German Legal Research

German Legal Research in Europe

This entry explains some of the different research strategies required for German legal research. The majority of sources will be in German. Small portions of the materials are translated into English.

Primary Law


Following is a list of sources for German legislation. Although the most official and comprehensive source is the Bundesgestzblatt described first, the more common way of doing German research is to go directly to the commercial publications described below.

The Official Gazette: Bundesgesetzblatt (BGBl)

Germany’s official gazette of federal law, the Bundesgesetzblatt is chronological, issued once or twice a week. There are two parts, Teil I for domestic laws and Teil II for treaties. Recent issues are available on the Internet.

  • Bundesgesetzblatt. Teil I. [1959-]. Teil I for domestic laws. Includes Fundstellennachweis.
  • Bundesgesetzblatt. Teil II. [1951-]. Teil II for all ratified treaties and international agreements.
  • Bundesgesetzblatt. Teil I und II. [1990-1997].
  • Bundesgesetzblatt. Teil I. Includes the Fundstellennachweis.
  • Juristisches Internetprojekt SaarbrĂŒcken. Teil I is available in PDF from 1998 forward.
  • Bundesgesetzblatt. Teil I. From 1998. Free source, but users must register.

Indexes to the Bundesgesetzblatt

The annual indexes to the BGBl are the Fundstellennachweis A for BGBl Teil I and Fundstellennachweis B for BGBl Teil II. These indexes cover all laws and international agreements currently in force at the time of publication.

  • Fundstellennachweis A. [1972-]. Use this to access German domestic law in force (BGBl I) by subject and chronology.
  • Fundstellennachweis B. [1968-]. Use this to access German treaties in force (BGBl II) by country, subject and chronology.
  • Amendments & Codifications of the Bundesgesetzblatt

Amended laws are reproduced in the BGBl. There is no systematic and comprehensive codification of the BGBl by subject (i.e. there is nothing comparable to the United States Code). In the BGBl, consolidated versions are only reprinted when there are considerable changes. Complete citations to all amendments and changes that are in force can be found in the newestFundstellennachweis.

Some, but not all laws in the Bundesgesetzblatt are codified. Major codifications include the Civil Code, the Commercial Code, the Code of Civil Procedure, the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure and are published separate from the BGBl. One can cite directly to these codes. For an excellent list and description of these codes, see Charles Szladits’ Guide to Foreign Legal Materials.

Note that an official consolidated version of federal laws in force was published in 1963 and is called the Bundesgesetzblatt Teil III. However it was not continued after that and is only useful for determining the laws in force between 1867 and 1958. It is still referred to in the Fundstellennachweis A for the texts of laws in force at that time. (Germany (West). Sammlung des Bundesrechts: Bundesgesetzblatt, Teil III [1958-1969].

Commercial Collections & Codifications

To find the text of a German code, such as the BĂŒrgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB)(Civil Code), one usually goes to a commercial collection. Two of the most important commercial compilations are the following loose-leafs, commonly known as Schönfelder and Sartorius, which are both updated frequently. Within these publications, one can find texts of various codes. For a list of the more common German codes, see the Bluebook, Table 2, page 264-265.

BĂŒrgerliches Gesetzbuch (

Deutsche Gesetze; Sammlung des Zivil-, Straf- und Verfahrensrechts. MĂŒnchen, C.H. Beck. BegrĂŒndet von Heinrich Schönfelder. [1966-]. This loose-leaf contains the most frequently used civil and criminal laws laws and includes a subject index.
LOCATION: Law School: GER 203S

Verfassungs- und Verwaltungsgesetze der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Textausgabe. Sartorius. [1958-]. This loose-leaf contains the most frequently used constitutional and administrative laws and includes a subject index.

Code Translations

There are several good translations of German law by subject. All translations are unofficial, and the correct citation will still be to the BGBl (although to facilitate future research, a parallel citation to the translation is highly recommended). For instance, the translated German Civil Code by Goren (1994).

Subsidiary Legislation in the Bundesanzeiger (BAnz)

Bundesanzeiger. Bonn: Bundesministerium der Justiz [1950-]. This includes subsidiary legislation, including administrative law, notices and announcements.

Laws of the States

Germany is a federation of 16 LĂ€nder (states). Each German Land has its own legislation. Harvard Law School Library collects some, but not all of the German states’ laws. The most important state laws from all 16 states are collected in the Sammelblatt, a commercial publication.

Sammelblatt fĂŒr Gesetze, Verordnungen und Bekanntmachungen des Bundes, der Lander und der Besatzungsmachte. [1949-]. A collection of the most important state and federal laws. It is divided by state, and then by year.

Case Law

Germany is a civil law country, so case law is not a primary source of law and not as important as it is in the United States. Courts are divided by areas of responsibility, such as constitutional law or labor law. There is no overall collection of all court decisions. Court decisions can be found in the HLSL German collection in the call numbers: GER 500s. Only a small number of court decisions have been translated in to English.

