The German constitution is known as the Grundgesetz. The constitution contains the most important legal and political rules for the Federal Republic of Germany. For instance the constitution states that Germany is a democratic state. That means that everyone has the right to participate in politics, for example in associations, initiatives, unions or parties. The political parties have various agendas and goals. The main parties are the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), SPD (German Social Democratic Party), Bündnis 90/The Green Party, FDP (Free Democratic Party) and the Left Party. The Pirate Party is a relatively new party. There are many other smaller parties besides.
The constitution also contains the rights and responsibilities of people in Germany. Important responsibilities include compulsory school attendance: children and young people in Germany have to go to school. Then there is the tax liability: anyone who earns money has to pay taxes. And the obligation to keep within the law: everyone has to obey the law.
And these are the most important rights:
Human dignity: you must respect all people.
Equal rights: All people have equal rights. For instance men and women have equal rights.
Equality before the law: All people are equal before the law.
Right to freedom of expression: People can say what they think.
Freedom of assembly: People are allowed to meet in groups.
Freedom of movement: People are allowed to live and reside where they wish.
Freedom to engage in an occupation: People are allowed free choice of their occupation.
Further rights include protection of marriage and family, the right to vote and religious freedom.
The right to vote states that people in Germany are allowed to vote. And they are allowed to be elected. Elections must be secret, general and free. There are European elections, parliamentary elections, state elections and local elections. All EU citizens living in Germany are allowed to vote at the EU elections and the local elections. Normally voting is from 18 years and over. In some federal states you can already vote in local elections from the age of 16. In state elections and parliamentary elections voters must be German citizens aged at least 18 to vote.
In many places there are integration councils or integration committees. They are normally elected by migrants. Integration committees work for the political interests of migrants. They also help with questions and problems. The aim of this work is to improve the way immigrants and Germans live together.
Religious freedom means that everyone is free to choose their own religion and practise it. Around one-third of people in Germany officially has no religion. Most Germans belong to the Christian religion, in other words they are Roman Catholic or Protestant. Many Christian holidays such as Christmas or Easter are public holidays. That means that most people do not have to work on these days. But many members of other religions also live in Germany. Schools offer Protestant and Catholic-based religious studies. In some schools religious studies is also available with a Christian Orthodox, Jewish or Islamic orientation. Parents can decide whether their child should receive religious instruction. They also decide what kind of religious instruction their child should receive.
Frequently asked questions
There is a major public holiday in my religion. Does my child still have to go to school?
In some federal states you can exempt your child from lessons for religious feast days. Ask the teachers.
I would like to work for the integration council. What can I do?
You can find more information about this from the integration council office in your town or city and from the Federal Council of Immigration and Integration, from Migration advice for adult immigrants and from the Youth Migration Services (JMD).
Federal Council of Immigration and Integration
Youth Migration Services (JMD)
I have legal problems. Who can help me?
The Youth Migration Services (JMD) help children and young adults up to the age of 27. Migration advice for adult immigrants helps adults. You can also contact a legal advice centre.
Youth Migration Services (JMD)
As an asylum seeker, where can I meet my compatriots?
Please refer to support networks and refugee initiatives in your area. These can be found in the “Help” section under “Addresses for refugees: Support networks and initiatives”.
You can also get involved in an association. For more information, please contact your local city administration.
How do I find churches/mosques/synagogues and religious communities in my area?
You can find out more information about this at city hall or at Migration Advice.