German flag

All you need to know about the German flag

The origin of the German flag

If you want to trace the birth of the German flag, you need to go back to the 18th century. During that period, Europe started to put together several former states. In the past, coats of arms were used to identify a dynasty or a land. Germany occupied a wide territory and was made of several members. Some of them were more powerful than others, like Prussia and Austria. Also, the Holy Roman Empire exerted a limited influence over the lands, ran by different dynasties. The German flag typically depicted in black, red and yellow as we know it, appeared for the first time in 1832. The selection of these three colours represented a choice made by patriots to identify themselves as a group with clear political ideas. However, this choice also reflected a sort of compromise among patriots; even if they were democrats, part of them regretted the Emperor’s leadership, the symbol of which consisted of a black eagle drawn on a yellow background. Red and black instead, stood for people who wanted to get rid of Napoleon’s authority.

Black, red and yellow: the German flag colours

The idea of a unified German state came out during the 19th century as a protest against the French emperor Napoleon I. During that period, new colours were selected, such as black, red and gold. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the former states refused to gather all the states under a single one; in a certain way, democracy was considered as a risk. German history recalls a revolutionary period between 1830 and 1870, when the industrial revolution was setting out, too. Unemployment, poverty and bad harvests were just a few reasons that put up several insurrections. The golden colour, which was widely used for flags, was replaced by yellow, which together with black and red, created a distinction between Nationalists and Democrats. Over the years, the flag became a symbol of the 1848 Revolution, the aim of which was to obtain democracy. When the revolution failed, colours were banned.

German reunification and flags of the new country

A unification became necessary to release Germany’s own economy and to avoid constraints and customs blocks. Prussia, which at the time was guided by Bismarck, pushed for freedom. Bismarck was a former politician, who worked to embitter political relations with Austria and marginalize it. Furthermore, he moved against France, which represented Germany’s historical enemy and also a major power of that period. In 1871 Germany was unified and Bismark chose new colours for the nascent state’s flag, such as black, white and red. Today’s colours of the German flag came into force in 1918 with the rise of the Republic and the Emperor abdication.

From Hitler’s period till nowadays

When Hitler rose to power in 1933, a new symbol thrust upon Germany. A black swastika with white and red colours in the background appeared. The third Reich colours were black, white and red. Ever since 1935, all symbols were forbidden with the exception of the Nazi one. With Germany’s division in 1949, DDR government adopted the classic flag colours (black, red and golden) adding three symbols: a hammer, which represented workers; a divider, which represented intellectuals; and a spike, which represented farmers. Germany Federal Republic adopted some colours without any symbols. After the unification, the last flag became today’s German flag.

Photo: marselelia CC0


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