Ask Me Anything Episode 1: Most Startling Fact about the German Legal System

As promised, here’s the first video in the installment about life in Germany and/or the law. Ain’t nothing fancy, but as I get more skilled with my GoPro camera, maybe I’ll be able to do something more interesting later. In the meantime, feedback welcome in comments.

13 thoughts on “Ask Me Anything Episode 1: Most Startling Fact about the German Legal System

  1. First of all, the video blogging is a very refreshing approach. I also like your further activities on Facebook and Twitter.

    I’d like to know if American law students have any chance to decide where their tuition fees actually go to. Do they know which portion of their enormous fee is invested in e.g. equipment, staff or do they throw it into the same pot with everybody else like in German Universities? As far as I know German student representatives don’t have much to say in the University’s senate when it comes to finances.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind to pay some fees again, if there was more participation and transparency.


  2. Great presentation! I’m looking forward to seeing more of it.

    Btw, as to the Meldewesen thing, I have been trying to provoke with that in discussions for some time now.
    I noticed that many educated Americans don’t really take offense in that unless they have a very special political world view (“special” in an international sense of the word).

    I think it’s actually a very positive thing if you feel so free that you ask whether you really want the government to know about your existence or your street address. However, it becomes somewhat weird once you allow a dozen firms openly to read and analyze your mail and your shopping behavior, to say the least. My impression is that many Americans are aware of this perspective.


  3. I liked your summary on some of the differences between German and US legal education, very concise. But I doubt that the (comparatively) lower funding of German law schools has a significant impact on the quality of their legal education as the costs of studying and teaching law are fairly low (compared to, e.g., medical school).

    One observation I’d like to add based on my LL.M. studies in the US: Without high tuition and corresponding debt, German law school graduates – especially the good ones – probably feel much less pressure to accept high paying corporate jobs to pay off their loans and are more inclined to consider government/non-profit/judicial work as a viable career option.

    Maybe a good follow-up would be a comparison of the different approaches in teaching law here and in the US.


  4. One can frown upon the Medlewesen where every citizen above a certain age (14 IIRC) is required to have (but not to carry!) a personal ID where his/her name, birthday and address are stated.

    On the other hand: Is it that much different from what Texas and other states are doing right now with the Voter ID to prevent “voter fraud”.

    If you want to execute one of your most fundamental rights, voting, you need an ID that visually identifies you.

    In Germany, the Personalausweis is not much different. You very rarely need it but one occasion is when you identify yourself at the voting booth. You don’t need to be a registered voter to vote, you just have that right. On election day (always on a Sunday so as many people as possible are able to vote) you go to your designated voting office (located in schools, kindergartens and other public buildings), you ID yourself and get crossed off an official list of all registered citizens in the voting district. This way you can’t vote twice and you can’t vote anywhere outside your voting district.

    Other occasions where you would need your Personalausweis would be if you open a bank account or apply for a job.


  5. Man könnte noch erwähnen, dass Studenten nur 50% des BAföG-Betrages zurückzahlen müssen, jedoch nicht mehr als 10.000€ 😉


  6. Just a little correction/ addition about the tuition fees. There have been efforts to implement them since 2006/2007 or even earlier, depending on the federal state. I started my study in Hamburg in 2007 and at that time a tuition fee of 500 € per term had been implemented recently. Student protests and other efforts caused a cutback to 350 € per term. Finally, the tuition fees were abolished somewhere around 2010/11, due to political changes, as you described.

    So this is no recent development.


  7. The Meldewesen (that is, the legal obligation to keep the government informed of your whereabouts) is an interesting touchstone of U.S. / German cultural difference. Germans point to the seeming inconsistency of Americans being suspicious about the government knowing too much about them, but seem less concerned about private companies gathering data. Americans look at Germans, on the other hand, and wonder why it’s no problem for the government to know where you live, but apparently a huge problem for the government to conduct a standard census. Another seeming inconsistency is the fact that Germans say they value privacy and distrust government census-taking because of National Socialist/East German abuses, but many don’t seem to make the obvious connection between the fact of the government having a massive database of everyone’s current address and the possibility of repression. It is, for instance, an indisputable historical fact that the NS state was able to round up Jews with staggering efficiency because it already had a current file index of everyone German citizen’s address.


  8. I’m really surprised you used the word “Beamer”. I always thought a “beamer” means “BMW car” if US-americans use this word. 🙂


  9. The fact that the state collects taxes for the churches in Germany really always amazes not only people from the US but just non-Germans. If you then start talking about all the other things the church has influence on (public TV etc.) their eyes only get bigger.


  10. @Andrew: One thing to be aware of is that there is no “massive database of everyone’s current address” in the federal government, but instead a bunch of small, distributed record keeping offices on the municipal level. I think this is why Germans opinionated on topics such as data privacy can just barely tolerate the current system (while the majority, as so often, appears indifferent). However, the federal criminal police and secret services have the ability to query these databases (and they tried to implement a massive data mining operation just after 9/11), and things are gradually getting worse as central databases of convicted right-wings extremists, suspected terrorists and now even aggressive football fans are designed by federal stakeholders and one by one approved by the German parliament – to quieting public opposition I might add.


  11. Nice vlog. Hoping to see some more. I may even have a somewhat interesting question regarding German /American law. What’s the opinion of those who work with both system on the German principle of abstraction (Abstraktionsprinzip)? Do American lawyers view it as unnecessary complex or do they like it, also what’s your personal opinion on this?


  12. Cursed be the absence of university tuition. I hate that crap. I have lost all hope that we will one day have a proper system of Studiengebühren.
    Your American accent is very good, by the way.


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