Although there are many other courts in Germany, the most researched courts are the Bundesverfassungsgericht (the Constitutional Court) and the Bundesgerichtshof (the High Court for Civil and Criminal Matters). Both sit in Karlsruhe. The reporters for these two courts are listed below. Indexes are published periodically.

Note that some courts are starting to have Web pages. For example, at, one can find the text of some recent cases. Most of these Web sites can be accessed through the German Internet sites described below.

  • Entscheidungen des Bundesverfassungsgerichts.
  • Decisions of the Bundesverfassungsgericht (1992-1998). Selected decisions in English.
  • Bundesgerichtshof. Entscheidungen des Bundesgerichtshofes in Strafsachen. [1951-]. Decisions of the High Court for Criminal Matters.
  • Bundesgerichtshof. Entscheidungen des Bundesgerichtshofes in Zivilsachen. [1951-]. Decisions of the High Court for Civil Matters.

Secondary Law

Code Commentaries

A common way to access German legislation by subject is to use German commentaries. There is an extensive collection of German commentaries, which cite laws by article and include a list of relevant literature. For example, using the Kommentar zum Grundgesetz (Schmidt-Bleibtreu, Bruno [1995]. Law School: GER 100S F95) is an excellent way to access information about Germany’s constitutional law. The Library collects many of these commentaries, and they are located in the German collection by subject. For a list of some of the most frequently used commentaries, see page 207 of Information Sources in Law.

Periodicals (Zeitschriften)

Zeitschriften are an important way to access German legislation and case law. In addition to news and articles about the law, these periodicals often contain full-text or abstracts of cases, and notices of new legislation. Zeitschriften are often published faster than other sources.

Compared to American law reviews, German periodicals are much more subject oriented. The numerous subject-specific Zeitschriften are extremely helpful. For example, a periodical on labor law, might be the best way to find a recent labor law case. All German periodicals are classified in the GER 800s. The call number is further classified by subject. For instance, since the subject code for labor law is 57, all German periodicals on labor law will be classified, GER 857.

Two of the most important general Zeitschriften are the Neue Juristische Wochenschrift (NJW) and the Juristenzeitung (JZ). The best index is the Karlsruher Juristische Bibliographie (KJB). They are:

  • Neue juristische Wochenschrift. (NJW) [1947-] Weekly publication.
  • Juristen Zeitung. (JZ) [1951-] Published twice a month.
  • Karlsruher juristische Bibliographie (KJB) [1965-] The best bibliography to German periodicals. Monthly. Indexes legal periodicals and books by author, subject and classification. This also indexes Festschriften.


In German law, commemorative books (Festschriften) are an important legal research source. Dedicated to eminent legal scholars for their birthdays or other special occasions, these subject-based books often include a rich collection of scholarly articles. These can be difficult to find. The person being honored is named in the title of the Festschrift and is an author. The best way to find these articles is the following bibliography, the Bibliographie Juristischer Festshriften und Festschriftenbeitrage. Note, that the Karlsruher Juristiche Bibliographie, described above, also indexes Festschriften, but is less complete.

Bibliographie juristischer Festschriften und FestschriftenbeitrÀge: Deutschland, Schweiz, Osterreich = Bibliography of Legal Festschriften: Titles and Contents: Germany, Switzerland, Austria. [1864-].


Finding a book on a subject can be extremely helpful for researchers. See more about treatises.

Dictionaries, Legal Dictionaries & Encyclopedias

Following is a selective list of dictionaries and encyclopedias:

  • Dietl/Lorenz. Wörterbuch fĂŒr Recht, Wirtschaft und Politik: mit erlauternden und rechtsvergleichenden Kommentaren [2000-]German-English, English-German legal dictionary.
  • German Legal Dictionary (Creifelds).
  • Langenscheidt’s New College German Dictionary: German-English, English-German [1995].

Abbreviations and Citation

  • Kirchner, Hildebert. Kirchner AbkĂŒrzungsverzeichnis der Rechtssprache. [1993]. The best directory for deciphering complex German abbreviations.
  • The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. 2000. Citation in articles published in the United States should follow Bluebook standards.

The Internet

There are many good Web sites for German law. Following is a selective list. Links to many of the other numerous German legal Web sites can be found at these three Web sites. Although the majority of texts provided are in German, some English translations are provided. In general, the Web sites are best for more recent legal materials.

Additional Guides to German Legal Research

  • Information Sources in Law. Guides to Information Sources [1997]. Chapter 12: Germany, Holger Knudsen
  • Kearley, Timothy. Charles Szladits’ Guide to Foreign Legal Materials: German. Parker School studies in foreign and comparative law, Columbia University, 1990.
  • Kroger, Detlef. Internet fĂŒr Juristen: weltweiter Zugriff auf juristische Informationen. 1998.
  • Kuner, Christopher. Internet fĂŒr Juristen: Zugang, Recherche, Kommunikation, Sicherheit, Informationsquellen. 1996.

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