Regierungsbezirke are divided into districts (Kreise), either Landkreise or urban districts: cities which constitute a district in their own right (kreisfreie Städte). The Regierungsbezirk is governed by a Bezirksregierung and led by a Regierungspräsident.
Not all Bundesländer have this sub-division; some are directly divided into districts. Currently, five states are divided into 22 Regierungsbezirke, ranging in population from 5,255,000 (Düsseldorf) to 1,065,000 (Gießen):
- Baden-Württemberg: Freiburg, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Tübingen
- Bavaria: Oberbayern, Niederbayern, Oberpfalz, Oberfranken, Mittelfranken, Unterfranken, Schwaben
- Hesse: Darmstadt, Gießen, Kassel
- North Rhine-Westphalia: Arnsberg, Cologne, Detmold, Düsseldorf, Münster
- Saxony: Chemnitz, Dresden, Leipzig
The first Regierungsbezirke were created by the Kingdom of Prussia in 1808/16, which divided its provinces into 25 Regierungsbezirke. The Regierungsbezirke of North Rhine-Westphalia are in direct continuation of those created in 1815. Other states of the German Empire created similar entities, named Kreishauptmannschaft (in Saxony) or Kreis (in Bavaria and Württemberg) (not to be confused with the Kreis or Landkreis today). During the Third Reich, the Nazi government unified the naming; since then all these entities are called Regierungsbezirk.
On January 1 2000 Rhineland-Palatinate disbanded its three Regierungsbezirke Koblenz, Rheinhessen-Pfalz and Trier - the employees and assets of the three Bezirksregierungen were converted into three public authorities responsible for the whole state, each covering a part of the former responsibilities of the Bezirksregierung.
On January 1, 2004, Saxony-Anhalt disbanded its three Regierungsbezirke: Dessau, Halle and Magdeburg. The responsibilities are now covered by a Landesverwaltungsamt with three offices at the former seats of the Bezirksregierungen.
In 2005, North Rhine-Westphalia planned to abolish its five Regierungsbezirke and create three self-government entities. The old, "Prussian-style", Regierungsbezirk had no self-government organs.