President of Germany

The President of Germany, officially the Federal President of the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundespräsident der Bundesrepublik Deutschland),[1] is the head of state of Germany.

Germany has a parliamentary system of government in which the chancellor is the nation's leading political figure and de facto chief executive. The president has a mainly ceremonial role, but he can give direction to general political and societal debates and has some important "reserve powers" in case of political instability (such as those provided for by Article 81 of the Basic Law).[2] The German presidents have wide discretion about how they exercise their official duties.[3]

Under Article 59 (1) of the Basic Law (German Constitution), the president represents the Federal Republic of Germany in matters of international law, concludes treaties with foreign states on its behalf and accredits diplomats.[4] Furthermore, all federal laws must be signed by the president before they can come into effect, but usually they only veto a law if they believe it to violate the constitution.

The president, by their actions and public appearances, represents the state itself, its existence, legitimacy, and unity. The president's role is integrative and includes the control function of upholding the law and the constitution. It is a matter of political tradition – not legal restrictions – that the president generally does not comment routinely on issues in the news, particularly when there is some controversy among the political parties.[5] This distance from day-to-day politics and daily governmental issues allows the president to be a source of clarification, to influence public debate, voice criticism, offer suggestions and make proposals. In order to exercise this power, they traditionally act above party politics.[6]

The 12th and current officeholder is Frank-Walter Steinmeier who was elected on 12 February 2017 and started his first five-year term on 19 March 2017.

Federal President of the Federal Republic of Germany
Bundespräsident der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
Bundespräsident (Deutschland) Logo
Flag of the President of Germany
Frank-Walter Steinmeier - 2018 (cropped)
Frank-Walter Steinmeier

since 19 March 2017
StyleHis Excellency
(in international relations only)
ResidenceSchloss Bellevue (Berlin)
Villa Hammerschmidt (Bonn)
AppointerFederal Convention
Term lengthFive years
Renewable once, consecutively
Constituting instrumentBasic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
PrecursorThe Reichspräsident
Formation24 May 1949
First holderTheodor Heuss


The president is elected for a term of five years by secret ballot, without debate, by a specially convened Federal Convention which mirrors the aggregated majority position in the Bundestag (the federal parliament) and in the parliaments of the 16 German states. The convention consists of all Bundestag members, as well as an equal number of electors elected by the state legislatures in proportion to their respective populations. Since reunification, all Federal Conventions have had more than 1200 members, as the Bundestag has always had more than 600 since then. It is not required that state electors are chosen from the members of the state legislature; often some prominent citizens are chosen.

The German constitution, the Basic Law, requires that the convention be convened no later than 30 days before the scheduled expiry of the sitting president's term or 30 days after a premature expiry of a president's term. The body is convened and chaired by the President of the Bundestag. From 1979 to 2009, all these conventions were held on 23 May, the anniversary of the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949. However, the two most recent elections before 2017 were held on different dates after the incumbent presidents, Horst Köhler and Christian Wulff, resigned before the end of their terms, in 2010 and 2012 respectively.

In the first two rounds of the election, the candidate who achieves an absolute majority is elected. If, after two votes, no single candidate has received this level of support, in the third and final vote the candidate who wins a plurality of votes cast is elected.

The result of the election is often determined by party politics. In most cases, the candidate of the majority party or coalition in the Bundestag is considered to be the likely winner. However, as the members of the Federal Convention vote by secret ballot and are free to vote against their party's candidate, some presidential elections were considered open or too close to call beforehand because of relatively balanced majority positions or because the governing coalition's parties could not agree on one candidate and endorsed different people, as they did in 1969, when Gustav Heinemann won by only 6 votes on the third ballot. In other cases, elections have turned out to be much closer than expected. For example, in 2010, Wulff was expected to win on the first ballot, as the parties supporting him (CDU, CSU and FDP) had a stable absolute majority in the Federal Convention. Nevertheless, he failed to win a majority in the first and second ballots, while his main opponent Joachim Gauck had an unexpectedly strong showing. In the end Wulff obtained a majority in the third ballot. If the opposition has turned in a strong showing in state elections, it can potentially have enough support to defeat the chancellor's party's candidate; this happened in the elections in 1979 and 2004. For this reason, presidential elections can indicate the result of an upcoming general election. According to a long-standing adage in German politics, "if you can create a President, you can form a government."

Past presidential elections

Election Date Site Ballots Winner
(endorsing parties) [a]
Electoral votes
(endorsing parties) [b]
Electoral Votes
1st Federal Convention 12 September 1949 Bonn 2 Theodor Heuss
416 (51.7%) Kurt Schumacher
312 (38.8%)
2nd Federal Convention 17 July 1954 West Berlin 1 Theodor Heuss
871 (85.6%) Alfred Weber
12 (1.2%)
3rd Federal Convention 1 July 1959 West Berlin 2 Heinrich Lübke
526 (50.7%) Carlo Schmid
386 (37.2%)
4th Federal Convention 1 July 1964 West Berlin 1 Heinrich Lübke
710 (68.1%) Ewald Bucher
123 (11.8%)
5th Federal Convention 5 March 1969 West Berlin 3 Gustav Heinemann
512 (49.4%) Gerhard Schröder
506 (48.8%)
6th Federal Convention 15 May 1974 Bonn 1 Walter Scheel
530 (51.2%) Richard von Weizsäcker
498 (48.1%)
7th Federal Convention 23 May 1979 Bonn 1 Karl Carstens
528 (51%) Annemarie Renger
431 (41.6%)
8th Federal Convention 23 May 1984 Bonn 1 Richard von Weizsäcker
832 (80%) Luise Rinser
68 (6.5%)
9th Federal Convention 23 May 1989 Bonn 1 Richard von Weizsäcker
881 (84.9%) none 108 (10.4%) no-votes
10th Federal Convention 23 May 1994 Berlin 3 Roman Herzog
696 (52.6%) Johannes Rau
605 (45.7%)
11th Federal Convention 23 May 1999 Berlin 2 Johannes Rau
(SPD, Alliance 90/Greens)
690 (51.6%) Dagmar Schipanski
572 (42.8%)
12th Federal Convention 23 May 2004 Berlin 1 Horst Köhler
604 (50.1%) Gesine Schwan
(SPD, Alliance90/Greens)
589 (48.9%)
13th Federal Convention 23 May 2009 Berlin 1 Horst Köhler
(CDU, CSU, FDP, Free Voters)
613 (50.1%) Gesine Schwan
(SPD, Alliance 90/Greens)
503 (41.1%)
14th Federal Convention 30 June 2010 Berlin 3 Christian Wulff
625 (50.2%) Joachim Gauck
(SPD, Alliance 90/Greens)
494 (39.7%)
15th Federal Convention 18 March 2012 Berlin 1 Joachim Gauck
Alliance 90/Greens, Free Voters, SSW)
991 (79.9%) Beate Klarsfeld
(The Left)
126 (10.2%)
16th Federal Convention 12 February 2017 Berlin 1 Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Alliance 90/Greens, FDP, SSW)
931 (74.3%) Christoph Butterwegge
(The Left)
128 (10.2%)
  1. ^ governing parties in bold
  2. ^ governing parties in bold


The office of president is open to all Germans who are entitled to vote in Bundestag elections and have reached the age of 40, but no one may serve more than two consecutive five-year terms. As yet (2017), only four presidents (Heuss, Lübke, von Weizsäcker and Köhler) have been elected for a second term and only two of them (Heuss and von Weizsäcker) completed those terms, while Lübke and Köhler resigned during their second term. The president must not be a member of the federal government or of a legislature at either the federal or state level.


