In the 1970s German governments, led by the Social Democratic party (SPD), complained bitterly about the obstruction of a Bundesrat majority which in their opinion forced them to give up their legislative proposals or to modify them almost beyond recognition. It sounded like a not-so-distant echo of this time when in the 1990s the Federal Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, scolded the mean tricks of the opposition which, as he saw it, was using its influence in the Bundesrat to delay and to block major initiatives of his Christian Democrat (CDU)/Liberal (FDP) coalition government on issues such as pension and tax reform. In the German political system, so it seems, the de facto upper house of the legislature, the Bundesrat, can provide a power-base for the opposition. Thus, if divided government is understood to mean the situation where different political parties control different branches of government, then Germany has indeed experienced divided government at certain periods of time. In this way, Tsebelis's (1995) observation is correct: the Bundesrat can become a 'veto player' in the democratic decision-making process. However, when comparing German institutional arrangements and the kind of party-political use that is made of them with other countries, it is important to keep certain historical and constitutional perspectives in mind.
The Bundesrat has no party-political tradition (Lehmbruch, 1998). It has its origin in historical efforts to bring together the representatives of a great number of independent German states. In 1871, when a German Reich was finally created, the Bundesrat embodied the new Reich. The meetings of the members of the federation gave legitimacy to the Reich and provided leadership. The chairman of the Bundesrat was the Chancellor of the Reich appointed by the Kaiser. After 1918 in the Weimar Republic the new Reichsrat was much less powerful and was no longer an efficient voice of the main subnational units of government in Germany, the Länder. Hitler's dictatorship, which followed the destruction of the Weimar Republic, dissolved the Länder and centralized power in Berlin.