Few Americans have heard of either Karlsruhe or its courts, the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court) and the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice). Moreover, American lawyers who walk through the unique, Enlightenment-era city center of Germany's seat of justice may be surprised. Karlsruhe's streets are neither the twisting, medieval alleyways of travel brochures that extol Europe's charms nor the grand, straight avenues of Berlin. They are evenly spaced spokes of a rational planner's superimposed wheel. When American lawyers approach the Federal Constitutional Court (FCC), they find a further surprise: The court inhabits a modest, modern building. This unimposing structure is stunningly different from the U.S. Supreme Courts massive marble temple on Washington's unmistakably imperial Capitol Hill. The German court sits quietly, unobtrusively between gardens and lawns around a palace that long ago ceased to be a center of political power. Except for the handful of armed guards, one could easily mistake the court for an ordinary office building or part of the local university.
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