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Higher Communal Associations (Germany)

Höhere Kommunalverbände

Last modified: 2012-03-31 by german editorial team
Keywords: germany | subnational | higher communal association | höhere kommunalverband | bezirk | bezirksverband | kommunalverband | landesverband | landeswohlfahrtsverband | landschaft | landschaftsverband |
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The Federal Republic of Germany consists of 16 Länder (states) as the top level of political subdivision. Below the Länder level there is the communal level, which is organised by the Länder themselves, so that the communal organization differs somewhat in the different Länder. The communal entities are Selbstverwaltungskörperschaften, self governing bodies. The communal level itself consists of one to three sublevels, depending on the Land:

  • The first (lowest) level is the municipality (Gemeinde), bigger municipalities are called Markt (market-town) or Stadt (city).

    The municipal level can be found in all German Länder — though in two of them, namely Berlin and Hamburg, the territorial boundaries of the Land and of the city converge).

  • The second (intermediate) level is the Landkreis, sometimes also called Kreis (county). Each Landkreis contains several municipalities. There are also kreisfreie Städte, cities that do not belong to a Landkreis, and having the competences of both communal levels.

    The county level is established in 13 of the 16 Länder, the exceptions being Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen.

A third, highest, communal level can be found in seven of the Länder: Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony. These communal entities are called as a whole the Höhere Kommunalverbände, higher communal associations. The history, the tasks and the organization of these differ widely. Their main tasks contain social and cultural competences, that cannot be handled by the lower communal levels. As other communal entities, higher communal associations have an elected assembly, and use their own symbols, mostly logos, but also coats-of-arms and flags. Some of these flags are traditional regional flags that had been used before.

The higher communal associations should not be confused with the purely administrative subdivisions of the Länder into Regierungsbezirke, administrative districts. These are basically only regional offices of the respective Ministry of the Interior, and do not have their own parliamentary assemblies as communal bodies do.


Marcus Schmöger, 15 October 2001

The designation Markt is used only in Bavaria. In Lower Saxony the designation Flecken is used.

In some states there is an additional level of administration between the municipalities and the counties; these bodies have varying names and competences. Some have their own parliament (e.g. the Samtgemeinden in Lower Saxony), others execute the decisions of the municipalities they are composed of (e.g. the Ämter in Schleswig-Holstein). As with the Kreisfreie Städte there are amtsfreie Gemeinden (or their equivalents) which do not belong to such an intermediate body.

Stefan Schwoon, 16 October 2001

These Samtgemeinden / Ämter / Verwaltungsgemeinschaften are usually included in the level of the municipality, though. In some of the Länder they can have their own symbols, in others (e.g. Bavaria) they usually do not have symbols of their own.

Marcus Schmöger, 17 October 2001

Overview by States

In Baden-Württemberg there are two Landeswohlfahrtsverbändecorresponding basically to the former states of Württemberg [including the former Hohenzollern territories] and Baden.

Bavaria consists of seven Bezirke, districts.

The whole territory of the Land Hessen also forms the Landeswohlfahrtsverband Hessen (...).

Lower Saxony
Only one part of Lower Saxony forms a higher communal association, namely the Ostfriesische Landschaft.

North Rhine-Westphalia
Higher communal associations in North Rhine-Westphalia are a difficult subject, as their territories partially overlap. There are two higher communal associations that are basically congruent with the borders of former Prussian provinces, the Landschaftsverband Rheinland and the Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe. Furthermore a part of Westfalen-Lippe also forms the Landesverband Lippe (former state of Lippe), and there is a Kommunalverband Ruhrgebiet containing territories of Rheinland and Westfalen-Lippe.

Only one part of Rheinland-Pfalz constitutes a higher communal association, namely the Bezirksverband Pfalz.

As in Hesse, the whole territory of Saxony also forms a Landeswohlfahrtsverband Sachsen. It only uses the arms of Saxony, and has neither arms, logo or flag of its own. Source: Landeswohlfahrtsverband Sachsen website.


Marcus Schmöger, 15 October 2001

Higher Communal Associations / Höhere Kommunalverbände

Including Bezirke, Bezirksverbände, Kommunalverbände, Landesverbände, Landeswohlfahrtsverbände, Landschaften and Landschaftsverbände