On taking office the president must take the following oath, stipulated by Article 56 of the Basic Law, in a joint session of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat (it is the only event that demands such a joint session constitutionally). They are permitted to omit the religious references if so desired.

I swear that I will dedicate my efforts to the well-being of the German people, enhance their benefits, avert harm from them, uphold and defend the Constitution and the statutes of the Federation, fulfil my duties conscientiously, and do justice to all. (So help me God.)[7]

As German constitutional law does not consider oaths of office as constitutive but only as affirmative, the president does not have to take the oath at the moment of entering office in order to be able to execute the powers of the office. The oath is usually administered during the first weeks of a president's term on a date convenient for a joint session of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. Nevertheless, a president persistently refusing to take the oath could face an impeachment.[8] If a president is re-elected for a second term, they do not take the oath again.

Duties and functions

Berlin - Schloss Bellevue2
Bellevue Palace, Berlin (primary seat)
Villa Hammerschmidt Bonn Seite Adenauerallee 20080831
Hammerschmidt Villa, Bonn (secondary seat)

The President is involved in the formation of the Federal Government and remains in close cooperation with it. Basically, the President is free to act on his own discretion. However, according to Article 58 of the German constitution, the decrees, and directives of the President require the countersignature of the Chancellor or the corresponding Federal Minister in charge of the respective field of politics. This rule ensures the coherence of government action, similar to the system of checks and balances in the United States of America. There is no need for a countersignature, if the President proposes, appointments and dismisses the Chancellor, convenes or dissolves of the Bundestag according to Article 63, declares a legislative state of emergency, calls on Chancellor and ministers to remain in office, after the end of a Chancellor's term, until a successor is elected or exercises his right to pardon on behalf of the federation, as these are exclusive powers of the President.

Therefore, the president also receives the chancellor regularly for talks on current policy issues. German presidents also hold talks with individual Federal Ministers and other senior officials at their own discretion. The "Head of the Office of the President" represents the will and views of the president in the meetings of the Federal Cabinet and reports back to the president.[9]

The president's most prominent powers and duties include:[9]

  • Proposing the Chancellor to the Bundestag.
  • Appointing and dismissing the chancellor and their cabinet ministers
  • Dissolving the Bundestag under certain circumstances
  • Declaring the legislative state of emergency under certain circumstances
  • Convening the Bundestag
  • Signing and promulgating laws or vetoing them under certain circumstances
  • Appointing and dismissing federal judges, federal civil servants, and commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the Armed Forces
  • Exercising the power to pardon individual offenders on behalf of the Federation
  • Awarding honors on behalf of the Federation
  • Representing Germany at home and abroad

Appointment of the Federal Government

After the constitution of every new elected Bundestag, which automatically ends the term of the chancellor, and in every other case in which the office of chancellor has fallen vacant (death or resignation), the president proposes an individual as chancellor and must then, provided they are subsequently elected by a majority of all members of the current Bundestag (the so-called Chancellor-majority) on the first ballot, appoint them to the office. However, the Bundestag is free to disregard the president's proposal (which has, as of 2019, never happened), in which case the parliament must within 14 days elect another individual, whom the parties in the Bundestag can now propose themselves, to the post with the same so-called Chancellor-majority, whom the president is then obliged to appoint. If the Bundestag does not manage to do so, on the 15th day after the first ballot the Bundestag must hold one last ballot: if an individual is elected with the Chancellor-majority, the president is obliged to appoint them. If not, the president can either appoint as chancellor the individual who received a plurality of votes on this last ballot or dissolves the Bundestag. The president can dismiss the chancellor, but only if the Bundestag passes a constructive vote of no confidence, electing a new chancellor with the Chancellor-majority at the same time.[10] If this occurs, the president must dismiss the chancellor and appoint the successor elected by the Bundestag.[10]

The president appoints and dismisses the remaining members of the Federal Government upon the proposal of the chancellor. This means that the president can appoint only candidates presented by the chancellor. It is unclear, whether the President can refuse to dismiss or appoint a Federal Minister proposed by the Chancellor, as no President has ever done so.

In practice, the president only proposes a person as chancellor who has previously garnered a majority support in coalition talks and traditionally does not interfere in those talks. However, after the "Jamaica coalition" talks failed in late 2017, President Steinmeier invited several Bundestag party leaders to try to still bring them together to form a working government.

Other appointments

The president appoints federal judges, federal civil servants, and military officers.

Dissolution of the Bundestag

In the event that the Bundestag elects an individual for the office of chancellor by a plurality of votes, rather than a majority, on the 15th day of the election process, the president can, at their discretion, either appoint that individual as chancellor or dissolve the Bundestag, triggering a new election. In the event that a vote of confidence is defeated in the Bundestag, and the incumbent chancellor proposes a dissolution, the president may, at his discretion, dissolve the body within 21 days. As of 2010, this power has only been applied three times in the history of the Federal Republic. In all three occurrences, it is doubtful whether the motives for that dissolution were in accordance with the constitution's intentions. Each time the incumbent chancellor called for the vote of confidence with the stated intention of being defeated, in order to be able to call for new elections before the end of their regular term, as the Basic Law does not give the Bundestag a right to dissolve itself. The most recent occurrence was on 1 July 2005, when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder asked for a vote of confidence, which was defeated.[11]

Promulgation of the law

All federal laws must, after counter-signature, be signed by the president before they can come into effect.[12] Upon signing, the president has to check if the law was passed according to the order mandated by the Constitution and/or if the content of the law is constitutional. If not, they have the right to refuse to sign the law, thus effectively vetoing it. Some scholars also consider it possible that the president has the full veto authority on any bill, this, however, is not how past presidents handled their power.[13] As yet (2017), this has happened only eight times and no president has done it more often than two times during his term:

