There is a long history of free imperial cities having extra privileges within the Holy Roman Empire. Many cities in contemporary Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy were former free imperial cities. However, most of them disappeared progressively.

In 1933, when Hitler took power in Germany, 3 free cities remained: Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen. Unsurprisingly, Hamburg, Bremen are still free cities to this day, which means they are federal Länder states within the Federal Republic of Germany.

What is more of a mystery is why Lübeck is no longer a city state. Actually, the sole reason the city state does not exist anymore and was incorporated into Schleswig-Holstein is because Hitler decided it in 1937, because of his personal dislike of the city (the reason of this dislike is suspected to be because NSDAP support was low).

Despite the fact it was obvious that the dissolution of the city state for such a reason is completely illegitimate, the western allies did not recreate a post-war city state like they did for Hamburg and Bremen.

  1. Are there any reasons the western allies restored 2 of the 3 free cities, but not the third? [*]

  2. Is there any political group in Lübeck that is striving to restore their status as an independent federal state?

It doesn't seem to be the case but I'd just ask in case I might have missed something or used the wrong keywords in German.

[*] I'm excluding Berlin as it has a completely separate history which is out of topic here.


2 Answers 2


One reason may be the size of the city.

The Freie Hansestadt Bremen has 661,000 inhabitants (including Bremen and Bremerhaven), Hamburg has 1.7 million inhabitants. Lübeck has only 213,000 inhabitants. There are also discussions to merge Bremen with Niedersachsen because of the size. So it would be strange if there would be a new smaller Bundesland. Maybe the allies had similar thoughts.

About the second part of your question: In 1956 there was an attempt to restore their status as an independent federal state; but the Bundesverfassungsgerichts decided in the Lübeck-Urteil (Lübeck-Adjustment, 5. December 1956) that Lübeck will not become its own country. So any new attempt would be useless.

  • Lübeck is still 13 and a half times more populated than Appenzel Inner Rhoden, the less populated Swiss Canton. The population of German Länder ratio is only 26, (North Rine / Bremen) while the population size ratio of Swiss Catons is 87 (Zurich / Apenzell Inner Rhoden). Yet, nobody would dare to touch smaller Swiss Cantons.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 15:48
  • 3
    @Bregalad That's a different country with a different history and different culture.
    – Jos
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 2:30

Actually there are political groups going in the opposite direction. There is a widespread agreement that 16 Länder are too many, but also widespread disagreement how to do it.

This page is German, but you can look at the maps ...

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