundeskanzler(-in). The Chancellor is equivalent to that of a Prime Minister in many other countries. The modern office of Chancellor was established in the North German Confederation, of which Otto von Bismarck became Chancellor in 1867. After the Unification of Germany in 1871, the office became known in German as Reichskanzler, although it continued to be referred to as Chancellor in English. With Germany's constitution of 1949, the title Bundeskanzler was revived in German.
The current Chancellor is Angela Merkel, who was re-elected in 2009 after her first election in 2005. She is the first female Chancellor.
The President of Germany is the country's head of state. The official title is Bundespraesident. They are elected by the Federal Convention, a body established solely for that purpose. Germany has a parliamentary system of government, and the position of President is largely ceremonial. The President does have some important "reserve powers" in case of political instability.
The current President is Joachim Gauck, elected in 2010. The official residence of the President is Schloss Bellevue in Berlin.
The government has a hand in most events in a German's life, whether it be birth of a child, a move, a wedding, divorce or the death of a relative. Extensive paperwork is the norm and it usually needs to be processed through a government agency.
Berlin is the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany. Since reunification, Berlin is one of only three city states (along with Hamburg and Bremen), among the present 16 states of Germany.
The city and state parliament is the House of Representatives (Abgeordnetenhaus). The Abgeordnetenhaus currently has 141 seats.
Berlin's executive body is the Senate of Berlin (Senat von Berlin). This consists of the Governing Mayor (Regierender Buergermeister) and up to eight senators. One of the senators holds the official title of Mayor (Buergermeister), deputy to the Governing Mayor.
The Governing Mayor is also the Lord Mayor of the city (Oberbuergermeister der Stadt) and Prime Minister of the Federal State (Ministerpraesident des Bundeslandes).
Klaus Wowereit from the SPD is the current Governing Mayor, in office since 2001. He is also notable as one of the most famous German politicians who is openly gay. Prior to the 2001 mayoral elections, he coined the phrase "Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so." ("I'm gay, and that is good the way it is.").
The office of Berlin's Governing Mayor is in the Rotes Rathaus (Red City Hall), named for it's distinctive red brick.
The Reichstag has been the seat of German parliament since 1894. It is one of Berlin's most famous buildings, and the site of some of the most significant events in German history. Greatly damaged in the fire that allowed Hitler to claim total control, bombed out of existence during WWII, a glass dome added to exemplify the notion of "glasnost", and wrapped by the famous conceptual artist Christo- the Reichstag has seen it all. It is (usually) possible to visit the Reichstag and is a popular tourist activity. Visits must be booked in advance, and the dome is only open to visitors with a reservation at the rooftop restaurant, or who have registered to attend a plenary sitting or lecture or to participate in a guided tour of the Reichstag Building. Wait times can be quite long, but it is well worth it for the views of Berlin, ability to watch the main hall of the Bundestag, and observe a building of such rich historical and political importance.
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