  • in 1951 Theodor Heuss vetoed a bill concerning income and corporation taxes, because it lacked the consent of the Bundesrat (in Germany some bills at the federal level need the consent of the Bundesrat, and some do not, which can be controversial at times).
  • in 1961 Heinrich Lübke refused to sign a bill concerning business and workforce trades he believed to be unconstitutional, because of a violation of the free choice of job.
  • in 1969 Gustav Heinemann vetoed the "Engineer Act", because he believed this legislative area to be under the authority of the states.
  • in 1970 Gustav Heinemann refused to sign the "Architects Act" for the same reason.
  • in 1976 Walter Scheel vetoed a bill about simplification measures regarding the conscientious objection of conscription, because it lacked the - in his opinion necessary - consent of the Bundesrat.
  • in 1991 Richard von Weizsäcker refused to sign an amendment to the "Air Traffic Act" allowing the privatization of the air traffic administration, which he believed to be unconstitutional. He signed the bill later after the "Basic Law" was changed in this aspect.
  • in 2006 Horst Köhler vetoed a bill concerning flight control, because he believed it to be unconstitutional.
  • later the same year Horst Köhler vetoed the "Consumer Information Act" for the same reason.

Karl Carstens, Roman Herzog, Johannes Rau, Christian Wulff, Joachim Gauck and Frank-Walter Steinmeier (as yet) have signed and promulgated all bills during their respective terms.[14]

Foreign relations

The president represents Germany in the world (Art. 59 Basic Law), undertakes foreign visits and receives foreign dignitaries. They also conclude treaties with foreign nations (which do not come into effect until affirmed by the Bundestag), accredit German diplomats and receive the letters of accreditation of foreign diplomats.

Pardons and honours

According to Article 60 (2) of the German Constitution, the president has the power to pardon. This means the president "has the authority to revoke or commute penal or disciplinary sentences in individual cases. The federal president cannot, however, issue an amnesty waiving or commuting sentences for a whole category of offenses. That requires a law enacted by the Bundestag in conjunction with the Bundesrat. Due to the federal structure of Germany the federal president is only responsible for dealing with certain criminal matters (e.g. espionage and terrorism) and disciplinary proceedings against federal civil servants, federal judges, and soldiers".[15]

It is customary that the federal president becomes the honorary godfather of the seventh child in a family if the parents wish it. He also sends letters of congratulations to centenarians and long-time married couples.[16]

Legislative state of emergency

Article 81 makes it possible to enact a law without the approval of the Bundestag: if the Bundestag rejects a motion of confidence, but a new chancellor is not elected nor is the Bundestag dissolved, the chancellor can declare a draft law to be "urgent". If the Bundestag refuses to approve the draft, the cabinet can ask the federal president to declare a "legislative state of emergency" (Gesetzgebungsnotstand) with regard to that specific law proposal.

After the declaration of the president, the Bundestag has four weeks to discuss the draft law. If it does not approve it the cabinet can ask the Federal Council for approval. After the consent of the Federal Council is secured, the draft law becomes law.

There are some constraints on the "legislative state of emergency". After a president has declared the state of emergency for the first time, the government has only six months to use the procedure for other law proposals. Given the terms provided by the constitution, it is unlikely that the government can enact more than one other draft law in this way.

Also, the emergency has to be declared afresh for every proposal. This means that the six months are not a period in which the government together with the president and the Federal Council simply replaces the Bundestag as lawgiver. The Bundestag remains fully competent to pass laws during these six months. The state of emergency also ends if the office of the chancellor ends. During the same term and after the six months, the chancellor cannot use the procedure of Article 81 again.

A "legislative state of emergency" has never been declared. In case of serious disagreement between the chancellor and the Bundestag, the chancellor resigns or the Bundestag faces new elections. The provision of Article 81 is intended to assist the government for a short time, but not to use it in crisis for a longer period. According to constitutional commentator Bryde, Article 81 provides the executive (government) with the power to "enable decrees in a state of emergency" (exekutives Notverordnungsrecht), but for historical reasons the constitution avoided this expression.[17]

Politics and influence

Former President Joachim Gauck and his partner Daniela Schadt

Though candidates are usually selected by a political party or parties, the president nonetheless is traditionally expected to refrain from being an active member of any party after assuming office. Every president to date has let his party membership rest dormant during his term of office. Presidents have, however, spoken publicly about their personal views on political matters. The very fact that a president is expected to remain above politics usually means that when he does speak out on an issue, it is considered to be of great importance. In some cases, a presidential speech has dominated German political debate for a year or more.[18]

Reserve powers

According to article 81 of the German constitution, the president can declare a "Legislation Emergency" and allow the federal government and the Bundesrat to enact laws without the approval of the Bundestag. He also has important decisive power regarding the appointment of a chancellor who was elected by plurality only, or the dissolution of the Bundestag under certain circumstances.

It is also theoretically possible, albeit a drastic step which has not happened since 1949, that the president refuses to sign legislation merely because he disagrees with its content, thus vetoing it, or refuse to approve a cabinet appointment.[19] In all cases in which a bill was not signed by the federal president, all presidents have claimed that the bill in question was manifestly unconstitutional. For example, in the autumn of 2006, President Köhler did so twice within three months. Also, in some cases, a president has signed a law while asking that the political parties refer the case to the Federal Constitutional Court in order to test the law's constitutionality.


The Basic Law did not create an office of Vice President, but designated the President of the Bundesrat (by constitutional custom the head of government of one of the sixteen German states, elected by the Bundesrat in a predetermined order of annual alternation) as deputy of the President of Germany (Basic Law, Article 57). If the office of president falls vacant, they temporarily assume the powers of the president and acts as head of state until a successor is elected, but does not assume the office of president as such (which would be unconstitutional, as no member of a legislature or government at federal or state level can be president at the same time). While doing so, they do not continue to exercise the role of chair of the Bundesrat.[20] If the president is temporarily unable to perform his duties (this happens frequently, for example if the president is abroad on a state visit), he can at his own discretion delegate his powers or parts of them to the President of the Bundesrat.[21]

Daniel Günther (2017)
Daniel Günther, the current President of the Bundesrat and deputy of the President of Germany

If the president dies, resigns or is otherwise removed from office, a successor is to be elected within thirty days. Horst Köhler, upon his resignation on May 31, 2010, became the first president to trigger this re-election process. Jens Böhrnsen, President of the Senate and Mayor of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen and at the time President of the Bundesrat, assumed the powers and duties of head of state.[22] Similarly, when Christian Wulff resigned in 2012, it was Horst Seehofer, Minister-President of Bavaria, as President of the Bundesrat, who assumed the powers and duties of head of state. When Heinrich Lübke, on the other hand, announced his resignation in 1968, it only came into effect the following year, a mere three months before the scheduled end of his term and after the expedited election of his successor. Back in 1949 Karl Arnold, at the time Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia and President of the Bundesrat, also acted as head of state for a few days: after the Basic Law had come into effect and he himself was elected as President of the Bundesrat, the first President of Germany was not yet elected and the office therefore vacant.

