Germany is a federal republic. The term "federalism" is derived from the Latin word "foedus", meaning treaty or pact. In that sense, Germany is in fact a coalition of several formerly independent states (called Bundesländer). In total, the federal republic of Germany consists of 16 Bundesländer:
(South-West with borders to France and Switzerland)
(Bavaria, South-East with borders to the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland)
(East, city-state and at the same time the federal capital)
(East with borders to Poland)
(Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, North-East with borders to Poland and the Baltic Sea)
(Lower Saxony, North-West with borders to the Netherlands and the North Sea)
(North Rhine-Westphalia, West with borders to the Netherlands and Belgium)
(Rhineland-Palatinate, West with borders to France, Luxembourg and Belgium)
(West with borders to France and Luxembourg)
(Saxony, East with borders to Poland and the Czech Republic)
(North with borders to Denmark, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea)
Every Federal State has its own parliament and government, located at the States' capitals. The leader of a Federal State is called Minister-President.
Of course there is a German federal government in addition to the States governments. The federal government is presided by the German chancellor, located in Berlin.
This - some would say unconventional - form of government is embedded within the German constitution (Grundgesetz). It guarantees the irrevocability of federalism in Germany.
Areas of responsibility in the hands of State and Federal Governments
The German constitution states that Federal and State Governments each possess state power in their respective areas of responsibility, allowing both to pass and enforce laws. While federal laws apply for all German citizens in the same fashion, State regulations only apply in the Federal State where it is passed. In the following you will get a tiny glimpse into which areas of responsibility are allocated to which government:
Education in Germany
The sector of education in Germany is one of the most fundamental pillars of State responsibility. It is owed to the fact that the German constitution does not explicitly allocate responsibility for this sector to any one body. However, Germany's highest judicial authority, the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht), ruled that the Federal States shall have authority over educational matters.
Thus, each German Federal State may decide for themselves...
- ... how many years children have to attend elementary school
- ... which types of secondary schools will be available in the state
- ... how many years students have to attend Gymnasium in order to graduate (sit Abitur exams)
- ... what educational content will be taught in school and which goals have to be met by the students
- ... when school holidays will take place
This causes peculiar situations, where going to school can differ a lot, depending on the State you live in.
In Hesse children attend elementary school for 4 years. In Berlin they attend elementary school for 6 years.
In North Rhine-Westphalia students, who are entering secondary education, may choose between 5 different types of secondary schools (Hauptschule, Realschule, Sekundarschule, Gesamtschule or Gymnasium), while students in Schleswig-Holstein only have 2 options (Gemeinschaftsschule and Gymnasium).
In Bavaria students can enjoy 1 or 2 weeks of Pentecost holidays, Saarland doesn't know these holidays at all. Furthermore, when it comes to summer holidays, there are usually about 10 different end of term dates. In Hamburg, for example, summer holidays always start at a rather early stage, usually at the end of June. Baden-Würtemberg, on the other hand, breaks for the summer holidays very late, usually around the end of July.