Cultural Federalism and the Museum Sector in Germany
The Federal Republic of Germany consists of 16 federal states (Länder), all of which have their own constitutions and parliaments. The municipalities—local communities, towns and districts—are part of the federal states.
2. Responsibilities of Federal and State Governments
The Basic Law regulates the division of state powers between the federal government and the federal states. The federal government exercises responsibility where this is assigned to it by the Basic Law; otherwise the federal states exercise responsibility.
At the federal level, the Office of the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM) was created in 1998 to bring together the federal government’s cultural and media policy activities in one government authority. The BKM’s tasks include further developing legal frameworks for the cultural and media sector through federal legislation and promoting cultural institutions and projects of national importance.
The federal system is based upon cooperation between the federal government and the federal states. In addition, the federal state principle obliges the federal government and the federal states to provide mutual consideration and assistance; this cooperative approach is reflected in the fact that the federal states play a part in creating federal legislation via the Federal Council (Bundesrat), for example.
3. Autonomy of the Federal States in Cultural and Educational Matters
In accordance with the division of tasks and responsibilities under the Basic Law, the federal states have cultural and educational autonomy. In this respect, cultural and educational autonomy means that the federal states or the municipalities are responsible for cultural and educational matters. In this context, the Federal Constitutional Court, for instance, regards the cultural and educational autonomy of the federal states as an intrinsic part of their sovereignty. The federal states have established the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK) for the coordination of issues relating to education across the federal states. Under the KMK umbrella, the new Conference of Cultural Ministers (Kultur-MK) became operational in 2019. Within this framework, the culture ministers and senators of the federal states will now hold independent discussions and consultations on cultural policy matters of supra-regional importance with the aim of reaching a shared view and a consensus on decision-making and representing common interests to the federal government.
4. The Museum Sector
Institutions in Germany that hold cultural assets are particularly museums, libraries and archives. The majority of these institutions are supported with municipal funding, such as the Grassi Museum of Applied Arts in Leipzig. Others are funded by the federal states, such as the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle/Saale. In addition, there are also institutions that are funded by the federal government, such as the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation). With regard to decision-making, the bodies responsible for supporting the cultural heritage institutions are independent.
5. The German Lost Art Foundation
The German Lost Art Foundation was established in Magdeburg on January 1, 2015, by the federal government, all the federal states and the three leading municipal associations. It serves as an instrument of cooperation at federal level. One of the Foundation’s primary tasks is to promote projects in the field of provenance research. As a civil law foundation, the German Lost Art Foundation has no legal powers. It is neither directly integrated into nor subordinate to the federal government, federal states or municipalities. This applies to all fields of the Foundation’s statutory tasks, such as the promotion of research, documentation of findings and public relations activities. The work of the Foundation is steered by a Foundation Board on which the federal government, federal states and municipalities are represented. The federal government, as the primary funding provider, finances the work of the Foundation and its operational tasks via the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.