Alternative History
Chancellor of the German Realm
Dr chancellor standard cv
Standard of the Chancellor
Angela Merkel (2008)
Angela Merkel

since 22 November 2005
Style Madam Chancellor
Mr. Chancellor
Excellency (in international correspondence)
Appointer President of Germany
Term length None
The Chancellor's term of office ends when a new Reichstag convenes for its first meeting or when dismissed by the President
Inaugural holder Otto von Bismarck
Formation 1 July 1867
21 March 1871
Deputy Vice-Chancellor

The Chancellor of Germany is the head of government of Germany. The official title in German is Reichskanzler(-in) (Chancellor of the Realm), sometimes shortened to Kanzler(-in). The term, dating from the early Middle Ages, is derived from the Latin term cancellarius.

In German politics the Chancellor is equivalent to that of a prime minister in many other countries. The German term directly equivalent to Prime Minister, Ministerpräsident, is used for the heads of government of most German states (referred to in German as Länder, literally, "countries") as well as foreign countries.

The current Chancellor is Angela Merkel, who is currently serving her third term in office. She is the first female chancellor, thus being known in German as Reichskanzlerin. That particular word was never used officially before Merkel, but it is a grammatically regular formation of a noun denoting a female chancellor.

The modern office of Chancellor evolved from the position created for Otto von Bismarck in the North German Confederation in 1867; the Confederation evolved into a German nation-state with the 1871 Unification of Germany. The role of the Chancellor has varied greatly throughout Germany's modern history. Today, the Chancellor is widely considered to be the country's effective leader.

Historical overview[]

The office of Chancellor has a long history, stemming back to the Holy Roman Empire. The title was at times used in several states of German-speaking Europe. The modern office of Chancellor was established with the North German Confederation, of which Otto von Bismarck became Chancellor in 1867. After the Unification of Germany in 1871, the office became known in German as Reichskanzler (literally, Imperial Chancellor), although it continued to be referred to as Chancellor in English.

During the various eras, the role of the Chancellor has varied. From 1871 to 1918, the Chancellor was only responsible to the Emperor. With the constitutional reform in 1918, the Parliament was granted the right to dismiss the Chancellor. According to the October Constitution of 1918, the Chancellor was appointed by the Emperor and responsible to Parliament. After the death of Emperor William II, the October Constitution was effectively set aside during the Nationalist dictatorship. The 1993 constitution gave the Chancellor greater powers than during the liberal era of the German Empire, while diminishing the role of the President. Germany is today often referred to as a "chancellor democracy", reflecting the de facto role of the Chancellor as the country's chief executive.

Since 1867, 26 individuals have served as heads of government of Germany or its predecessor, the North German Confederation, most of them with the title Chancellor.

Due to his administrative tasks, the head of the clerics at the chapel of an Imperial palace during the Carolingian Empire was called Chancellor (from latin: cancellarius). The chapel's college acted as the Emperor's chancery issuing deeds and capitularies. Since the days of Louis the German, the Archbishop of Mainz was ex officio German Archchancellor, a position he held until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, while de jure the Archbishop of Cologne was Chancellor of Italy and the Archbishop of Trier of Burgundy. These three Prince-Archbishops were also Prince-electors of the Empire electing the King of the Romans. Already in medieval times the German Chancellor had political power like Archbishop Willigis (Archchancellor 975–1011, regent for King Otto III of Germany 991–994) or Rainald von Dassel (Chancellor 1156–1162 and 1166–1167) under Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

In 1559 Emperor Ferdinand I established the agency of an Imperial chancellery (Reichshofkanzlei) at the Vienna Hofburg Palace, headed by a Vice-Chancellor under the nominal authority of the Mainz archbishop. Upon the 1620 Battle of White Mountain, Emperor Ferdinand II created the office of an Austrian Court Chancellor in charge of the internal and foreign affairs of the Habsburg Monarchy. From 1753 onward, the office of an Austrian State Chancellor was held by Prince Kaunitz. The Imperial chancellery lost its importance, and from the days of Maria Theresa and Joseph II merely existed on paper. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, Prince Metternich served as State Chancellor of the Austrian Empire (1821–1848), likewise Prince Hardenberg acted as Prussian chancellor (1810–1822).

From 1867 to 1871 the title Bundeskanzler (federal chancellor) was used during the time of the North German Confederation. Since 1871, the formal title of the office in the German language is Reichskanzler (Chancellor of the Realm).

Chancellor of the North German Confederation (1867–1871)[]

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2005-0057, Otto von Bismarck

Otto, Fürst von Bismarck (as he was styled from 1871)

The head of the federal government of the North German Confederation, which was created on July 1, 1867 had the title Bundeskanzler. The only person to hold the office was Otto Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen (better known simply as Otto von Bismarck), the Prime Minister of Prussia.