None of these three presidents of the Bundesrat acting as head of state, has used any of the more important powers of the president, as for example vetoing a law or dissolving the Bundestag, although they would have been entitled to do so under the same conditions as the president.

Impeachment and removal

While in office, the president enjoys immunity from prosecution and cannot be voted out of office or recalled. The only mechanism for removing the president is impeachment by the Bundestag or Bundesrat for willfully violating German law. Once the Bundestag impeaches the president, the Federal Constitutional Court is charged with determining if they are guilty of the offence. If the charge is sustained, the court has the authority to remove the president from office.

Presidential office and symbols

German Air Force A340-300(16+02) (6272414834)
Presidential aircraft

Residences and office

The official residence of the president is Bellevue Palace in Berlin. The president's second official residence is the Hammerschmidt Villa in Bonn, the former capital city of West Germany.

The Office of the President (Bundespräsidialamt) is a supreme federal authority. It organizes the president's work, supports the president in the performance of his duties as Head of State and coordinates his working relationships with other parts of the German government and administration. Its top official, who takes precedence over all other German state secretaries, is the Head of the Office of the President (Chef des Bundespräsidialamts). The office and its staff advise the president, informs them of all developments in domestic and foreign affairs and carries out the instructions of the president or forwards these to the corresponding ministry or authority.[23]


MSC 2014 Arrivals Kuhlmann MSC2014 01
Presidential numberplate "0–1"

The president's car is usually black, made in Germany and has the numberplate "0 – 1" with the presidential standard on the right wing of the car. The president also uses a VIP helicopter operated by the Federal Police and VIP aircraft (Bombardier Global 5000, Airbus A319CJ, Airbus A310 or A340) operated by the German Ministry of Defence. When the president is on board, the flight's callsign is "German Airforce 001".

Presidential standard

Flag of the President of Germany
The standard of the President of Germany as used from 1921 to 1933 and since 1950

The standard of the President of Germany was adopted on 11 April 1921, and used in this design until 1933. A slightly modified version also existed from 1926, that was used in addition to the 1921 version. In 1933, these versions were both replaced by another modified version, that was used until 1935.

The Weimar-era presidential standard from 1921 was adopted again as presidential standard by a decision by President Theodor Heuss on 20 January 1950, when he also formally adopted other Weimar-era state symbols including the coat of arms. The eagle (Reichsadler, now called Bundesadler) in the design that was used in the coat of arms and presidential standard in the Weimar Republic and today was originally introduced by a decision by President Friedrich Ebert on 11 November 1919.


The modern-day position of German president is significantly different from the Reich President of the Weimar Republic – a position which held considerable power and was regarded as an important figure in political life.[24]

Weimar Republic

The position of President of Germany was first established by the Weimar Constitution, which was drafted in the aftermath of World War I and the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II in 1918. In Germany the new head of state was called the Reichspräsident.

Friedrich Ebert (SPD) served as Germany's first president, followed by Paul von Hindenburg. The office effectively came to an end upon Hindenburg's death in 1934 and its powers merged with those of chancellor. Adolf Hitler now ruled Germany as "Führer und Reichskanzler", combining his previous positions in party and government. However, he did officially become President;[25] the office was not abolished (though the constitutionally mandated presidential elections every seven years did not take place in the Nazi era) and briefly revived at the end of the Second World War when Hitler appointed Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as his successor as "President of Germany". Dönitz agreed to the surrender to the Allies and was arrested a few days later.[26]

The Weimar Constitution created a semi-presidential system in which power was divided between the president, a cabinet and a parliament. The president enjoyed far greater power than the current president and had an active political role, rather than a largely ceremonial one. The influence of the president also increased greatly as a result of the instability of the Weimar period. The president had authority to appoint the chancellor and could dismiss the entire cabinet at any time. However, it was also necessary for the cabinet to enjoy the confidence of the Reichstag (parliament) because it could be removed by a vote of no confidence.[27] All bills had to receive the signature of the president to become law and, although he did not have an absolute veto on legislation, he could insist that a law be submitted for the approval of voters in a referendum. The president also had authority to dissolve the Reichstag, conduct foreign affairs, and command the armed forces. Article 48 of the constitution also provided the president sweeping powers in the event of a crisis. If there was a threat to "public order and security" he could legislate by decree and suspend civil rights.

The Weimar constitution provided that the president be directly elected and serve a seven-year term. The election involved a form of the two-round system. However the first president was elected by the National Assembly and subsequently only two direct presidential elections actually occurred. These were the election of Paul von Hindenburg in 1925 and his re-election in 1932.

The system created by the Weimar constitution led to a number of problems. In particular, the fact that the president could appoint the cabinet, while the Reichstag had only a power of dismissal, created a high cabinet turn-over as ministers were appointed by the president only to be dismissed by the Reichstag shortly afterwards. Eventually Hindenburg stopped trying to appoint cabinets that enjoyed the confidence of the Reichstag and ruled by means of three "presidential cabinets" (Präsidialkabinette). Hindenburg was also able to use his power of dissolution to by-pass the Reichstag. If the Reichstag threatened to censure his ministers or revoke one of his decrees he could simply dissolve the body and be able to govern without its interference until elections had been held. This led to eight Reichstag elections taking place in the 14 years of the Republic's existence; only one parliamentary term, that of 1920–1924, was completed without elections being held early.

German Democratic Republic ("East Germany")

Socialist East Germany established the office of a head of state with the title of President of the Republic (German: Präsident der Republik) in 1949, but abandoned the office with the death of the first president, Wilhelm Pieck, in 1960 in favour of a collective head of state. All government positions of the East German socialist republic, including the presidency, were appointed by the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany.

Federal Republic of Germany ("West Germany", 1949–1990)

With the promulgation of the Grundgesetz in 1949, the office of President of the Federal Republic (in German: Bundespräsident) was created in West Germany. Partly due to the misuse of presidential powers in the Weimar Republic, the office's powers were significantly reduced. Not only is he indirectly elected, but most of the real power was transferred to the chancellor.

Because the reunification of Germany in 1990 was accomplished by the five East German states joining the Federal Republic, the president became the president of all German states.

