The Hamburg Rathaus (meaning City Hall), where the state parliament meets and the parliamentary library is housed, is all sorts of spectacular.
And as spectacular as it was on the outside, it’s just as spectacular on the inside.
I could take up a lot of space just posting photos of the Rathaus, actually, but I won’t, because we’re here to talk about the library.
Our tour mate Dr. Christine Wellems, the head of the Parlamentarische Informationsdienste (Parliamentary Information Service), began our day with a history of the city and its government. Hamburg was established in the fifth century, and it was granted a city charter by Frederick Barbarossa in 1189. The charter granted the city the freedom to have its own government and administration and the right to trade. The city featured a waterway to the North Sea, which made it a key European port.
UPDATED: Wellems has corrected this article. The following paragraph has been rewritten, and the corrections in the paragraphs after are noted with underlines.
In 1859, the first elections for the state parliament (the Bürgerschaft) was held. Before then, only rich residents of the state served as unelected parliamentarians. However, it was only after 1919 that all residents of Hamburg, regardless of gender or economic status, were given the right to vote.
During the Nazi era, the government was dissolved to consolidate federal power. In 1946, the first post-war parliament in Hamburg was set up with 81 members named by the British military government (called the Ernannte Buergerschaft). The first elected parliament was voted into office at the end of 1946.
The Rathaus houses both the state parliament and the state government (the Senat). The library serves the Bürgerschaft, the Senat and their respective staffs. It is not open to the public, but does provide services to journalists and students.
Among the services offered include reference, interlibrary loan, and a twice-daily press review. The morning review covers news about the Bürgerschaft in the regional newspapers, while the afternoon review encapsulates the national papers. Wellems said that Hamburg’s was the only state parliament library to provide a press service.
I should mention at this time that each of the 16 German states has its own parliamentary library. Wellems said that there are working groups for parliamentary librarians and for law librarians to discuss issues and swap information.
One of the items in the library collection is a book of meeting minutes from the 1600s, which Wellems was nice enough to pass around:
During our visit, we heard a presentation by Heike Lilie, the Juristin for the Bürgerschaft’s petitions committee (Sachbearbeiterin Eingabendienst). Lilie explained that any resident of Hamburg can petition the parliament. She said that half of 800 petitions filed each year deal with foreigners in extradition cases. There are no online submission services yet, so petitions must be submitted in writing. The parliament selects the 21-member committee at the start of each session, and it is the first of the parliament’s committees to be created.
After our meeting in the library, Wellums took us on a tour of the Rathaus. This gives me a chance to post one more photo from our visit. Because what’s a trip to Germany without Otto von Bismarck?