The History of the National Colors of Germany
The German federal flag is seen frequently seen at sporting events or in front of public buildings. Article 22 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany sets out the appearance of the federal flag: its colors are black, red, and gold.
But what's the story behind the federal flag? When was it used for the first time, and were there already other flags in Germany?
After the victory over Napoleon, the returning students organized themselves into student groups. This "fraternity" movement spread throughout Germany and with it its political demands for civil liberties and the unification of Germany. The "Urburschenschaft," the first of such traditional student associations, was founded in Jena in 1815. In 1816 the "Women and Maidens of Jena" (the official dedication on the flag) donated this "Wartburg flag."
The "Wartburg flag" combined the colors of black, red, and gold for the first time. It was modeled on the uniform colors of Lützow's Free Corps which represented national liberation, a liberal attitude, and the desire for freedom and national unity. At the Wartburg festival, the flag of the Jena student association was carried at the top of the procession.
The Hambach Flag
The flag called the "Hambach main flag" combined the color arrangement of black, red, and gold in 3 equal stripes—still in use today—for the first time . The red stripe contains the lettering "Deutschlands Wiedergeburt" (Germany's rebirth), which expresses the desire for national unity.
Abresch's wife, Anna Maria, embroidered the flag with the inscription "Deutschlands Wiedergeburt" (Germany's rebirth), producing a kind of prototype of today's federal flag. The flag combined the colors of Lützow's Free Corps—the colors of the opposition—in the design of the French tricolor. Johann Philipp Abresch carried the flag during the procession to Hambach Castle, where it was flown on the castle tower during Hambach Festival.
Black, Red, and Gold All Over
The symbolic colors of black, red, and gold weren't only waved on flags in the Vormärz period. Liberal citizens showed their convictions and their desire for freedom, equality, and national unity by wearing the colors on hats, sashes, badges, and much more. To commemorate the festival, numerous everyday items were also decorated with black, red, and gold colors, such as musical instruments and playing cards.
People were very aware of the democratic traditions in the newly founded federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate given that the Hambach Festival had taken place here in 1832. Therefore, in April 1948, the Rhineland-Palatinate parliament decided to use black, red, and gold as its state colors. Since that time, the flag of Rhineland-Palatinate consists of the German tricolor with the coat of arms of Rhineland-Palatinate in the upper corner.
The Rhineland-Palatinate state parliament still houses one of the oldest flags with the black, red, and gold coloring as a reminder of the traditional state colors.
Day of German Unity in 2017 in Rhineland-Palatinate
With the motto "Together we are Germany," more than half a million people celebrated the Day of German Unity in Mainz on October 2 and 3, 2017.
The festivities were clad in black, red, and gold: the colors of the Hambach Festival of 1832, the "cradle of German democracy."
For a long time, the German federal flag was associated with the reputation of a right-wing extremist or fascist symbol. Historically, however, the colors had the complete opposite meaning. Since the emergence of the black, red, and gold flag in the 19th century, it has symbolized values such as democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and a pluralistic society. The opponents of these values used different colors.
Today, the federal colors black, red, and gold are symbols of our democratic culture. They represent Rhineland-Palatinate and Germany, German reunification, and an open-minded, cosmopolitan Germany.
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Sarah Traub, Institut für Geschichtliche Landeskunde an der Universität Mainz e.V. (IGL)