List of presidents

Twelve people have served as President of the Federal Republic of Germany. Six of them were members of the CDU (Lübke, Carstens, von Weizsäcker, Herzog, Köhler, Wulff), three were members of the SPD (Heinemann, Rau, Steinmeier), two were members of the FDP (Heuss, Scheel) and one was independent (Gauck). Four presidents were ministers in the federal government before entering office (Lübke (Agriculture), Heinemann (Justice), Scheel (Foreign Affairs), Steinmeier (Foreign Affairs)), two of them (Scheel, Steinmeier) having been Vice Chancellor of Germany. Three were head of a state government (von Weizsäcker (West Berlin), Rau (North Rhine-Westphalia), Wulff (Lower Saxony)), Rau having been President of the Bundesrat. Two were members of the Bundestag (Heuss, Carstens), Carstens having been President of the Bundestag. One was president of the Federal Constitutional Court (Herzog), director of the IMF (Köhler) and Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records (Gauck). Only four presidents (Heuss, Lübke, von Weizsäcker, Köhler) have been re-elected for a second five-year-term and only two of those (Heuss, von Weizsäcker) served the full ten years. Christian Wulff served the shortest tenure (1 year, 7 months and 18 days) of all presidents.

The president is (according to Art. 57 GG) deputised by the President of the Bundesrat who can perform any of the president's duties, if the president is temporarily unable to do so and delegates these duties to them (this frequently happens during state visits), or if the Presidency falls vacant, in which case he becomes acting head of state (not "(acting) President") until a successor is elected, which has to happen within thirty days. This has happened three times:

Political Party

  FDP (2)   CDU (6)   SPD (3)   None (1)

Portrait Name
(Home State)
Previous service Term of Office Political Party Deputies (Presidents of the Bundesrat, according to Art. 57 GG). Presidents of the Bundesrat, who acted as head of state because of a vacancy, in bold Notable decisions
Took Office Left Office
President of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundespräsident)
1 Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1983-098-20a, Heuss Theodor Heuss
(Württemberg-Baden, since 1952 part of Baden-Württemberg)
Member of the Bundestag (1949) 12 September 1949 12 September 1959 FDP Karl Arnold (1949–1950), Hans Ehard (1950–1951), Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf (1951–1952), Reinhold Maier (1952–1953), Georg August Zinn (1953–1954), Peter Altmeier (1954–1955), Kai-Uwe von Hassel (1955–1956), Kurt Sieveking (1956–1957), Willy Brandt (1957–1958), Wilhelm Kaisen (1958–1959) vetoed one bill
2 Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1994-034-22A, Heinrich Lübke Heinrich Lübke
(North Rhine-Westphalia)
Federal Minister of Agriculture (1953–1959) 13 September 1959 30 June 1969
CDU Wilhelm Kaisen (1959), Franz Josef Röder (1959–1960), Franz Meyers (1960–1961), Hans Ehard (1961–1962), Kurt Georg Kiesinger (1962–1963), Georg Diederichs (1963–1964), Georg August Zinn (1964–1965), Peter Altmeier (1965–1966), Helmut Lemke (1966–1967), Klaus Schütz (1967–1968), Herbert Weichmann (1968–1969) vetoed one bill
3 Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2007-0037, Gustav Heinemann Gustav Heinemann
(North Rhine-Westphalia)
Federal Minister of Justice (1966–1969) 1 July 1969 30 June 1974 SPD Herbert Weichmann (1969), Franz Josef Röder (1969–1970), Hans Koschnick (1970–1971), Heinz Kühn (1971–1972), Alfons Goppel (1972–1973), Hans Filbinger (1973–1974) vetoed two bills and dissolved the Bundestag in 1972
4 Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1989-047-20, Walter Scheel Walter Scheel
(North Rhine-Westphalia)
Vice Chancellor of Germany (1969–1974)
Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs (1969–1974)
1 July 1974 30 June 1979 FDP Hans Filbinger (1974), Alfred Kubel (1974–1975), Albert Osswald (1975–1976), Bernhard Vogel (1976–1977), Gerhard Stoltenberg (1977–1978), Dietrich Stobbe (1978–1979) vetoed one bill
5 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F054633-0020, Ludwigshafen, CDU-Bundesparteitag, Carstens (cropped) Karl Carstens
President of the Bundestag (1976–1979)
Member of the Bundestag (1972-1979)
1 July 1979 30 June 1984 CDU Dietrich Stobbe (1979), Hans-Ulrich Klose (1979–1980), Werner Zeyer (1980–1981), Hans Koschnick (1981–1982), Johannes Rau (1982–1983), Franz Josef Strauß (1983–1984) dissolved the Bundestag in 1982
6 Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1991-039-11, Richard v. Weizsäcker Richard von Weizsäcker
(Berlin, until 1990 West Berlin)
Governing Mayor of Berlin (1981–1984) 1 July 1984 30 June 1994 CDU Franz Josef Strauß (1984), Lothar Späth (1984–1985), Ernst Albrecht (1985–1986), Holger Börner (1986–1987), Walter Wallmann (1987), Bernhard Vogel (1987–1988), Björn Engholm (1988–1989), Walter Momper (1989–1990), Henning Voscherau (1990–1991), Alfred Gomolka (1991–1992), Berndt Seite (1992), Oskar Lafontaine (1992–1993), Klaus Wedemeier (1993–1994) vetoed one bill
7 Roman Herzog Roman Herzog
President of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany (1987–1994) 1 July 1994 30 June 1999 CDU Klaus Wedemeier (1994), Johannes Rau (1994–1995), Edmund Stoiber (1995–1996), Erwin Teufel (1996–1997), Gerhard Schröder (1997–1998), Hans Eichel (1998–1999), Roland Koch (1999)
8 Johannes rau 2004-05-16 berlin-RZ Johannes Rau
(North Rhine-Westphalia)
President of the Bundesrat (1982–1983 and 1994–1995)
Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia (1978–1998)
1 July 1999 30 June 2004 SPD Roland Koch (1999), Kurt Biedenkopf (1999–2000), Kurt Beck (2000–2001), Klaus Wowereit (2001–2002), Wolfgang Böhmer (2002–2003), Dieter Althaus (2003–2004)
9 Horst Köhler Horst Köhler
(born 1943)
Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (2000–2004) 1 July 2004 31 May 2010
CDU Dieter Althaus (2004), Matthias Platzeck (2004–2005), Peter Harry Carstensen (2005–2006), Harald Ringstorff (2006–2007), Ole von Beust (2007–2008), Peter Müller (2008–2009), Jens Böhrnsen (2009–2010) vetoed two bills and dissolved the Bundestag in 2005
10 President Wulff Christian Wulff
(born 1959)
(Lower Saxony)
Minister President of Lower Saxony (2003–2010) 30 June 2010 17 February 2012
CDU Jens Böhrnsen (2010), Hannelore Kraft (2010–2011), Horst Seehofer (2011–2012)
11 President Gauck Joachim Gauck
(born 1940)
Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records (1990–2000) 18 March 2012 18 March 2017 Independent Horst Seehofer (2012), Winfried Kretschmann (2012–2013), Stephan Weil (2013–2014), Volker Bouffier (2014–2015), Stanislaw Tillich (2015–2016), Malu Dreyer (2016–2017)
12 Steinmeier Cropped Frank-Walter Steinmeier
(born 1956)
Vice Chancellor of Germany (2007–2009)
Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs (2005–2009 and 2013–2017)
19 March 2017 18 March 2022 SPD Malu Dreyer (2017), Michael Müller (2017–2018), Daniel Günther (incumbent until 31 October 2019)

