A German Regierungsbezirk (pronounced [ʁeˈɡiːʁʊŋsbəˌt͡sɪɐ̯k], often abbreviated to Reg.-Bez.; English: administrative district) is an administrative district of one of the nation's federal states. Its governing body is called a Regierungspräsidium or Bezirksregierung (district government), and is headed by a Regierungspräsident (district president).
The Regierungsbezirke do not legislate; rather, each acts as a mid-level agent of its federal state, and is concerned mostly with administrative decisions on a local level for the (rural or urban) locale that is its jurisdiction.
The first Regierungsbezirke were established in the Kingdom of Bavaria (1808) and in the course of the Prussian reforms between 1808 and 1816, when the Kingdom of Prussia divided its provinces into 25 Regierungsbezirke; eventually Prussia had 37 such districts in 12 provinces. By German unification in 1871, the concept of Regierungsbezirke had been adopted by most States of the German Empire.
The Regierungsbezirke of North Rhine-Westphalia are in direct continuation of those created in the Prussian Rhine and Westphalia provinces in 1816. Similar entities in other states were initially named Kreishauptmannschaft (in Saxony) or Kreis (in Bavaria and Württemberg) (not to be confused with the present-day Kreis or Landkreis districts) or province in Hesse. In Nazi Germany the naming was unified to Regierungsbezirk.
Currently, only four large-area states out of 16 in total are divided into Regierungsbezirke; all others are directly divided into districts without mid-level agencies. Those four states are divided into a total of 19 Regierungsbezirke, ranging in population from 5,255,000 (Düsseldorf) to 1,065,000 (Gießen):
On 1 January 2000 Rhineland-Palatinate disbanded its three Regierungsbezirke Koblenz, Rheinhessen-Pfalz and Trier – the employees and assets of the three Bezirksregierungen were converted into three public authorities responsible for the whole state, each covering a part of the former responsibilities of the Bezirksregierung.
On 1 January 2004, Saxony-Anhalt disbanded its three Regierungsbezirke: Dessau, Halle and Magdeburg. The responsibilities are now covered by a Landesverwaltungsamt with three offices at the former seats of the Bezirksregierungen.
At the foundation of Lower Saxony in 1946 by the merger of the three former Free States of Brunswick, Oldenburg, Schaumburg-Lippe and the former Prussian province of Hanover the former two states became Verwaltungsbezirke (roughly administrative regions of extended competence) within Lower Saxony besides the less autonomous Prussian-style Regierungsbezirke comprising the former Province of Hanover and the tiny Schaumburg-Lippe. These differences were levelled on 1 January 1978, when four territorially redeployed Regierungsbezirke replaced the two Verwaltungsbezirke and the old six Regierungsbezirke: Brunswick and Oldenburg as well as Aurich, Hanover (remaining mostly the same), Hildesheim, Lüneburg (old), Osnabrück and Stade. On 1 January 2005, Lower Saxony disbanded its remaining four Regierungsbezirke: Brunswick, Hanover, Lüneburg, and Weser-Ems.
On 1 August 2008, Saxony restructured its districts (Landkreise) and changed the name of its Regierungsbezirke to Direktionsbezirke. This was necessary because one of the new districts did not fit with the borders of the old Regierungsbezirke and some responsibilities are now covered by the districts. The Direktionsbezirke are still named Chemnitz, Dresden and Leipzig. As of 1 March 2012, the Direktionsbezirke were merged into one Landesdirektion.
Four of the new federal states re-established in 1990, Berlin, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Thuringia, decided not to implement Regierungsbezirke. In Bremen, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Saarland they never existed.
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