Founding of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG)

May 23rd, 1949


Borders Families & Relationships Identity & Belonging

With the coming into force of its Basic Law on May 23, 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) is officially founded. The Basic Law not only defines the FRG as a democratic state, based upon the core constitutional principle of respect for human dignity, but it also determines who is to be considered “German” in the new republic.

After the end of the Second World War, Germany was divided into four zones of occupation. The Western occupying powers, the USA, Great Britain, and France, resolved to join their zones in 1948, thus paving the way for the establishment of a new West German state. At the behest of the Allies, a parliamentary council consisting of representatives of the individual federal states was subsequently convened to draft a new German Basic Law, which entered in force on May 23, 1949. Thus the Federal Republic of Germany, whose borders with the Soviet occupation zone were initially considered a provisional arrangement, was officially founded. Konrad Adenauer would become the first Chancellor of the FRG, serving until 1963.

The FRG was defined by its Basic Law as a democratic, federal, and parliamentary state. In order to ensure that the atrocities of the National Socialist regime never be repeated, the constitution was based in its first article on the principle of the inviolability of the dignity of the person (GG Art. 1, Abs. 1). Furthermore, as a consequence of the massive population flight from Germany during the period of National Socialist rule, Article 16 of the Basic Law ensures the right to asylum. This unrestricted right was however severely limited through amendment in the 1990s (See also:“Asylum Compromise”, 1993).

The new constitution also regulated who could be counted as a German “according to the Basic Law” (GG Art. 116). This definition encompassed both German citizens as well as “refugees and displaced persons of German nationality”. Nationality law continued to be based on the principle of decent introduced in 1913, according to which one was considered German if born to a German parent (See also:The Reich Nationality Act, 1913). This would only be modified 55 years later (See also: Amendment of the German Nationality Act, 1999-2000). Behind this article lay the fact that it was difficult to determine the citizenship of many refugees and displaced or resettled people after the war; these people could thus count as German on the basis of their “national identity”. As a result, Aussiedler (ethnic German emigrants from Eastern Europe), for example, enjoyed a privileged (legal) status compared to other immigrant groups, despite themselves also being subject to everyday forms of discrimination.

The German system of naturalization was furthermore based on a patriarchal legal principle. Children born to a non-German could only obtain German citizenship if the father already possessed it and accepted the child as his own. This clause would be removed in 1975, so that subsequently German citizenship possessed by either parent was sufficient.

The so-called law on aliens in the FRG was initially governed by the Alien Policing Ordinance of 1938, which had remained in force after 1945, finally being replaced in 1965 by the first Alien Act (See also:first “Alien Act” in the FRG, 1965). Since 2005, the Residence Act, Article 1 of the new Immigration Act, has applied in its place (See also:German Immigration Law, 2005).