Living former Presidents

In Germany, former presidents are usually referred to as Altbundespräsidenten (President emeritus). There are three living former German presidents:


Horst Köhler (age 76)
since 2010

Christian Wulff 2014

Christian Wulff (age 59)
since 2012

2016-10-03 Joachim Gauck (Tag der Deutschen Einheit 2016 in Dresden) by Sandro Halank

Joachim Gauck (age 79)
since 2017

See also


  1. ^ The official title within Germany is Bundespräsident, with der Bundesrepublik Deutschland being added in international correspondence; the official English title is President of the Federal Republic of Germany
    Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany (1990). German Institutions. Terminological Series issued by the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany. Volume 3. de Gruyter. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-89925-584-2.
  2. ^ "Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany". Retrieved 2012-11-22.
  3. ^ German constitutional court: BVerfG, – 2 BvE 4/13–10 June 2014, No. 28
  4. ^ Website of the President of Germany [1] Retrieved 28 April 2014
  5. ^ Official website of the President of Germany: Constitutional basis [2] Retrieved 29 April 2014
  6. ^ Official Website of the President of Germany [3] Retrieved 28 April 2014
  7. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Article 56.
  8. ^ Haensle, Walter (2009). "Amtseid à la Obama – Verfassungsrechtliche Grundfragen und Probleme des Amtseids nach dem Grundgesetz" (PDF). JURA - Juristische Ausbildung. 31 (9): 670–676. doi:10.1515/JURA.2009.670. ISSN 0170-1452.
  9. ^ a b Official Website of the President of Germany: Interaction between constitutional organs. Retrieved 29 April 2014
  10. ^ a b Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (in German). Article 67.
  11. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (in German). Articles 67 and 68.
  12. ^ Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (in German). Article 82.
  13. ^ "Das Amt des Bundespräsidenten und sein Prüfungsrecht | bpb".
  14. ^ "Bundespräsidenten: Das achte Nein". Spiegel Online. 2006-12-08.
  15. ^ The Federal President of Germany – Official Functions. Retrieved 29 April 2014
  16. ^ (in German)
  17. ^ Bryde, in: von Münch/Kunig, GGK III, 5. Aufl. 2003, Rn. 7 zu Art. 81.
  18. ^ "Das Amt des Bundespräsidenten und sein Prüfungsrecht" (in German). Retrieved 2012-11-22.
  19. ^ Heinrich Wilms: Staatsrecht I: Staatsorganisationsrecht unter Berücksichtigung der Föderalismusreform. Stuttgart 2007. pp. 201 ff. (German)
  20. ^ "Geschäftsordnung des Bundesrates" [Rules of Procedure of the Bundesrat] (PDF). §7 (1). Retrieved 7 November 2016. Die Vizepräsidenten vertreten den Präsidenten im Falle seiner Verhinderung oder bei vorzeitiger Beendigung seines Amtes nach Maßgabe ihrer Reihenfolge. Ein Fall der Verhinderung liegt auch vor, solange der Präsident des Bundesrates nach Artikel 57 des Grundgesetzes die Befugnisse des Bundespräsidenten wahrnimmt.
  21. ^ "Bouffier und Tillich vertreten Bundespräsidenten".
  22. ^ "Interview zum Köhler-Rücktritt: "Das hat es noch nicht gegeben"". Retrieved 2012-11-22.
  23. ^ Official website of the Federal President of Germany [4] Retrieved 29 April 2014
  24. ^ Zentner, Christian Ed; Bedürftig, Friedemann Ed (1985). Das große Lexikon des Dritten Reiches (in German). München: Südwest Verlag. p. 686. ISBN 978-3-517-00834-9.
  25. ^
  26. ^ Reichgesetzblatt part I. Berlin: de:Bild:RGBL I 1934 S 0747.png. Reich Government. 1 August 1934. p. 747. |first= missing |last= (help)
  27. ^ "The Constitution of the German Federation of 11 August 1919". Retrieved 2007-07-16.

External links

1925 in Germany

Events in the year 1925 in Germany.

Arthur von Posadowsky-Wehner

Arthur Adolf, Count of Posadowsky-Wehner, Baron of Postelwitz (German: Arthur Graf von Posadowsky-Wehner Freiherr von Postelwitz, 3 June 1845 – 23 October 1932) was a German conservative statesman. He served as Secretary for the Treasury (1893–1897), Secretary of the Interior, Vice Chancellor of Germany and Prussian Minister of State (1897–1907).

Born to Silesian nobility, the son of a judge, Posadowsky-Wehner studied law in Berlin, Heidelberg and Breslau and earned a doctorate in law in 1867. He subsequently acquired an agricultural property, and entered politics in 1871, when he became a member of the province government in Posen. In 1882 he became a member of the Parliament of Prussia, and was appointed Landeshauptmann of Posen in 1885.

Posadowsky was a crucial figure for the election reform in 1903. He took care of a new voting technique to protect the secrecy of the ballot for the German parliament.

Posadowsky-Wehner was the candidate of the German National People's Party for the Presidency of Germany in 1919, but he lost to Friedrich Ebert.

Bellevue Palace (Germany)

Bellevue Palace (German: Schloss Bellevue), located in Berlin's Tiergarten district, has been the official residence of the President of Germany since 1994. It is situated on the banks of the Spree river, near the Berlin Victory Column, along the northern edge of the Großer Tiergarten park. Its name – the French for "beautiful view" – derives from its scenic prospect over the Spree's course.

Christian Wulff

Christian Wilhelm Walter Wulff (German pronunciation: [ˈkʁɪsti̯an ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈvaltɐ vʊlf]; born 19 June 1959) is a German politician and lawyer. He served as President of Germany from 2010 to 2012. A member of the Christian Democratic Union, he served as Prime Minister of the state of Lower Saxony from 2003 to 2010. He was elected President in the 30 June 2010 presidential election, defeating opposition candidate Joachim Gauck and taking office immediately, although he was not sworn in until 2 July.On 17 February 2012, Wulff resigned as President of Germany, facing the prospect of prosecution for allegations of corruption relating to his prior service as Minister-President of Lower Saxony. In 2014, he was acquitted of all corruption charges by the Hanover regional court.

