Germany has 16 federal states, here you can see them all at a glance:
- Bavaria (in german Bayern)
- Hesse (in german Hessen)
- Lower Saxony (in german Niedersachsen)
- North Rhine-Westphalia (in german Nordrhein-Westfalen)
- Rhineland-Palatinate (in german Rheinland-Pfalz)
- Saxony (in german Sachsen)
- Saxony-Anhalt (in german Sachsen-Anhalt)
- Thuringia (in german Thüringen)
The official name for the German states in german is Länder.
On this page you will learn all the important information about the states of Germany, about their borders and their neighboring countries.
Table of contents
The German states in detail
Below you will learn more details about the location and geography of the states of Germany.
The state of Baden-Württemberg is located in the southwest of Germany and its capital is Stuttgart. The highest mountain is Feldberg in the Black Forest at 1,493 meters. Baden-Württemberg has external borders with France and Switzerland.
Bavaria (in german Bayern)
Bavaria is the state in the southeast of Germany and its capital is Munich. The highest mountain of Bavaria and at the same time of the whole Germany is the 2,962-meter-high Zugspitze. Bavaria has external borders with Austria and the Czech Republic and is the only state with a share of the Alps.
Berlin is one of the three city-states of Germany. The state is completely surrounded by Brandenburg and at the same time is the capital of the whole Germany. The highest natural elevation of Berlin is the 115 meter high Großer Müggelberg.
Brandenburg is located in the east of Germany and belongs to the new federal states. Its capital is Potsdam. The highest elevation of Brandenburg is the 201 meter high Heidehöhe. Brandenburg has an external border with neighboring Poland.
Bremen is located in northwestern Germany and is the smallest of the three German city-states. It is completely surrounded by the state of Lower Saxony. The highest point of Bremen is only about 33 meters above sea level.
Hamburg is one of the three German city states and is located in northern Germany on the Elbe River. Famous is the large port of Hamburg. The highest elevation in Hamburg is the 116 meters high Hasselbrack.
Hesse (in german Hessen)
Hesse is centrally located in Germany. The capital of the state is Wiesbaden. The largest city of Hesse, on the other hand, is Frankfurt am Main. The highest mountain in Hesse is the 950 meter high Wasserkuppe.
Lower Saxony (in german Niedersachsen)
Lower Saxony is the federal state in the very northwest of Germany. Its capital is Hanover. It borders on the North Sea and the Netherlands. The highest mountain in the state is the 971 meter high Wurmberg. It is located in the Harz Mountains.
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is the federal state in the very northeast of Germany. It borders on the Baltic Sea and Poland. Its capital is Schwerin. The highest elevation in the state is the Helpter Mountains, which are 179 meters high. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern belongs to the new federal states.
North Rhine-Westphalia (in german Nordrhein-Westfalen)
North Rhine-Westphalia is located in the very west of Germany, bordering the Netherlands and Belgium. Its capital is Düsseldorf. The highest mountain in North Rhine-Westphalia is Langenberg. It is 843 meters high.
Rhineland-Palatinate (in german Rheinland-Pfalz)
Rhineland-Palatinate is located in the west of Germany. Its capital is Mainz. The state has external borders with Belgium, Luxembourg and France. The highest mountain of Rhineland-Palatinate is Erbeskopf. It is 816 meters high and is located in the Hunsrück.
Saarland is located in the southwest of Germany. Its capital is Saarbrücken and it borders with France and Luxembourg. The highest mountain in Saarland is 695 meters high and is called Dollberg. Apart from the city states, Saarland is the smallest state in Germany in terms of area.
Saxony (in german Sachsen)
Saxony is also one of the new German states. It is located in the east of Germany and borders on Poland and the Czech Republic. The capital of Saxony is Dresden. The highest mountain of Saxony is located in the Ore Mountains and is 1,215 meters high. It is called Fichtelberg.
Saxony-Anhalt (in german Sachsen-Anhalt)
Saxony-Anhalt belongs to the new federal states and its capital is Magdeburg. Saxony-Anhalt has no external borders. The highest mountain in Saxony-Anhalt is the Brocken. This is with 1,141 meters height also the highest mountain in the Harz.
