As a consequence of a series of regime changes in the 20th century, the political institutions of Germany are often analysed in terms of constitutional engineering. In fact, most German-language textbooks on the political system of (former West) Germany begin by describing the process of constitution-making in 1948/49, the implication being that this is the origin of the present institutional framework. This perspective, however, has two shortcomings. One is the limited time perspective. In principle, the Basic Law was conceived by the constitution-makers as an improved version of the Weimar constitution. Essential elements of the present institutional framework go back, therefore, to 1919 or even further to the constitution of 1867/71. The second shortcoming is that, however important constitutional engineering (including borrowing from foreign models) may have been for fields such as the role of parliament and parliamentary government, there is one important exception, namely that of intergovernmental relations. Germany has a federal system, and the main institutional features of German federalism owe very little to deliberate constitutional design. With the exception of the Nazi dictatorship (which left few vestiges in this field), major successful interventions into the federal structures only took place as the result of wars (as in 1867/71), sometimes in the context of a re-organisation of the international system (1648, 1815), or, in two important instances, with victorious conquerors playing a decisive role (1803–1807, 1946–1949). Even these interventions, however, retained important structural elements, so that we encounter some remarkable institutional continuities.