Erich Ludendorff

Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ritter von Ludendorff (Born Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff) (9 April 1865 – 20 December 1937) was a German general, the victor of the Battle of Liège and the Battle of Tannenberg. From August 1916, his appointment as Quartermaster general (German: Erster Generalquartiermeister) made him the leader (along with Paul von Hindenburg) of the German war efforts during World War I. The failure of Germany's great Spring Offensive in 1918 in its quest for total victory was his great strategic failure and he was forced out in October 1918.After the war, Ludendorff became a prominent nationalist leader, and a promoter of the Stab-in-the-back myth, which posited that the German loss in World War I was caused by the betrayal of the German Army by Marxists, Bolsheviks, and Jews who were furthermore responsible for the disadvantageous settlement negotiated for Germany in the Treaty of Versailles. He took part in the failed Kapp Putsch (coup d’état) with Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 and the Beer Hall Putsch of Adolf Hitler in 1923, and in 1925, he ran unsuccessfully for the office of President of Germany against his former superior Hindenburg.

From 1924 to 1928, he represented the German Völkisch Freedom Party in the Reichstag (legislature). Consistently pursuing a purely military line of thought after the war, Ludendorff developed the theory of "Total War", which he published as Der totale Krieg (The Total War) in 1935. In this work, he argued that the entire physical and moral forces of the nation should be mobilized, because peace was merely an interval between wars. Ludendorff was a recipient of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross and the Pour le Mérite.

Ernst Thälmann

Ernst Thälmann (16 April 1886 – 18 August 1944) was the leader of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) during much of the Weimar Republic. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1933 and held in solitary confinement for eleven years, before being shot in Buchenwald on Adolf Hitler's personal orders in 1944.

Fourth Merkel cabinet

The fourth cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel is the current government of Germany, sworn in on 14 March 2018 after Merkel was proposed as Chancellor by President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and elected on the first ballot. It is the 24th cabinet of Germany (Federal Republic).This government is supported by a coalition of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU), and the Social Democrats (SPD), as was its immediate predecessor.

Friedrich Ebert

Friedrich Ebert (German pronunciation: [ˈeːbɐt]; 4 February 1871 – 28 February 1925) was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the first President of Germany from 1919 until his death in office in 1925.

Ebert was elected leader of the SPD on the death in 1913 of August Bebel. In 1914, shortly after he assumed leadership, the party became deeply divided over Ebert's support of war loans to finance the German war effort in World War I. A moderate social democrat, Ebert was in favour of the Burgfrieden, a political policy that sought to suppress squabbles over domestic issues among political parties during wartime in order to concentrate all forces in society on the successful conclusion of the war effort. He tried to isolate those in the party opposed to the war, but could not prevent a split.

Ebert was a pivotal figure in the German Revolution of 1918–19. When Germany became a republic at the end of World War I, he became its first chancellor. His policies at that time were primarily aimed at restoring peace and order in Germany and containing the more extreme elements of the revolutionary left. In order to accomplish these goals, he allied himself with conservative and nationalistic political forces, in particular the leadership of the military under General Wilhelm Groener and the right wing Freikorps. With their help, Ebert's government crushed a number of socialist and communist uprisings as well as those from the right, including the Kapp Putsch. This has made him a controversial historical figure.

Gerhard Schröder (CDU)

Gerhard Schröder (11 September 1910 – 31 December 1989) was a West German politician and member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. He served as Federal Minister of the Interior from 1953 to 1961, as Foreign Minister from 1961 to 1966, and as Minister of Defence from 1966 until 1969. In the 1969 election he ran for President of Germany but was outpolled by Gustav Heinemann.

German order of precedence

The German order of precedence is a symbolic hierarchy of the five highest federal offices in Germany used to direct protocol. It has no official status, but has been established in practical use.

The President of Germany, the head of state of Germany.

The President of the Bundestag, the speaker of the German parliament, the Bundestag.

The Chancellor of Germany, the head of the government of Germany.

(1.) The President of the Bundesrat, the speaker of the Bundesrat, a federal legislative chamber, in which the governments of the sixteen german states are represented. He or she is ex officio also deputy to the President of Germany (Basic Law, Article 57). Thus, he or she becomes first in the order, while acting on behalf of the President or while acting as head of state during a vacancy of the presidency.

The President of the Federal Constitutional Court, the supreme court of Germany.

Horst Köhler

Horst Köhler (German: [ˈhɔɐ̯st ˈkøːlɐ] (listen); born 22 February 1943) is a German politician of the Christian Democratic Union, and served as President of Germany from 2004 to 2010. As the candidate of the two Christian Democratic sister parties, the CDU and the CSU, and the liberal FDP, Köhler was elected to his first five-year term by the Federal Assembly on 23 May 2004 and was subsequently inaugurated on 1 July 2004. He was reelected to a second term on 23 May 2009. Just a year later, on 31 May 2010, he resigned from his office in a controversy over his comment on the role of the German Bundeswehr in light of a visit to the troops in Afghanistan. During his tenure as German President, whose office is mostly concerned with ceremonial matters, Köhler was a highly popular politician, with approval rates above those of both chancellor Gerhard Schröder and later chancellor Angela Merkel.Köhler is an economist by profession. Prior to his election as President, Köhler had a distinguished career in politics and the civil service and as a banking executive. He was President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development from 1998 to 2000 and head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from 2000 to 2004. From 2012 to 2013, Köhler served on the UN Secretary General's High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Horst Seehofer

Horst Lorenz Seehofer (born 4 July 1949) is a German politician serving as Leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) from 2008 to 2019 and Minister of the Interior, Building and Community since 2018 under Chancellor Angela Merkel. From 2008 to 2018, he was Minister President of Bavaria; he also served as President of the Bundesrat between 2011 and 2012.

First elected to the Bundestag in 1980, he served as Federal Minister for Health and Social Security from 1992 to 1998 and as Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection in the cabinet of Angela Merkel from 2005 to 2008. In October 2008 he became Leader of the CSU and the 18th Minister President of Bavaria. From 1 November 2011 until 31 October 2012 he served as President of the Bundesrat and ex officio deputy to the President of Germany. Because of that he was Acting President of Germany after the resignation of President Christian Wulff on 17 February 2012 and before the election of Joachim Gauck as Wulff's successor on 18 March 2012.A staunch opponent of Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy, Seehofer has threatened to file a formal complaint against the Merkel government's refugee policy with Germany's Constitutional Court and is a proponent of a federal cap on the number of refugees the German government is to take in.