Schleswig-Holstein is the federal state in the very north of Germany. It borders on Denmark, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Its capital is Kiel. The highest elevation in the state of Schleswig-Holstein is the 167 meter high Bungsberg.
Thuringia (in german Thüringen)
Thuringia is the last of the new German states and its capital is Erfurt. Thuringia has no external borders. The highest mountain of Thuringia is the Große Beerberg. It is 983 meters high and is located in the low mountain range Thuringian Forest.
Capitals of the states of Germany
Each federal state has a capital. The following table contains all German states with their capital and their number of inhabitants.
|State||Capital||Inhabitants of the capital|
|Bavaria (Bayern)||Munich (München)||1,484,226|
|North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen)||Düsseldorf||621,877|
|Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen)||Hannover||536,925|
Size of the states of Germany
The federal states of Germany are very different in size. They are also anything but equal in terms of their number of inhabitants. The following table contains information on the area and number of inhabitants of the individual federal states.
|State||Area in km² rounded||Share of the total area of Germany rounded||Inhabitants rounded||Share in total population of Germany rounded|
|Bavaria (Bayern)||70,500||20 %||13 million||16 %|
|Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen)||47,700||13 %||8 million||10 %|
|Baden-Württemberg||35,700||10 %||11 million||13 %|
|North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen)||34,100||10 %||18 million||22 %|
|Brandenburg||29,700||8 %||3 million||4 %|
|Mecklenburg-Vorpommern||23,300||7 %||2 million||2 %|
|Hesse (Hessen)||21,100||6 %||6 million||8 %|
|Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt)||20,400||6 %||2 million||2 %|
|Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz)||19,900||6 %||4 million||5 %|
|Saxony (Sachsen)||18,500||5 %||4 million||5 %|
|Thuringia (Thüringen)||16,200||5 %||2 million||2 %|
|Schleswig-Holstein||15,800||4 %||3 million||4 %|
|Saarland||2,600||1 %||1 million||1 %|
|Berlin||900||0 %||4 million||5 %|
|Hamburg||800||0 %||2 million||2 %|
|Bremen||400||0 %||1 million||1 %|
Differences between the federal states
Admittedly, the differences between the German federal states are not as great as those between the individual states of the USA, for example. Nevertheless, there are certain differences between the individual federal states within the framework of federalism.
For example, police and education are the responsibility of the individual federal states. The differences in these areas are sometimes considerable. One difference that immediately jumps out at you is that the German police have different uniforms in the individual federal states.
And there are also cultural and linguistic differences between the various German states. The dialects among each other can diverge to such an extent that people no longer understand each other.
Even when it comes to current social and political issues, it becomes apparent time and again that the German states sometimes react very differently. In the Covid pandemic situation, for example, different regulations in the individual German states lead to astonishment and confusion among many people. Nevertheless, federalism and thus a strong political voice of the individual federal states are to be welcomed in principle. After all, they are intended to prevent a concentration of power by the federal government. Why this makes sense is well illustrated by the example of German history.
Origin of the federal states of Germany
It is true that the origins of German federalism go back to the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the current division of Germany is a consequence of the Second World War. The background was essentially two things:
- The division of Germany among the occupying powers: France, Great Britain, the USA and Russia.
- The desire not to let individual German states become too strong, in order to prevent a renewed centralization of power – Prussia in particular was to be weakened
In part, the German states from 1945/1946/1947 are based on the historical states. In part, however, they have been completely redefined. After some back and forth, 16 federal states were agreed upon as of 1947, but they do not quite correspond to the states of today.
Former German states
Initially, there were three federal states that no longer exist in Germany:
The division can be explained by the borders of the occupation zones. This is because they ran right through what is now Baden-Württemberg. In a referendum, the majority of the population later decided to unite the three states.
The state of Baden-Württemberg is thus the youngest of the old German states. It has existed in its current form since 1952.
Federal States in the German Empire
The German Empire (1871 to 1918) did not have federal states like today’s Federal Republic. But the empire was also divided into parts. At that time, they were called federal states or federal members.
