History of the Building

The Federal Administrative Court has been located in the building of the former Imperial Court of Justice in Leipzig since 2002. The Imperial Court of Justice was the highest court of civil and criminal jurisdiction in the German Empire from 1879 to 1945. Its administration of justice and the architecture of the building reflect the chequered history of Germany during this period.

  • Not only does the foundation of the German Empire create political unity in Germany, it also lays the foundation for legal unity.

    The foundation of the German Empire installs more than political unity; it also starts the process of establishing legal unity. The fragmented legal systems that had existed until then are consolidated in the following years through the introduction of standard regulations for court organisation, proceedings, civil and criminal law, among other things.

  • The Imperial Court of Justice in Leipzig is created to assert legal unity.

    The Courts Constitution Act (Gerichtsverfassungsgesetz) of 1877 appoints the Imperial Court of Justice as the highest instance for civil and criminal disputes, tasked with enforcing this legal unity. Leipzig is chosen as the seat of the Imperial Court of Justice in a crucial vote in the Bundesrat (Council of the federal states), narrowly defeating Berlin, the location preferred by William I and Otto von Bismarck. Crown Prince at the time and later Emperor Frederick III, sees the defeat as a 'resounding slap in the royal face', but his Chancellor takes a more sanguine view, believing it important that smaller states occasionally outvote Prussia, especially in a purely political matter.

  • The Imperial Court of Justice is established with an act of state.

    It is founded officially during a ceremony in the auditorium of Leipzig University on 1 October 1879. The first President of the Court is Eduard von Simson, previously President of the Frankfurt Parliament, member of the Prussian State Parliament, President of the German Reichstag and the Court of Appeal in Frankfurt/Oder. The city of Leipzig provides the Court with the Georgenhalle complex as a provisional seat.

  • Ludwig Hoffmann and Peter Dybwad emerge victorious from the competition to construct the Imperial Court of Justice building.

    A total of 119 designs are submitted from Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the competition to construct the Imperial Court of Justice building. The eleven-strong competition jury unanimously endorses the plans by the architects Ludwig Hoffmann (1852–1932) and Peter Dybwad (1859–1921). Hoffmann is then commissioned by the Office for National Justice to complete the plans and oversee construction.

    Ludwig Hoffmann

    Ludwig Hoffmann is born in Darmstadt on 30 July 1852. He studies architecture at the Academy of Art in Kassel and the Building Academy in Berlin from 1873 to 1879. He passes the first state examination in 1879 and the second in 1884. The Imperial Court of Justice building is his first work. After its completion, he is elected head of the Municipal Planning and Building Control Office in Berlin in 1896, a position he holds until 1924. This period sees the construction of numerous hospitals (including Rudolf Virchow Clinic Wedding, Buch-West hospital, Moabit hospital), cultural centres (including Märkisches Museum, the Humboldt University annex, contribution to the construction of the Pergamon Museum), social housing (including the Alte Jakobstrasse orphanage) and administrative buildings (including Klosterstrasse Town Hall, Fischerbrücke registry office and the post office in Buch). Ludwig Hoffmann passes away in Berlin on 11 November 1932.

    Peter Dybwad

    Peter Dybwad is born in Christiania (now Oslo), Norway, on 17 February 1859. He studies at the Building Academy in Berlin from 1878 to 1882, becoming acquainted with Ludwig Hoffmann during this period. It is the start of a lifelong, close friendship. Peter Dybwad is also involved in the construction and completion of the Imperial Court of Justice building. He remains loyal to the Court, sitting on the Technical Advisory Board as consultant for structural issues until 1920. He sets up business as freelance architect in Leipzig once the Imperial Court of Justice building is finished, and is responsible for many residential and commercial properties, including businesses on Burgstrasse 1–5 and on Martin-Luther-Ring 20, as well as the Meyer & Co. bank on Thomaskirchhof 20, until his death on 13 October 1921.

