Does German constitution provide preference to people who are ethnic German?

How does it define related terms? For example - what does ethnicity mean? Who are ethnic German? Does it mean that people who are not ethnic German cannot avail German citizenship?

  • 2
    I did not downvote, but I am pretty sure the downvote is because you asked multiple questions at once. This makes this hard to answer. How about splitting this up unto multiple questions? Apr 5, 2023 at 14:11

4 Answers 4


You have multiple questions, I can only say something about the one in the title. As per Grundgesetz Artikel 116

Deutscher im Sinne dieses Grundgesetzes ist vorbehaltlich anderweitiger gesetzlicher Regelung, wer die deutsche Staatsangehörigkeit besitzt

i.e. for the purposes of the Grundgesetz (the German constitution, basically), you are German if you have citizenship.

Citizenship is determined via the Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz. You can become a citizen by birth if at least one of your parents is German, by marriage or by applying for it. Extra laws and restrictions apply, but they are not based on ethnicity (e.g. residency, you must not be a felon by German law and similar).

There is one special provision that refers to "Volkszugehörigkeit", which at the time would have been broadly equivalent to ethnicity. Volkszugehörigkeit as defined by the "Bundesvertriebenengesetz" (which contains provisions for German refugees after WW2) is

(1) Deutscher Volkszugehöriger im Sinne dieses Gesetzes ist, wer sich in seiner Heimat zum deutschen Volkstum bekannt hat, sofern dieses Bekenntnis durch bestimmte Merkmale wie Abstammung, Sprache, Erziehung, Kultur bestätigt wird.

Very broadly:

A German "Volkszugehöriger" by the provisions of the law is anybody who in his homeland has declared affiliation with the German "Volkstum", if this affiliation is confirmed by certain attributes such as ancestry, language, education or culture.

While this does not mention ethnicity is pretty much says that you are one of the people if you affiliate with the people, but only if you are born of the people, which was certainly designed to be applicable to a certain idea of ethnicity (Germany wanted to take it the German minorities from the former eastern territories, but not any actual Poles etc).

This has very little relevance of today, and had never relevance to people outside this narrowly defined group. So no, the German Grundgesetz is not based on ethnicity, and actually in its paragraph 3 prohibits discrimination based on "Abstammung" (ancestry) and "race" (the latter caused a bit of controversy, because "race" is not actually a well defined or common concept in German law, at least after 1945).


No. The German Basic Law does not preference people who are ethnic German. In the basic law, the term "German" means "Of the State of the Federal Republic of Germany" - and so when applied to people, means "Citizens of the Federal Republic" of any ethnicity.

There is one exception "The Federation shall have exclusive legislative power with respect to [...] safeguarding German cultural assets against removal from the country" This refers to cultural assets, ie "culturally German".

There are specific provisions for granting citizenship to anyone who was deprived of German citizenship by the Nazis - These do not grant particular rights to the ethnically German, and would mostly apply to Jews, Romani and other peoples that the Nazis attempted to genocide. These are mostly of historical relevance.

Ethnically German people do not have a special right to citizenship. Citizenship is not defined in detail in the Basic Law, but the Federal gov has the right to define citizenship by law. It is mainly by descent. If your parents were German at the time when you were born, then you probably have the right to German citizenship. See source.

  • 1
    Depends on when and why they left and when they came back. Germany certainly favored Spätaussiedler compared to other immigrants from those regions.
    – o.m.
    Apr 5, 2023 at 19:51

Look back in history ...

Europe is a pretty cramped continent, with many ethnic subdivisions. (So are other continents, but Europe is the one we are talking about.) This led to significant ethnic strife and wars, which culminated in two World Wars in the last century. Neither the first nor the second world war were fought only about ethnic issues, but ethnic issuesclearly played a part. The Nazis under Hitler tried to create a Grossdeutschland, a nation-state for all populations and territories which could be argued to be German. Their definitions were very racist.

Before and during the war, the Nazis tried to strip citizenships from citizens who did not meet their ethnic criteria. Many were murdered, others had to flee.

The Nazi conquest was defeated, Germany lost significant territory in the east, and the remainder was split into two states, initially under occupation regimes by the US/UK/French in West Germany and by the Soviets in East Germany. A significant number of Germans were forced to leave the lost territories in eastern Europe. West Germany never accepted the German division as final, and it held out on a claim to the lost territory as a 'bargaining chip' to trade away in the final peace talks. Those peace talks came when the Soviet bloc fell.

That caused a very much "dual" concept of citizenship:

  • There is a "moderately modern" system of immigration, which involves citizenship after some years of permanent residency.

§1 StAG: Deutscher im Sinne dieses Gesetzes ist, wer die deutsche Staatsangehörigkeit besitzt.
German for the purposes if this law is, whoever has German citizenship. (Law on Citizenship, my translation)

  • Since "extend Germany to any place where Germans live" had failed so spectacularly, the other answer was "any German can live in what is left of Germany." This included ethnic Germans without German citizenship, but also Germans with muddled documents. Many came in the years after the war.

§3: (1) Die deutsche Staatsangehörigkeit wird erworben [...] durch Ausstellung der Bescheinigung nach § 15 Absatz 1 oder 2 des Bundesvertriebenengesetzes [...]
(2) Die Staatsangehörigkeit erwirbt auch, wer seit zwölf Jahren von deutschen Stellen als deutscher Staatsangehöriger behandelt worden ist und dies nicht zu vertreten hat. [...]
(1) Citizenship is gained [...] by a certificate according to the expellee law [...]
(2) Citizenship is also acquired by those who have been [mistakenly] treated as a German by German authorities for twelve years and who is are not responsible for this misunderstanding. (my translation)


The German Basic Law is pretty long. The Indian Constitution is even longer, in fact, it is the longest in the world.

Here's what I can find by quick searching words that contain "ethnic" in German Basic Law.

Article 116. [Definition of "German" - Restoration of citizenship]

Unless otherwise provided by a law, a German within the meaning of this Basic Law is a person who possesses German citizenship or who has been admitted to the territory of the German Reich within the boundaries of 31 December 1937 as a refugee or expellee of German ethnic origin or as the spouse or descendant of such person.

At face value, it appears the document doesn't try to specify what an "ethnic German" is. For example, it does not say a "real German" has to have blonde hair, blue eyes... you get the point.

According to the document, a German is:

  • A person with German citizenship

  • A person who has been admitted as a refugee within German territory

  • A person who is married, or born, to a German

  • A person who is expelled from German territory as a German or related to an expelled German (probably out of consideration for their children).

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    The translation leaves room for misinterpretation which you unfortunately got caught in. Firstly, "Spouse and descendant" specifically refers to those people admitted as refugees or expllees. Secondly, "refugee or expellee" is one kind of person. Finally, of those refugees and expellees, only the ones with German ethnic origin are considered German within the meaning of the Basic Law. This final provision is a historic artifact to cover refugees after WW2 and mostly meaningless today.
    – xyldke
    Apr 5, 2023 at 13:57

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