In the German Empire there were a total of 25 states, here you can see them all at a glance:
|Freie Hansestadt Bremen||Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg||Freie und Hansestadt Lübeck||Fürstentum Lippe||Fürstentum Reuß älterer Linie|
|Fürstentum Reuß jüngerer Linie||Fürstentum Schaumburg-Lippe||Fürstentum Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt||Fürstentum Schwarzburg-Sondershausen||Fürstentum Waldeck|
|Großherzogtum Baden||Großherzogtum Hessen||Großherzogtum Mecklenburg-Schwerin||Großherzogtum Mecklenburg-Strelitz||Großherzogtum Oldenburg|
|Großherzogtum Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach||Herzogtum Anhalt||Herzogtum Braunschweig||Herzogtum Sachsen-Altenburg||Herzogtum Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha|
|Herzogtum Sachsen-Meiningen||Königreich Bayern||Königreich Preußen||Königreich Sachsen||Königreich Württemberg|
In addition to the 25 federal states, the German Reich also had the Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine, which had a special status.
Federal States in the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich
During the period of the Weimar Republic (1918 to 1933) and the so-called Third Reich (1933 to 1945), Germany also had sub-regions, which were also officially called Länder at that time. Here, too, the Gleiderung was not quite the same throughout.
Essentially, the Weimar Republic had the following 18 “federal states.”
- Freie Hansestadt Bremen
- Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg
- Freie und Hansestadt Lübeck
- Freistaat Anhalt
- Freistaat Bayern
- Freistaat Braunschweig
- Freistaat Lippe
- Freistaat Mecklenburg-Schwerin
- Freistaat Mecklenburg-Strelitz
- Freistaat Oldenburg
- Freistaat Preußen
- Freistaat Sachsen
- Freistaat Schaumburg-Lippe
- Freistaat Waldeck
- Land Thüringen
- Republik Baden
- Volksstaat Hessen
- Volksstaat Württemberg
The states of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz were united in 1934 to form the state of Mecklenburg.
External borders of the federal states of Germany
Germany has 9 neighboring countries. You can find all important information about Germany and its neighboring countries on the page about Germany’s neighboring countries. The following table shows which of Germany’s federal states have external borders with a German neighboring state and to which neighboring states the federal state borders in each case. 10 of the German states have external borders.
|Bavaria (Bayern)||Austria, Czech Republic|
|Saxony (Sachsen)||Czech Republic, Poland|
|Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen)||Netherlands|
|North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen)||Netherlands, Belgium|
|Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz)||Belgium, Luxembourg, France|
Inner German borders
The inner-German borders between the federal states are freely passable and not particularly clearly marked. As a rule, a traffic sign on roads that cross a border between two federal states indicates the border. Nothing more. Most of the time, there is also some meaningless saying on such a sign, such as Willkommen im Land der Frühaufsteher – Sachsen-Anhalt (Welcome to the land of early risers – Saxony-Anhalt).
New Federal States Germany
Until 1990, Germany was divided. Namely into the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR (German Democratic Republic). During this time, 5 of the German states belonged to the GDR, the rest to the Federal Republic. Since the reunification, one therefore speaks of the new federal states.
The new federal states are:
- Saxony (Sachsen)
- Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt)
- Thuringia (Thüringen)
About one sixth of Germany’s 83 million inhabitants live in the new federal states.
The former border between the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany was heavily observed and partly heavily fortified. Part of this border fortification was, for example, the Berlin Wall. In some places, the traces of this border can still be found today on the borders between the old and the new federal states. You can discover wall sections, watchtowers or death strips.
German states by the sea
Only 3 of the German states are located by the sea. Lower Saxony is in the northwest of Germany on the North Sea. Schleswig-Holstein is located in the north of Germany on the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. And the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is located in the northeast of Germany on the Baltic Sea.
States in other federal states
Only in one German-speaking state other than Germany is the next smaller administrative unit also called a Land or Bundesland. Namely the federal states of Austria. In contrast to Germany, Austria has only 9 federal states.
In Switzerland, the equivalent of the German federal state is the canton. There are 26 cantons in Switzerland.
The states of the USA are called states. There are a total of 50 states in the USA.
In Italy, on the other hand, the federal states are called regions. There are 20 regions in Italy.
In Luxembourg, the federal states are called districts. And Liechtenstein has to do without federal states altogether.