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German Legal Research Guide

This in-depth guide will help researchers navigate the German legal materials.

German Legal Codes & Legislation

Table of Contents

This section of the research guide highlights free and subscription-based resources for accessing German legal codes and legislation enacted by Germany's federal parliament.  It also covers print resources available at the Georgetown Law Library.

German Legal Codes

In civil law systems, codes are comprehensive and systematic compilations of general legal principles that constitute primary sources of law. The theoretical frameworks established by codes are supplemented by statutes and ordinances, which are narrower in focus. Although they are enacted by legislatures, codes are distinct from ordinarily legislation in that legal scholars typically play a major role in drafting them.

German legal codes were first compiled during the late 19th century after Germany emerged as a unified state. They are updated and revised less frequently than other types of legislation. The German approach to legal codification has made a significant impact on the development of the law in other civil law jurisdictions, with the German Civil Code and the German Commercial Code being particularly influential.

Codes Online

The current versions of Germany’s legal codes are freely available on the German government website Gesetze im Internet (Laws on the Internet) in German and in English translation. Both the German texts and the English translations are available for download as PDFs.


Codes & Commentaries in Print

Commentaries (Kommentare) play an important role in German legal research, providing in-depth scholarly analysis of legal codes and statutes, along with annotated examples of their application and effect. They are frequently cited as “doctrine” in the civil law tradition. Commentaries function as hybrid resources, offering both the full text of the relevant code or statute and secondary source commentary and analysis in a single package. A selection of commentaries available in print a the Georgetown Law Library follows:

  • Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch mit Nebengesetzen, 77th ed., Call No. KK985.51896 A6 P35 2018
    First published in 1939, each edition of The Civil Code with Secondary Laws includes an overview of legislative and judicial developments that have affected German civil law since the last edition was published.
  • Münchener Kommentar zum Bürgerlichen Gesetzbuch, 5th ed. Call No. KK985.51896.A7 M86 2006
    Munich Commentary on the Civil Code
  • Zivilprozessordnung: mit FamFG, GVG und Nebengesetzen, 77th ed., Call No. KK3818.51877.A6 A4 2019
    Code of Civil Procedure with Family Finance Law, Constitutional Court Law, and Secondary Laws
  • Zivilprozessordnung: mit Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz, Call No. KK3815.51877.A6 T47 2007
    Code of Civil Procedural with Constitutional Court Law
  • Handelsgesetzbuch: mit GmbH & Co., Handelsklauseln, Bank- und Börsenrecht, Transportrecht (ohne Seerecht), 37th ed., Call No. KK2045.51897 .H67 2016
    Commercial Code with Limited Liability Company Law, Trade Clauses, Banking & Transport Law (Without Maritime Law)

Legislation: Statutes and Ordinances

Legislation enacted by Germany’s federal parliament is freely available online in two formats. Session laws, which are published in chronological order, are the original texts of laws enacted by the parliament; consolidated laws are laws currently in force which incorporate all subsequent amendments and revisions made after their initial enactment.

Subscription-based German language legal research platforms, such as Beck-Online and Juris, offer sophisticated tools for locating German statutes and ordinances as originally enacted and in consolidated form. However, the Georgetown Law Library does not provide access to these platforms. Lexis and Westlaw, the largest subscription-based U.S. legal research platforms, do not make German statutes and ordinances available to their U.S. academic subscribers.

Session Laws (Legislation as Enacted)

The term “session law” refers to the text of a piece of legislation at the time of it enactment. Session laws enacted by Germany’s federal parliament are published in the Bundesgesetzblatt (BGBl), the Federal Law Gazette. The gazette is comprised of two parts: Teil I (Part I) publishes federal statutes and ordinances as enacted in chronological order, plus parliamentary notices and announcements; Teil II (Part II) publishes treaties and other international agreements, as well as agreements between the federal government and the Länder.

If you know the date on which a session law was enacted (or at least the month and the year), you should be able to retrieve the full text as it was published in the Bundesgesetzblatt. Bear in mind that the gazette is only available in German—it is not translated into English. Options for accessing the Bundesgesetzblatt online and in print are listed below.