  • The ground-breaking ceremony for construction of the Imperial Court of Justice building takes place on 31 October 1888 in the presence of William II, Albert of Saxony, the President of the Imperial Court of Justice and numerous guests of honour

  • William II inaugurates the Imperial Court of Justice building in an act symbolising the foundation of the Empire and the establishment of legal unity.

    William II inaugurates the Imperial Court of Justice building on 26 October 1895 in the presence of the Saxon king, the Reich Chancellor, the Presidents of the Reichstag and the Imperial Court of Justice and other representatives of the Empire, the federal states and the judiciary.

    Constructed in the style of historicism with touches of Italian and French archetypes, the building was and remains one of the most striking court buildings in Germany. Its architectural design contains manifold allusions to the national and legal unity of Germany, the importance of the law and its assertion by the judiciary. A virtual tour provides a striking impression [link]. The Reichstag in Berlin and the Imperial Court of Justice are the most important representative buildings marking the foundation of the German Empire.

  • Other courts are incorporated into the Imperial Court of Justice. The demise of the Weimar Republic is reflected in a raft of important cases.

    A number of other courts are incorporated into the Imperial Court of Justice during the Weimar Republic, including the Constitutional Court of the German Empire. It passes its most momentous judgement on 25 October 1932. In it the Court declared the appointment of Reich Chancellor Franz von Papen as Reich Commissioner for Prussia by the German President Paul von Hindenburg ('Prussian coup') to be largely consistent with the constitution. The Constitutional Court for the Protection of the Republic is established at the Imperial Court of Justice in 1922 in response to the assassination of Walther Rathenau; it is tasked with the criminal prosecution of attacks on members of the national or regional governments or high treason. Jurisdiction for these matters returns to the Imperial Court of Justice in 1927. Criminal proceedings argued before the Imperial Court of Justice and its incorporated courts evidence the heightening fragmentation and radicalisation of German society. Relevant examples include the criminal prosecution of participants in the ‘Kapp Putsch’ (1921) and of Rudolf Höss and Martin Bormann for the murder of Walther Kadow (1924), the ‘Ulm Reichswehr trial’ (1930) with the infamous 'oath of legality' by the witness Adolf Hitler, the trials of George Grosz for blasphemy (1930 and 1931) and the ‘Weltbühne Prozess’ against Carl von Ossietzky (1931).

  • The seizure of power by the National Socialists is felt immediately in the Imperial Court of Justice. Undesirable judges are dismissed, while others join the NSDAP.

    The Reich President appoints Adolf Hitler German Chancellor on 30 January 1933 and dissolves the Reichstag on 1 February 1933. A blaze engulfs the Reichstag building on 27 Feb-ruary 1933. The National Socialists immediately portray the fire as part of a communist revolt. The Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and State ('Reichstag Fire Decree') of 28 February 1933 largely abrogates the basic rights of the constitution. The police and SA arrest opponents of the National Socialists in their tens of thousands. The NSDAP takes 43.9 per cent of the vote in the Reichstag elections of 5 March 1933. Seven judges of Jewish faith are forced into retirement the month after introduction of the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. The first four judges in the Imperial Court of Justice join the NSDAP.

  • 21. September to 23. December 1933
    The Imperial Court of Justice sentences the Dutch national Marinus van der Lubbe to death for his part in the Reichstag fire, but acquits four communist co-defendants.

    Besides Marinus van der Lubbe, the President of the KPD parliamentary ¬group Ernst Torgler, the subsequent Bulgarian Prime Minister Georgi Dimitroff and two other Bulgarian communists stand trial before the Imperial Court of Justice. The Imperial Court of Justice defies the wishes of the National Socialists and does not stage the proceedings as a show trial with expedited sentencing of all defendants to death. Instead it acquits the four communist co-defendants after several weeks of arguments, although the trial would still not have satisfied the principles of rule of law. The Court solely sentences Marinus van der Lubbe to death – although the retroactive introduction of capital punishment was inadmissible under contemporary legal principles as well. In response, the German government strips the Imperial Court of Justice of its competency to hear cases of treason and high treason, transferring it instead to the newly established People's Court in Berlin.

