I wonder about the territorial division of Imperial Germany.
The empire was divided among 26 states (in German Bundesstaaten).

Each of them had an internal division system which of course differers from state to state.
It appears that Prussia and the Grand-duchy of Baden had a 3-level administrative division,
while other states had either 2 levels or just 1-level division.

The lowest division was a Circle (in German Kreis) which consisted of
either 1 city, or a dozen of Rural villages, or in some cases, both.

My question is, were the Circles divided into communes (in German Gemeinde)
that consisted of only one or possibly two villages?
I find no trace of German communes before 1945, but I might be wrong.

1 Answer 1


Kreise and Gemeinden (or Ämter - sg.: Amt, which was the smallest sub-unit in Baden) developed independently from each other. Additionally, they developed in different ways depending on the state's constitution. For example, with the reforms during/after Napoleon's reign in central Europe, Prussia and Bavaria enacted laws to create and develop Gemeinden in their territory: In Bavaria, Gemeindeedikte WP, german were issued 1808 / 1818; in Prussia, the Städteordnung WP, german created a unified legal base for Gemeinden throughout the state.

The commune's most important peculiarity was their autonomy regarding certain tasks and competences that rest on a state in behalf of its citizens. In other words, the Gemeinde as organizational unit gave their citizens the means to regulate certain issues independently from the state's government, especially some fiscal matters. So, the primary "opposite" or counterpart of the Gemeinde wasn't the Kreis or Bezirk, but the state. Belonging to a certain Kreis was primarily an administrative issue without grave political consequences. The main issue was the relationship of the Gemeinden regarding the state, the distribution of power and political authority and amount of fiscal autonomy between state and Gemeinde. In modern times, distribution of competences between Gemeinden and upper-level bodies like Kreise or Bezirke is a matter of dispute quite often (esp. since those questions affect the economic autonomy of the Gemeinde), but i doubt whether this was true already during the 19th century.

The Kreise were partly established in the same time (e.g. in Baden), partly later, e.g. in Prussia beginning in 1880, in Bavaria as Bezirke (later, Bavaria divided the Bezirke into Kreise). WP Commons has a nice map illustrating the situation of the Reich in the year 1900. German Wikipedia has a complete list of the Kreise that were established in the different states of the German Reich.

So: yes, Gemeinden already existed in the German Reich, but not necessarily as a part of Kreise. Since Kreise served as a means to "encapsulate" multiple smaller units, i wouldn't expect to find a Kreis encompassing only one Gemeinde. Instead, even nowadays, there's the concept of kreisfreie / kreisunmittelbare Stadt (literally "circle-independent city") - that's a city that doesn't belong to a Kreis, but fulfils the tasks of a Kreis itself.

  • So in other words, communes existed (at least in Prussia and Bavaria) but they weren't territorial ?!
    – Bregalad
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 16:17
  • I'm not sure about the meaning of "territorial". Communes did exist and belong to certain states. They may have been part of some some intermediate entity like a Kreis or a Bezirk, but that was solely an administrative fact. It was much more important that the communes were (and still are) solely responsible for certain tasks and duties. I've understood your question as if there were states and Kreise, and the Kreise were subdivided into communes. This situation is simply be the result of a long development, but it doesn't imply that the Kreise were first, and then the communes were created.
    – tohuwawohu
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 6:21
  • I do not understand, we probably have a major understanding problem there. For me a "commune" is a territory that encompasses only one village or town (or possibly a village and one or a couple of small hamlets), and is the smallest division within a country. Switzerland works like that, but France and modern Germany also does. The Kreise were definitely much larger than that, encompassing at least a dozen of villages and in many cases even more.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 16:04
  • Yes, this is exactly what i mean, too, and that's also the meaning of Gemeinde. This is true also for the 19th century germany (i pointed to state-specific "commune"-related legislation from 1808 / 1818). So, communes existed already in that time and also during the german Reich (seems to be one part of your question), but AFAIK the only case of Kreise without subdivisions were cities that "acted" itself as a Kreis in legal aspects.
    – tohuwawohu
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 16:12
  • I can't rule out definitely that there was some Kreise compassing only one commune / Gemeinde, but this is extremly unlikely since the purpose of the Kreise was to encompass multiple communes.
    – tohuwawohu
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 16:16

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