Joachim Gauck

Joachim Wilhelm Gauck (German: [joˈʔaxiːm ɡaʊ̯k]; born 24 January 1940) is a German politician and civil rights activist who served as President of Germany from 2012 to 2017. A former Lutheran pastor, he came to prominence as an anti-communist civil rights activist in East Germany.During the Peaceful Revolution in 1989, he was a co-founder of the New Forum opposition movement in East Germany, which contributed to the downfall of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and later with two other movements formed the electoral list Alliance 90. In 1990 he was a member of the only freely elected East German People's Chamber in the Alliance 90/The Greens faction. Following German reunification, he was elected as a member of the Bundestag by the People's Chamber in 1990 but resigned after a single day chosen by the Bundestag to be the first Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records, serving from 1990 to 2000. He earned recognition in this position as a "Stasi hunter" and "tireless pro-democracy advocate", exposing the crimes of the communist secret police.He was nominated as the candidate of the SPD and the Greens for President of Germany in the 2010 election, but lost in the third draw to Christian Wulff, the candidate of the government coalition. His candidacy was met by significant approval of the population and the media; Der Spiegel described him as "the better President" and the Bild called him "the president of hearts." Later, after Christian Wulff stepped down, Gauck was elected as President with 991 of 1228 votes in the Federal Convention in the 2012 election, as a nonpartisan consensus candidate of the CDU, the CSU, the FDP, the SPD and the Greens.

A son of a survivor of a Soviet Gulag, Gauck's political life was formed by his own family's experiences with totalitarianism. Gauck was a founding signatory of the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism, together with Václav Havel and other statesmen, and of the Declaration on Crimes of Communism. He has called for increased awareness of communist crimes in Europe, and for the necessity of delegitimizing the communist era. As President he was a proponent of "an enlightened anti-communism" and he has underlined the illegitimacy of communist rule in East Germany. He is the author and co-author of several books, including The Black Book of Communism. His 2012 book Freedom: A Plea calls for the defense of freedom and human rights around the globe. He has been described by Chancellor Angela Merkel as a "true teacher of democracy" and a "tireless advocate of freedom, democracy, and justice." The Wall Street Journal has described him as "the last of a breed: the leaders of protest movements behind the Iron Curtain who went on to lead their countries after 1989." He has received numerous honours, including the 1997 Hannah Arendt Prize.

Johannes Rau

Johannes Rau (German pronunciation: [joˈhanəs ˈʁaʊ]; 16 January 1931 – 27 January 2006) was a German politician of the SPD. He was President of Germany from 1 July 1999 until 30 June 2004, Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia from 20 September 1978 to 9 June 1998 and President of the Bundesrat from 1 November 1982 to 31 October 1983 and from 1 November 1994 to 31 October 1995.

Karl Dönitz

Karl Dönitz (sometimes spelled Doenitz German: [ˈdøːnɪts] (listen); 16 September 1891 – 24 December 1980) was a German admiral who played a major role in the naval history of World War II. Dönitz briefly succeeded Adolf Hitler as the head of state of Nazi Germany.

He began his career in the Imperial German Navy before World War I. In 1918, he was commanding UB-68 when she was sunk by British forces. Dönitz was taken prisoner. While in a prisoner of war camp, he formulated what he later called Rudeltaktik ("pack tactic", commonly called "wolfpack"). At the start of World War II, he was the senior submarine officer in the Kriegsmarine. In January 1943, Dönitz achieved the rank of Großadmiral (grand admiral) and replaced Grand Admiral Erich Raeder as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy.

On 30 April 1945, after the death of Adolf Hitler and in accordance with Hitler's last will and testament, Dönitz was named Hitler's successor as head of state, with the title of President of Germany and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. On 7 May 1945, he ordered Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations Staff of the OKW, to sign the German instruments of surrender in Reims, France. Dönitz remained as head of the Flensburg Government, as it became known, until it was dissolved by the Allied powers on 23 May.

Despite his postwar claims, Dönitz was seen as supportive of Nazism during the war, and he is known to have made a number of anti-Semitic statements. Following the war, Dönitz was indicted as a major war criminal at the Nuremberg Trials on three counts: (1) conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; (2) planning, initiating, and waging wars of aggression; and (3) crimes against the laws of war. He was found not guilty on count (1) of the indictment, but guilty on counts (2) and (3). He was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment; after his release, he lived in a village near Hamburg until his death in 1980. For nearly seven decades, Dönitz was the only head of state to be convicted by an international tribunal until the conviction of Liberia's Charles Taylor in April 2012.

Otto Braun

Otto Braun (28 January 1872 – 15 December 1955) was a German Social Democratic politician who served as Prime Minister of Prussia for most of the time from 1920 to 1932. After the Nazis seized power in 1933, Braun went into exile in Switzerland.

President of Germany (1919–1945)

The Reichspräsident was the German head of state under the Weimar constitution, which was officially in force from 1919 to 1945. In English he was usually simply referred to as the President of Germany. The German title Reichspräsident literally means President of the Reich, the term Reich referring to the federal nation state established in 1871.

The Weimar constitution created a semi-presidential system in which power was divided between the president, a cabinet and a parliament. The Reichspräsident was directly elected under universal adult suffrage for a seven-year term. It was intended that the president would rule in conjunction with the Reichstag (legislature) and that his emergency powers would be exercised only in extraordinary circumstances, but the political instability of the Weimar period, and a paralysing factionalism in the legislature, meant that the president came to occupy a position of considerable power (not unlike that of the German Emperor he replaced), capable of legislating by decree and appointing and dismissing governments at will.

In 1934, after the death of President Hindenburg, Adolf Hitler, already Chancellor, assumed the Presidency, but did not usually use the title of President – ostensibly out of respect for Hindenburg – and preferred to rule as Führer und Reichskanzler ("Leader and Reich Chancellor"), highlighting the positions he already held in party and government. In his last will in April 1945, Hitler named Joseph Goebbels his successor as Chancellor but named Karl Dönitz as Reichspräsident, thus reviving the individual office for a short while until the German surrender.

The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany established the office of Federal President (Bundespräsident), which is, however, a chiefly ceremonial post largely devoid of political power.

Roman Herzog

Roman Herzog (5 April 1934 – 10 January 2017) was a German politician, judge and legal scholar, who served as President of Germany from 1994 to 1999. A member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), he was the first president to be elected after the reunification of Germany. He previously served as a judge of the Federal Constitutional Court, and he was the President of the court 1987–1994. Before his appointment as a judge he was a professor of law. He received the 1997 Charlemagne Prize.

Wilhelm Marx

Wilhelm Marx (15 January 1863 – 5 August 1946) was a German lawyer, Catholic politician and a member of the Centre Party. He was Chancellor of Germany twice, from 1923 to 1925 and again from 1926 to 1928, and he also served briefly as Minister President of Prussia in 1925, during the Weimar Republic. He was the longest-serving Chancellor during the Weimar Republic.

Heads of state and government of Europe
of state
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