  • Bundesgesetzblatt online (1949–present)
    The free online version of the Bundesgesetzblatt is not searchable—it can only be browsed by date. Content from the most recent daily edition is displayed in the center of the homepage. To browse, use the menu on the left side of the screen to select either Part I (Teil I) or Part II (Teil II), then select the desired date, beginning with the year. Alternatively, click on Fundstellennachweis to browse the annual index for each part.
  • Bundesgesetzblatt on microfiche (1984–2007) Call No. KK10 1949 Micro
    The Georgetown Law Library has the Bundesgesetzblatt on microfiche from 1984–2007. The microfiche set is located on the first floor (lower level) of the Williams Library.
  • Bundesgesetzblatt in print  (1949–1984) Call No. KK10 1949
    The Georgetown Law Library has the Bundesgesetzblatt in print from 1949–1984. It is shelved on the fourth floor of the Williams Library. 

Consolidated Legislation (Currently in Force)

The term “consolidated legislation” refers to laws that are currently in force, incorporating all amendments and revisions made subsequent to their initial enactment. The German government website Gesetze im Internet (Laws on the Internet; see below) provides free online access to all consolidated federal legislation in German, as well as English translations of selected consolidated legislation. Additional free and subscription-based resources for locating consolidated federal legislation are described below.

Free Access to Consolidated Legislation on Gesetze im Internet

Gesetze im Internet (Laws on the Internet) is a free database maintained by the Federal Ministry of Justice and a commercial publisher that provides access to all federal codes, statutes, and ordinances that are currently in force. It also includes English translations of selected codes and statutes. Bear in mind that even though these translations are usually of high quality, they are not authoritative—only the German texts are legally binding. All content, in German and in English, may be viewed in a browser or downloaded as PDFs.

  • Tips for Locating English Translations
    English translations are arranged alphabetically by the German abbreviation for the title of each translated code or statute. If you don't know the abbreviation for the code or statute that you are seeking in translation, the best option is to use the Find function of your browser (Control-F on Windows, Command-F on Mac) to search the translated titles by keyword in English. 
  • Tips for Navigating the German-language interface
    The menu on the left side of the homepage offers the following browse and search options:
    • Select Gesetze/Verordnungen to browse alphabetically by title.
    • Select Aktualitätendienst to view a list of recently enacted legislation.
    • Select Titelsuche to search for laws by title. 
    • Select Volltextsuche to search the full text of laws by keyword.
    • Search operators available for title searches and full text searches:
      • Oder-Verknupfung: the Boolean operator OR
      • Und-Verknupfung: the Boolean operator AND

Additional Resources for Locating Consolidated Legislation by Subject

The resources described below can be used to identify and retrieve consolidated legislation by subject, both in German and in English translation. Note that translations vary in quality and often are not updated as frequently as legislation is amended. Always try to determine the date on which a translation was published and check for any subsequent amendments or revisions to the legislation in question.

  • Foreign Law Guide: Germany
    This subscription-based resource is organized by jurisdiction and by subject. The link above goes directly to the page covering Germany. Alternatively, from the main Foreign Law Guide page, selecting Germany as the jurisdiction. After the page refreshes, scroll down to the “Laws by Subject section” and browse alphabetically. For each subject listed, you will find citations (and often direct links) to relevant federal legislation. Links to English translations are provided when available.
  • German Law Archive (University of Oxford)
    This free resource provides access to English translations of selected federal codes, statutes, and ordinances.
  • German Legal Materials (University of Texas at Austin: Institute for Transnational Legal Studies)
    This free resource also offers a selection of federal codes, statutes, and ordinances in English.
  • Subject-Specific Compilations of Laws Online
    Many subject-specific compilations of laws from multiple jurisdictions are available online. Some are free resources maintained by inter-governmental organizations and other international organizations; others are subscription-based. To identify and access these resources, use Georgetown Law Library’s Table of Foreign Laws by Subject.