Deutscher Reichstag
Legislative body of Germany
Coat of arms or logo
Preceded byWeimar National Assembly
Succeeded byNazi Reichstag
Seats647 (at dissolution)
Party-list proportional
First election
6 June 1920
Last election
5 March 1933
Meeting place
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-10261, Berlin, Verfassungsfeier im Reichstag.jpg
Reichstag building, Berlin
Constitution of the German Reich
Reichstag on September 12, 1932 – Chancellor Papen (stands, left) demands the floor, ignored by Speaker Göring (right)
Reichstag on September 12, 1932 – Chancellor Papen (stands, left) demands the floor, ignored by Speaker Göring (right)

The Reichstag (English: Imperial Diet) was the lower house of the legislature of the Weimar Republic. It originated in the creation of the Weimar Constitution in 1919. After the end of the Weimar Republic in 1933, the Reichstag continued to operate, albeit sporadically, as the purely ceremonial legislature of Nazi Germany.


According to the 1919 Weimar Constitution, the members of the Reichstag were to be elected by general universal suffrage according to the principle of proportional representation. Votes were cast for nationwide party lists. The term of the legislature was four years; however, dissolution was common.

There was threshold for winning a seat in the Reichstag. A party was allocated one seat in the legislature for every 60,000 votes it received in a given constituency, meaning that the overall size of the assembly fluctuated with voter turnout. While this provision was intended to reduce wasted votes, it also resulted in a large number of parties being represented in the chamber.[1] Combined with the nationwide party-list system, this made it extremely difficult to form a stable government.

Moreover, each political party wanted to pull Germany in a different direction and parties often refused to compromise with, or even recognize, other parties. As scholar Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote in 1943:

Catholic Centrists wanted to create conditions in Germany which would make it easier for the individuals to save their souls; Socialists denied the existence of souls and divided people into classes; the German Nationalists were interested in language and culture; while the National Socialists put the main stress on race. Whereas some looked at pocketbooks, others at the pigmentation of the skin or the index of the skull, fruitful discussions became impossible. When the speaker of one party indulged in his oratory, the others walked out. It was not worthwhile to listen to somebody's opinion when you knew that his premises were all wrong. The grim determination to silence the unconvincible enemy by execution or imprisonment already existed prior to 1933 in many parties.[2]

The parliament passed legislation and the government budget, as well as making declarations of war and ratifying international treaties. The members of the German cabinet, or government, were responsible to the Reichstag, which could force the resignation of ministers or even the whole cabinet by a motion of no confidence. It could also revoke "emergency decrees" by the Reich President according to Article 48 of the constitution -—however, on the other hand the President was able to dissolve the Reichstag. In contrast, the Reichsrat, the house of state representatives, had minor significance. The constitution also provided for the possibility of referenda, but the hurdles to overcome were high. There were only two plebiscites (in 1926 on the Expropriation of the Princes and in 1929 on the "Liberty Law" against the Young Plan), which were both unsuccessful.

Opening ceremony on 30 August 1932, Nazi members of the Reichstag in uniform
Opening ceremony on 30 August 1932, Nazi members of the Reichstag in uniform

Usually, when a Chancellor was removed from office, his replacement was well short of a majority. This was especially pronounced in the 1930s when the president had to resort to Article 48 just to conduct the ordinary business of government.

In the election of 1928, the Nazi Party won only 12 seats in the Reichstag, making it the smallest of the nine parties in the chamber. However, over the following two years it gained another 95. At the election of 1932, the Nazis and the Communist Party, both declared enemies of the parliamentary system, together held an absolute majority of the seats. In 1920–1923 and from 1930 onwards, the parliament was often circumvented by two instruments not strictly provided for by the constitution:

With this latter enabling act, the Reichstag formally gave up its exclusive responsibility for the exercise of the legislative power.