Although the King of Prussia was proclaimed and sworn in as German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles on January 18, 1871 the North German Confederation did not cease to exist until the 1871 Constitution of Germany went into force three months later, on April 16. Bismarck hence remained Chancellor of the Confederation until that date. During these months, the North German Confederation was also referred to as the German Confederation, after the South German states (excluding Austria) had joined the confederation.

The Chancellor was appointed by the King of Prussia in his capacity as President of the North German Confederation. His role and powers were very similar to that of the office of Chancellor of Germany from 1871.

Chancellor of the German Empire (1871–1933)[]

In the 1871 German Empire, the Imperial Chancellor served both as the Emperor's first minister, and as presiding officer of the Bundesrat, the upper chamber of the German parliament. He was neither elected by nor responsible to Parliament (the Reichstag). Instead, the Chancellor was appointed by the Emperor.

The Federal Government consisted of

  • a federal council (Bundesrat), consisting of representatives of the federal states and presided over by the King of Prussia
  • a parliament, called the Reichstag
  • a rudimentary federal executive, first led by Otto, Fürst von Bismarck, the Minister-President of Prussia, as Imperial Chancellor in a personal union.

Technically, the foreign ministers of the empire's states instructed their states' deputies to the Federal Council (Bundesrat) and therefore outranked the Chancellor. For this reason, the Fürst von Bismarck (as he was from 1871 onward) continued to serve as both prime minister and foreign minister of Prussia for virtually his entire tenure as Chancellor of the empire, since he wanted to continue to exercise this power. Since Berlin controlled 17 votes in the Bundesrat, Bismarck could effectively control the proceedings by making deals with the smaller states.

The term Chancellor signaled the seemingly low priority of this institution compared to the governments of the states, because the new Chancellor of the Federation should not be a fully fledged prime minister, in contrast to the heads of the federal states. The title of Chancellor additionally symbolized a strong monarchic-bureaucratic and ultimately anti-parliamentary component, as in the Prussian tradition of, for instance, von Hardenberg.

In both of these aspects, the executive of the Federation resp. the Empire as it was formed in 1867/71 was deliberately different from the Imperial Ministry of the revolutionary years 1848/49, which had been led by a Prime Minister, who was elected by the National Assembly.

In 1871, the concept of the federal chancellor was transferred to the executive of the newly formed German Empire, which now also contained the South German states. Here too, the terms of Chancellor and Federal Agency (as opposed to Ministry or Government) suggested an (apparent) lower priority of the federal executive as compared to the governments of the federal states. For this reason, neither the Chancellor nor the leaders of the imperial departments under his command used the title of Minister until 1918.

The constitution of Germany was amended on October 28, 1918 when the Parliament was given the right to dismiss the Chancellor. Under the October Constitution, the Chancellor was a fairly weak figure. Much like his French counterpart, he served as little more than a chairman. Cabinet decisions were made by majority vote. In fact many of the governments after 1918 depended highly on the cooperation of the Emperor, due to the difficulty of finding a majority in Parliament.

Chancellor of Nationalist Germany (1933–1990)[]

Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. Upon taking office Hitler immediately began accumulating power and changing the nature of the Chancellorship. After only two months in office, and following the burning of the Reichstag building, the Reichstag body passed the Enabling Act giving the Reich Chancellor full legislative powers for a period of four years – the Chancellor could introduce any law without consulting Parliament. Powers of the Chancellor continued to grow until August 1941, when the reigning Emperor William II died. Hitler used the Enabling Act to merge the Emperor's military responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr; although powers were merged in practice, officially the Emperor remained Kriegsherr literally, "Supreme Warlord" in any time of war.

The political landscape was completely changed by the peaceful revolution late in 1989, which saw the National Party of Germany having to relinquish its monopoly on political power and the monarchy and the Gaue being abolished. The remaining institutions were the Reichstag, whose President by default became head of state and head of government, both now based on the country's first and democratic elections in March 1990.

Chancellor of the Republic of Germany (since 1990)[]

The 1990 German constitution invests the Chancellor (German, Reichskanzler) with broad powers to initiate government policy. For that reason, some observers refer to the German political system as a "chancellor democracy". Whichever major party (CDU/CSU or SPD) does not hold the chancellorship usually calls its leading candidate for the federal election "chancellor-candidate" (Kanzlerkandidat). The Federal Government (Bundesregierung) consists of the Chancellor and his or her cabinet ministers.


The Chancellor's Office in Berlin

The chancellor's authority emanates from the provisions of the constitution and in practice from his or her status as leader of the party (or coalition of parties) holding a majority of seats in the Reichstag (federal parliament). With the exception of Gerhard Schröder from 1999 until he resigned the chairmanship of the SPD in 2004, the chancellor has usually also been chairman of his or her own party.

See also[]

  • List of Chancellors of Germany (Central Victory)