I'll be a part time judge for the next five years

Our justice system here in Germany has no jury trial, the judges decide about guilt and punishment. To keep the public eye in the system we have “Schöffen” - lay judges. You can volunteer for that and then they draw Schöffen in a complicated fully transparent and random way out of the pool. If there are not enough volunteers they can draft any citizen into the pool - I don’t know if that ever happened.
Every 5 years a new set of Schöffen is elected. And last spring there was the call for volunteers. Our right wing (fascist) Party AfD called their followers to get into the courts so that the lush sentences against these scummy foreigners could be replaced with the harsh will of the people. I felt called by that and volunteered as a counterweight.

I got the dismissal for the Amtsgericht, the lowest court were Schöffen are in every case where the expected jail time exceeds 2 years. And then the dismissal for the juvenile court. Ok, I did my duty but have more free time for me.

But I forgot about the Landgericht, the second tier of courts for stuff with more than 4 years on the offer. They selected me as “Hauptschöffe No. 5” and I’ll sit about 12 times a year in the chair just left from the door.

Next to me 3 professional judges and on the other side another Schöffe. We Schöffen have the same rights in the trial as the professionals, can ask questions to witnesses and have the same weight of our vote as the professionals. (There are courts with one pro and two Schöffen, they can overvote the pro.) My first day in court is in about two weeks - and I am a bit scared. It’s a two day trial, so no simple thing.

As a Schöffe you have no clue about the case before the state attourney reads out the the accusations. You judge from the things that are said and shown in trial and the professional judges have to explain the intricacies of the law to you until you have fully understood them.

I had a very nice and supportive introductory seminar in the main court room, Schwurgerichtssaal 218. There I took the photo - but there are several other court rooms and it is not a given to be in that room. It was built in the Kaiserzeit 189x. The next one is a bit less impressive

with machined panel work and less hand carving. The walls have the coats of arms (the city over the judges, the Kaiserreich on the back wall) as a mural and not on gilded leather tapestry. And it has a very old sign for keeping the public out of the court in special situations.

The third one in the second building segment is very drab in comparison. It was built after the bills for the first segment came in…

The more modern rooms built after the two next wars are much less imposing. The relationship between state has changed a bit, the judges are not some steps above and behind a barrier anymore.


It‘s great that you volunteered for it and have been elected. It’s an important job for our legal system and society. We need people like you standing against others who want to abuse the system for their political mission. And I assume, it is a very interesting position, too.

I wish you all the best!

Never again!


Congratulations on taking on an important civic responsibility.

I am sure you would be; yet I am also convinced that - precisely because your motivation to serve is not ideological - that you will be conscientious and aquit yourself well.

Please tell me about the sign in the second photo - my German is a little rusty, but to me it says “openness is ruled out” - is that supposed to be tongue-in-cheek? It’s on a coat and umbrella stand - is it some joke that I don’t quite get?


Thanks for the encouragement. I am confident to be able to be impartial and fair, 30+ years as a teacher train you for that and for looking for motivations of “inexplicable” actions. Done that a lot. I am a bit scared about looking into the rel dark sides of life, not that I didn’t had that at school too. Brutal poverty, insane parents, religious zealots, violent fathers and neglect on so many layers.

But here I’ll sit high above and have no way of action except deciding if the evidence is convincing above reasonable doubt and if how to penalize. But they said in the seminar that the pros are in the same boat and that talking about such feelings in the chamber (which is quite drab in contrast to the court room) is recommended and seen positive. Felt good.

The sign reads verbatim "The public is locked out"or “The public is excluded”, no spectators or press allowed. Trials are public, but in special situations (juveniles, testimony of victims of sexual crimes, state secrets and perhaps more) the public can be excluded. Then they hang the sign at the door handle of the spectators entrance, otherwise it resides at the clothes rack for the Bremen typical rain coats. Since 1950 or so.


I have nice memories of Bremen - I worked in Bremen-Vegesack from May 1992 to December 1993.

Let me guess - Vulkan Shipyard?

Sadly they went bankrupt some years later, shipyard crisis and blatant mismanagement and perhaps stuff that would be fit for the Landgericht. :wink:

Or Lürssen Shipyard?

They are fine and build ships hidden behind layers of blinds and walls, either special naval vessels or luxury yachts.

Not much more there, except a good look at the river. :slight_smile:

Vulkan. Yes, they were probably a bit fast and loose with the funds that were supposed to be used to make the ex-DDR ship-building enterprises that they took over into profitable businesses. They were trying to do a variant on Hilbert's paradox of the Grand Hotel - Wikipedia - always moving money from one thing to another.

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Oh, they were in the Landgericht. And in the highest German court too, 14 years of proceedings and no conviction.

Thanks for the link; I think I managed to wade through all the technical German. So - two and a half weeks on remand for Hennemann, then free on a 6 million DM bond. A handy few million Euros when he (presumably) got it back in 2010.

All the same, maybe a bit sloppy prosecution work: you’d think that account books that were to be the subject of legal process would be seized under subpoena to ensure that the evidence is available.

I worked for the Verbund - much more than just a few shipyards, as suggested by the article - there were a total of 50 or 60 subsidiary companies. Undoubtedly the largest were the shipyards. I seem to recall that the biggest issue was always the recriminations that ensued about the profitability (or not) of the Vulkan Werft in Vegesack - it was accounted for in the books in 3 different divisions: the Grossmaschinenbau in Industrie-bereich, Schiffbau, and Marine (military). The bookkeeping leger-demain that was involved in the consolidation of financial results always seemed a little like black magic to me - I only did a little accountancy at school. My role was IT support in Management Information Systems.

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