Berlin and Hamburg are going to court to prove the German government miscalculated their populations in 2011. The two cities, which are also states within Germany, claim the error is costing them billions in funds.
Germany's Constitutional Court opened the proceedings on Tuesday, with representatives of Berlin, Hamburg and more than a thousand smaller communities in Germany accusing the federal government of botching the data gathering process during the 2011 census.
Berlin and Hamburg are not only the two biggest cities in Germany – they are also classified as two of Germany's 16 federal states. In 2011, the federal government conducted a nationwide census that saw Berlin's estimated population suddenly shrink by 180,000 people to around 3,326,000.
Hamburg "lost" 82,000 people, with 2011 census putting the population of the northern German city to under 1,707,000. Nationwide, the population was revised from some 81.8 million to 80.2 million, affecting many other smaller communities across Germany.
Read more: Berlin loses people - and money
Is it all about money?
The authorities used a new method to track population numbers in 2011. Instead of simply counting everyone, they relied on preexisting data from various registries and public institutions like the Federal Labor Agency, and using one-tenth samples to estimate population at large.
Census results have a real-world effect in Germany – they influence constituencies and representation on different levels, as well as tax redistribution. Berlin has had to give up some 470 million euros ($553 million) per year, with the difference set to reach 4.7 billion by the time new census roles around in 2021.
Hamburg is also paying tens of millions more every year due to the census.
The two cities now hope that the Karlsruhe-based judges will fix the alleged discrepancy and allow them to preserve at least some of their money. The Constitutional Court is now expected to consider the claim, with the ruling expected in several months.
dj/es (AFP, dpa)