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Germany’s Basic Law at 75 A celebration of democracy

The Basic Law has governed how we live together in Germany since 23 May 1949. Seventy-five years of freedom, peace and democracy in Germany is an amazing success, but we cannot take it for granted. So let’s celebrate our Basic Law!

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Basic Law of the FRG from 1949, original copy in the Bundestag

The original copy of the Basic Law is preserved in the Bundestag.

Photo: Burkhard Peter

Germany’s Basic Law is 75 years old. The celebrations for the anniversary year will begin on 23 May 2024 with a state ceremony in Berlin. This will be followed by a Festival of Democracy from 24 to 26 May, and members of the public are warmly invited.

Germany celebrates democracy

The area around the Chancellery and Paul Löbe Building next to the Bundestag will be transformed into a sea of colour and excitement. The Länder and civil society organisations will also be represented, along with the Federal President, the Bundestag, the Bundesrat, the Federal Constitutional Court, the Federal Chancellor, Federal Government ministries, and the Press and Information Office of the Federal Government.

Everyone is excited to meet and talk to members of the public across a wide range of events and activities. The closing event on Sunday evening will conclude the Festival of Democracy on a high note.

Bonn will also host celebrations, with a grand public festival planned for 25 May to celebrate “75 Years of the Basic Law. Democracy made in Bonn”.

The Basic Law is Germany’s constitution

Germany’s Basic Law was presented to the public for the first time in 1949. Seventy-five years on, Article 1 has lost none of its validity and impact: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”

Articles 1 to 19 focus on various fundamental rights, guaranteeing such rights as the freedom of expression and the media, the freedom of conscience and equality. Article 20 sets out the principles for the structure of the state. It begins with the words “The Federal Republic of Germany is a democratic and social federal state.”

The 146 articles of the Basic Law also include general regulations on Federal and Länder governments and the powers of the various constitutional bodies such as the Federal Government and the Bundestag. It also sets out the legislative process, principles of Länder administration, justice and state finances.

From an interim measure to Germany's most important book

When the Basic Law was first drafted it was only considered an interim measure given the possibility that the country could be reunified. West German state premiers feared that adopting a constitution as a foundational document for a new state could deepen divisions between eastern and western Germany.

However, since Reunification in 1990, the Basic Law has applied to all of Germany. Under the Unification Treaty of 31 August 1990, the leaders of West and East Germany agreed that the Basic Law would also apply to the Länder of East Germany.

Defending freedom and democracy

In a ceremony on 1 September 2023 to mark 75 years of the Parliamentary Council, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, “Time and again we have striven to achieve freedom and democracy. What happened here actually made that a reality. That’s why it’s important that we should understand that the best democracy we’ve ever had in Germany is also one which we must defend.” Scholz also expressed his gratitude for the words of the former Federal President Joachim Gauck. Gauck, Scholz said, had made it clear that democracy didn’t just live on the great articles of the constitution, but that we as citizens should uphold, protect and defend it against those who would seek to undermine it from within.

“That’s why it’s so very important now that those who feel a sense of duty towards democracy and set their faces against populism should actively play their part in defending freedom and democracy,” the Federal Chancellor said.