I recently returned from the annual conference of the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL), which took place in Berlin, Germany from September 20 to September 24, 2015. This year’s conference, “Within and in between: German Legal Tradition in Times of Internationalization and Beyond,” was held at the Berlin State Library (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin), which is Germany’s largest general academic research library. I would like to share some insights from the interesting presentations and cultural events that covered a wide range of German domestic, comparative, and international law issues and legal information.
Monday was the first day with a full schedule of presentations and cultural events after the conference was kicked off on Sunday with welcome speeches and a performance by the Berlin Fire Department’s Brass Band. Dr. Kim Christian Priemel gave an interesting account of “Reassessing the Nuremberg Trials” and emphasized the roles of libraries around the world in keeping the records and securing the archival trail.
Prof. Dr. Georg Nolte used the Strauß case from the German Federal Constitutional Court (75 Entscheidungen des Bundesverfassungsgerichts (BVerfGE) 369 ) and the U.S. Supreme Court case Hustler v. Falwell (485 U.S. 46 (1988) ) to illustrate the differences on limitations of free speech in Germany and the U.S. Whereas the German court held that the portrayal of the German politician Franz Josef Strauß as a pig engaged in sexual activity violated the core of human honor as protected by Article 1, paragraph 1 of the German Basic Law, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the parody of Falwell talking about his “first time” with his mother was protected against civil liability by the First Amendment. Another topic of current interest Professor Nolte mentioned, was a ruling of the German Federal Constitutional Court from 2012, which stated that asylum seekers in Germany are entitled to receive the same level of cash benefits as the country’s social security recipients, because the right to a dignified minimum existence constitutes a human right.
The last presentation of that day was given by Claus Koggel, head of the Division of Parliamentary Relations of the German Bundesrat. The Bundesrat is the constitutional body through which the German states participate in the legislative process of the German Federation. Mr. Koggel lectured on the Mediation Committee, which is a unique joint committee of the Bundestag (German Parliament) and the Bundesrat and is comprised of 16 members from each body. If a bill agreed upon in the Bundestag fails in the Bundesrat, the Bundesrat, the Bundestag or the Federal Government may request the Mediation Committee to convene in order to work out a consensus, which is then voted on again. It was interesting to hear that the committee only fails to reach a compromise in about 10 percent of the cases.
To compliment the theoretical with a practical part, we visited the building of the German Bundesrat and also saw the room in which the Mediation Committee convenes. The room is occasionally referred to as the “Dark Room,” because the deliberations are confidential and the shades are closed in order to prevent journalists from taking pictures. The results of the deliberations are later published on the Internet.
Tuesday started off with a talk on Germany’s role in the decision-making of the European Union (EU) given by Dr. Andreas Günther. It was followed by a presentation by Prof. Dr. Drenkhahn who gave a “German Perspective on the Criminology of State Crime.” According to Professor Drenkhahn, one of the obstacles for comparative research in the area of criminology is the language barrier between German and English-speaking criminologists. To the amusement of the audience, she pointed out that the reason that most people have no criminal record is that “committing crimes is normal, but getting caught is not.” The presentations concluded with a talk presentation by Prof. Dr. Schweitzer on “Challenging EU Competition Law” and by Prof. Dr. Schmidt-Räntsch on “Real Property Law in the German Reunification Treaty.”
The following days included presentations on “Access to Europe’s Cultural Heritage” by Dr. Klimpel, a “Legal History of Women’s Rights in Family Law” by Dr. Röwekamp and “Legal Blogs as a Means to alter Scientific Communication Structures and Legal Research” by Hannah Birkenkötter from the Verfassungsblog project. According to Ms. Birkenkötter, legal blogs are not an established genre in Germany yet and therefore there is currently no cataloging or archiving of legal blogs, which presents a huge problem. Further presentations covered the “Human Rights Situation in Germany” and “Accessible Libraries.”
Cultural highlights included a visit to the summer palace Sans Souci of Frederick the Great, a visit to Cecilienhof Palace, which served as the meeting place for Churchill, Truman, and Stalin to decide the fate of post-war Germany, and a visit to the Library of the German Bundestag, which holds a total of 1.4 million volumes of books and primarily serves the members of the German Parliament.