    Van der Lubbe's family try to have the sentence set aside several times after 1945, but in vain. Not until 2007 does the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office confirm that the ruling is annulled by the Act for the Repeal of Unlawful National Socialist Verdicts in Criminal Justice of 25 August 1998. Whether van der Lubbe laid the fire himself, or whether he was supported or exploited by the National Socialists, remains a contested point to this day.

  • The activities of the Imperial Court of Justice come to an end with the arrival of the American troops. Any assessment of its dispensation of justice from 1879 to 1945 is ambivalent.

    The activities of the Imperial Court of Justice come to an end in April 1945 when the American troops enter Leipzig. The last President of the Imperial Court of Justice, Erwin Bumke, commits suicide. The city is handed over to the Soviet occupying forces, who immediately arrest the 38 remaining judges of the Imperial Court of Justice. Only three of the prisoners survive their camp internment.

    A summarised assessment of the dispensation of justice by the Imperial Court of Justice is ambivalent. From its foundation until 1933, the Court defines principles in a significant number of ground-breaking rulings in civil law cases, many of which remain valid to this day. The reputation it builds on this basis extends far beyond the borders of Germany. But however pioneering this dispensation of justice remains, the Court's decline following the seizure of power by the National Socialists is no less calamitous. The Imperial Court of Justice willingly surrenders civil law to the inhumane ethnic ideologies. As early as 1934, for instance, the Court decides that the husband's ignorance of his wife's membership of the 'Jewish race' entitles him to contest the marriage.

    Its adjudication in criminal law reveals an even more horrific development from 1933 on. The interpretation of principles that are recognised to this day is subjugated entirely to National Socialist injustice after the seizure of power. Numerous rulings on the so-called laws to protect German blood are merely one instance of the willingness to open the floodgates of injustice through an excessively generous interpretation of the law, even over and above its actual wording.

    Although there are cases in which the Court withstood the National Socialist meddling. And while personages such as Hans von Dohnanyi, judge at the Imperial Court of Justice from 1938 to 1941, demonstrate that not all of the judiciary were willing to kowtow to the heinous regime. They remain nevertheless the exceptions.

  • The building is partially restored and used as a museum and for other purposes during the GDR era.

    The Museum of Fine Arts moves into the Imperial Court of Justice building in May 1952. The Georgi Dimitroff Museum opens there the following month, presenting the Reichstag Fire Trial and the defence of Dimitroff in a reconstruction of the original furnishings in the Great Courtroom and in other details. Other institutions also use the building in the following years. Among them is the DEFA film studio, which opens recording facilities in the former ceremonial hall. Severely damaged during the war, the building was partially restored in the early 1950s. Further reconstruction of the court building followed between 1980 and 1983, especially restoration of the Great Courtroom and the cupola hall.

  • After reunification, the Bundestag decides that the Imperial Court of Justice building will be used by the Federal Administrative Court.

    In May 1992, following accession of the GDR to the Federal Republic of Germany, the independent Federalism commission recommends relocation of the Federal Administrative Court from Berlin to Leipzig. The Bundestag notes and approves the resolution of the commission the following month. It finally decides on Leipzig as the new seat of the Federal Administrative Court in November 1997.

  • Extensive renovation and modernisation of the building take four years.

    Comprehensive refurbishment and reconstruction of the building between 1998 and 2002 largely restore the original condition, adapting it for use as the Federal Administrative Court. Among other measures, a fourth level is added to the building, and it is modified for barrier-free access. The costs of refurbishment and reconstruction are €65.5 million.

  • The Federal Administrative Court opens its doors for business in the former home of the Imperial Court of Justice in August 2002.

    The Federal Administrative Court starts work in the Imperial Court of Justice building on 26 August 2002. The official inauguration is held on 12 September 2002, returning the building to its original purpose as seat of a supreme German court after 57 years.