Germany is made up of various states Länder (singular Land, German for "land" or "country"), generally referred to in English as states. In official English translations, the term "land" is commonly used. A Land (colloquially but rarely in a legal context also called Bundesland, for "federated state") is one of the partly sovereign constituent states of the Federal Republic of Germany. The cities of Berlin and Hamburg are states in their own right. These three are called Stadtstaaten (city-states). The remaining states are called Flächenländer (literally: area states).
Federalism has a long tradition in German history. The Holy Roman Empire comprised numerous petty states. The number of territories was grossly reduced during the Napoleonic Wars. After the Congress of Vienna 39 states formed the German Confederation. It was dissolved after the Austro-Prussian War and replaced by the North German Federation under Prussian hegemony. The war left Prussia dominant in Germany, and German nationalism would compel the remaining independent states to ally with Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, and then to accede to the crowning of King Wilhelm as German Emperor. The new German Empire included 25 states, three of them Hanseatic cities and the imperial territory of Alsace-Lorraine. The empire was dominated by Prussia, which controlled 65% of the territory and 62% of the population. These states were gradually de facto abolished under the regime of Adolf Hitler via the Gleichschaltung process, as the states were largely superimposed by Hitler's united system.
The Länder can conclude treaties with foreign countries in matters within their own sphere of competence and with the consent of the Federal Government (Article 32 of the Basic Law).
The description free state (Freistaat) is merely a historic synonym for republic—a description used by most German states after the abolishment of monarchy. Today, Freistaat is associated emotionally with a more independent status, especially in Bavaria. However, it has no legal meaning. All states are represented at the federal level in the Bundesrat (Federal Council), where their voting power merely depends on the size of their population.
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(Freier Volksstaat Württemberg-Hohenzollern)
(Freie Hansestadt Bremen)
(Freie Hansestadt Hamburg)