Germany is a world leader in many categories, such as finance, manufacturing, and sports (Mia san mia!). However, this has not always been true, as Germany has been through many periods of struggle, occupation, and war. Almost all of these periods have had a unique flag of Germany to coincide with them.
Germany has had two prevalent color schemes throughout its existance; the current black, red, and yellow, and the black, white, and red. All of these colors stem from Germany’s medieval roots.
Gold and Black
The gold and black stem from the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) of which present day Germany was a part. Even though the HRE didn’t have a flag, it was commonly associated with the colors gold and black as well as the symbolism of a black eagle on a gold field. When Napoleon declared the First French Empire in the early 19th century, HRE emperor Francis II declared the Kingdom of Austria (an eventual state of the Germany Confederation) as his own. Francis used the colors of the HRE to represent his empire with a gold and black horizontally-striped flag.
Red and White
The red and white in both color schemes also come from the HRE. During the Crusades, countries displayed battle flags featuring crosses. The HRE was represented by a white cross on a red field, similar to the flag of Denmark. Being that many North Germans fought for the HRE, several of their cities and states used these colors in their flags. From the 13th through the 17th century, these cities and states formed the trade federation known as the Hanseatic League, all using red and white flags. Thanks to Hanseatic ships flying these flags, the colors became associated with the North Germans.
Napoleon defeated and dissolved the HRE in 1806, forming the French puppet state known as the Confederation of the Rhine in much of present-day Germany. German resistance to the French occupation adopted the black, red, and yellow color scheme, mainly based off of the uniforms of LÃ¼tzow Free Corps, a volunteer unit of the Prussian Army made up of German students and academics who fought in the Napoleonic Wars.
In order to restore a power balance after the Napoleonic Wars, the Vienna Congress formed the German Confederation in 1816 out of the Confederation of the Rhine, Prussia, and Austria. Many Germans did not approve of the confederation and longed for an independent German state. Leading the charge for independence were veterans of the LÃ¼tzow Free Corps, who rallied under a red, black, and red striped tricolor with a gold oak branch (again based off of the color of their uniforms). As support for independence grew, the flag was simplified to the black, red, and gold tricolor that we know today.
Those supporting independence finally got their wish for an independent German state during the Revolutions of 1848. The new German state was represented by the black, red, and gold tricolor. However, the new state proved to be short lived. By 1850, Austrians restored the German Confederation and took away the tricolor. Remaining tensions eventually lead to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. The Prussian northern states defeated Austria and their Germanic allies in the south later that year and formed the North German Confederation. Their flag was a black, white, and red tricolor; a combination of the black and white of Prussia and the white and red of the Hanseatic states. The southern states eventually joined the confederation in 1870 to form the German Empire, which still used the black, white, and red tricolor.
The black, white, and red flag was used by the German Empire until the allied victory of World War I in 1918. After a brief revolutionary period, a representative democracy known as the Weimar Republic was established as the successor to the German Empire in 1919 and chose the old black, red, and gold tricolor used during the Revolutions of 1848 as its official flag. Many German conservatives opposed the black, red, and gold tricolor as they felt it was a symbol of humiliation following their defeat in World War I. In order to compromise, the government reinstated the black, white, and red tricolor as the official diplomatic flag used abroad. Still, conservative and nationalist parties wanted change, and rallied under the black, white, and red flag. In 1933, the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi Party) gained power and reinstated the black, white, and red tricolor along with similarly-colored the Nazi swastika flag as dual national flags.
In 1935, the Nazi Party made their swastika flag the sole national flag. The swastika flag was introduced to the Nazi Party by Adolf Hitler in the mid 1920s. Propaganda claimed that the red represented socialism, the white circle represented the movement’s national thought, and the swastika represented “the victory of Aryan peoples over the Jewry.” Unfortunately, the Nazis carried out what their flag represented and committed atrocities against millions of Jews and other minorities during World War II.
After the Allied victory of World War II, the occupied zones of Germany were all officially represented by the International Maritime Signal flag “Charlie”. However, many of the western occupied zones under the control of France, the U.K., and the U.S. chose to use the black, red, and gold tricolor unofficially.
By 1949, relations between the western allies and the Soviet Union began to deteriorate and the western allies chose to consolidate their occupation zones into the Federal Republic of Germany, known as West Germany. A few months later, the Soviets established the German Democratic Republic, known as East Germany. From 1949 through 1959, both East and West Germany used the same black, red, and gold tricolor. In 1959, the East German government defaced their tricolor with a coat of arms. Many West Germans felt that this was a deliberate attempt to divide the people of Germany, causing West Germany to eventually outlaw the East German flag in the late 1960s.
After decades of separation, the Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989, unofficially uniting the two Germanys. Many East Germans cut the coat of arms out of their flags in an act of defiance. Almost a year later in October of 1990, East Germany was officially absorbed by West Germany to form a united Federal Republic of Germany.
Many Germans were apprehensive to rally around the flag of a united Germany in order to avoid association with Nazis and their heavy use of flags. This fear lasted until 2006 when Germany hosted the FIFA World Cup. Many regard the national pride inspired by the tournament as a turning point in Germany’s national consciousness, where Germans were no longer ashamed to take pride in their flag.