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Developed round a fan design

The cradle of democracy and seat of justice

The new Ständehaus was erected
on the site of Germany's
first parliament building

The two epithets "cradle of democracy" and "seat of justice" both reflect historical developments which are inextricably bound up with the city of Karlsruhe. It was, after all, the fan-shaped city which had an important role to play in the development of a political culture of parliamentarianism as far back as the 19th century, just as it is Karlsruhe which, over the past 50 years, has become synonymous with the modern-day rule of law in the Federal Republic of Germany.

One of the most visible signs of the historical contribution made by the old state of Baden is the new Ständehaus, opened in 1993 after having been erected on the centrally located site of what, for 125 years, was the first parliament building on German soil. The old Ständehaus, built in 1820, destroyed in the Second World War, was home to the parliament of the state of Baden, which in the 19th century wrote parliamentary history and set standards for the development of democracy.

The Baden deputies established a parliamentary tradition here which made waves well beyond the south-western corner of Germany. The state diet, especially its second chamber, provided a model for the first all-German parliament, the National Assembly of 1848/49 which met in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt. It is not by chance, therefore, that Karlsruhe's Ständehaus is described as the "cradle of German democracy".

It was the Baden constitution of 1818 which paved the way for the democracies of the future. This model constitution was considered an exceptional phenomenon and if not the first then certainly the most progressive and most liberal constitution passed by any of the then members of the German Confederation. This document, which was mainly the work of the Baden-born statesman, Karl Friedrich Nebenius, replaced the absolute monarchy with a constitutional monarchy as well as setting standards for a liberal social order which granted the citizens of the grand duchy of Baden extensive basic rights. Its pronouncement on 22nd August, 1818, marked the birth of the modern, constitutional state. One visible monument to this event is the red sandstone obelisque, the so-called "Constitution Column", symbolically situated on the Rondellplatz at an important intersection of the main axis of the fan-shaped city, the Via Triumphalis, extending southwards from the castle.

Debatte im Ständehaus
view of a debate in
the Ständehaus in 1840
Germany's highest court:
The Federal Constitutional Court
next door to the castle

The arrival of the Federal Republic's two highest courts in Karlsruhe, one hundred years after the Baden Revolution, marked the dawn of what has since become that city's traditional role as Germany's "seat of justice". In October 1950, the Federal Supreme Court began its work in the old ducal palace as the highest court for both civil and criminal suits while in September 1951, the fan-shaped city became home to the Federal Constitutional Court as well, which was originally accommodated in the Prinz-Max-Palais. Since then, both these high courts have created a legal culture of worldwide renown which has had a decisive influence on the development of the Federal Republic and has helped reinforce democratic principles and the rule of law. "Karlsruhe has become synonymous with the law in this young democracy," says Prof. Ernst Benda, former President of the Federal Constitutional Court, describing the key role the city has played. "To take a case to Karlsruhe" has thus become a standard turn of phrase while numerous landmark decisions have gone down in history as "Karlsruhe rulings". Whenever a high court decision is required to set new standards for our democracy, it is on Karlsruhe that all eyes are fixed. "People say Karlsruhe and mean the rule of law," says the former President of the Federal Supreme Court, Dr. Walter Odersky, putting it in a nutshell.

Following the reunification of Germany on 3rd October, 1990, however, Karlsruhe's tradition as Germany's "seat of justice" was indeed called into question. The state of Saxony wanted the Federal Supreme Court moved to Leipzig while Thuringia felt the Federal Constitutional Court belonged in Weimar. In 1992, however, the Bundestag rejected the motion from Saxony by a big majority, effectively putting an end to the public discussion surrounding the relocation of Germany's two highest courts.

Roland J. Felleisen

Karlsruhe - a young city in the heart of Europe· The planning spirit which gave the city its face· From the seat of a court to a modern city
A pioneer in science and research · Technology - the driving force behind business· It's always holiday time in Karlsruhe
Art combines the historical with the modern· Together with our partners into a European future· Milestones in Karlsruhe's history
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