From then on, the German parliament only functioned as a one-party-assembly and as a body which ratified the actions of the Nazi dictatorship by acclamation. Even in its purely ceremonial role, the Third Reich's Reichstag convened only twenty times, the last being on April 26, 1942. On January 25, 1943, five days before the expiration of the last Reichstag's term of office, the summoning of a new body was postponed for another electoral term, until January 30, 1947, by a decree of the Führer.[3][4]

When West German politicians established a new democracy in 1948–49, they used the word Bund (federation) in place of Reich; in German constitutional history, both terms were almost exchangeable. With memories of how the Nazis had exploited the weaknesses of the Reichstag still fresh, the framers of the Basic Law (West German constitution) built in several safeguards to prevent a repeat occurrence. The new parliament became the Bundestag, elected by mixed-member proportional representation—a mix of members elected from individual constituencies and state party lists. In order to qualify for seats by proportional representation, a party must either win at least five percent of the national vote or at least three directly elected seats. The Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) must be elected by an absolute majority in the Bundestag, and could only be removed from office if a prospective successor was already assured of a majority. Besides the Bundestag, the Bundesrat (representing the governments of the states) has the right to veto any legislation where the states' interests are concerned.


Reichstag building, constitution celebration, 11 August 1932
Reichstag building, constitution celebration, 11 August 1932

See also: Reichstag building

After the German unification of 1870, the new Reichstag first met in the houses of the Prussian Landtag in Berlin. In 1871 it decided to have a new building constructed, and in the meantime had its base in a former porcelain factory at number 4, Leipziger Straße. Some 23 years later the Reichstag's new building was finished, and it was opened by the Emperor in 1894. This is today known as the Reichstagsgebäude or as the Reichstag.

After the building was severely damaged in the Reichstag fire of February 1933, the Nazi Reichstag met in the nearby Kroll Opera House. Towards the end of the war the surviving, but heavily damaged Reichstag building was the object of numerous Soviet attacks because it was seen as a symbol of the Third Reich. They hoisted the Red Flag just in time for the Mayday celebrations of 1945. After the war, it was repaired and used as an exhibition hall, but major renovation and rebuilding were needed for the new German Bundestag. Since 1999 the German Bundestag has used the former Reichstag as its permanent building. Its official address is Platz der Republik 1.

Presidents of the Reichstag

Main article: List of presidents of the Reichstag

Presidents of the Reichstag (1919–1945)
No. Name Party Start of Term End of Term Time in Office
1 Eduard David (1863–1930) SPD 7 February 1919 13 February 1919 6 days
2 Constantin Fehrenbach (1852–1926) Centre 14 February 1919 21 June 1920 1 year, 128 days
3 Paul Löbe (1875–1967) SPD 25 June 1920 28 May 1924 3 years, 338 days
4 Max Wallraf (1859–1941) DNVP 28 May 1924 7 January 1925 224 days
5 Paul Löbe (1875–1967) SPD 7 January 1925 30 August 1932 7 years, 236 days
6 Hermann Göring (1893–1946) NSDAP 30 August 1932 23 April 1945 12 years, 236 days

Elections results

Germany from 1919 to 1933:
Weimar Republic
Election Year Percentage of
Number of
Percentage of
Number of
National Assembly 1919 8.7 37 91.3 386 423
1. Reichstag 1920 8.0 37 92.0 422 459
2. Reichstag 1924 5.7 27 94.3 445 472
3. Reichstag 1924 6.7 33 93.3 460 493
4. Reichstag 1928 6.7 33 93.3 458 491
5. Reichstag 1930 6.8 39 93.2 538 577
6. Reichstag 1932 5.6 34 94.4 574 608
7. Reichstag 1932 6.0 35 94.0 549 584
8. Reichstag 1933 3.2 21 96.8 626 647

See also


  1. ^ Luebke, David. "The Weimar Constitution: A Primer". University of Oregon. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  2. ^ Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, under the pen name of Francis Stewart Campbell, The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large (The Bruce Publishing Company, 1943), p. 183
  3. ^ Peter Hubert, Uniformierter Reichstag. Die Geschichte der Pseudo-Volksvertretung 1933–1945 (Droste Verlag, Düsseldorf, 1992)
  4. ^ Joachim Lilla, Statisten in Uniform. Die Mitglieder des Reichstags 1933–1945 (Droste Verlag, Düsseldorf, 2004)