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German National Flag: History, Meaning, and Pictures

German National Flag: History, Meaning, and Pictures

The national flag of Germany has changed numerous times and reflects the tumultuous past of this European country. Read this Historyplex article to know more about the history of the German national flag.
Tanmay Tikekar
Did You Know?
German sports associations established before the establishment of the Weimar Republic featured the white and black colors of the German Empire almost exclusively, the best example perhaps being the uniform of the German national soccer team. Yellow was included in the team jersey by the West German team for the first time for the 1988 UEFA Euro Championships, and white and black are still by far the most dominant colors.
Germany is an influential country in Central Europe, and is a major player in international political, economic, and other policies. It is most notorious for its heavy involvement in the two World Wars.

Germany's national flag is made up of Germany's national colors: black, red, and gold. These colors have been associated with Germany for a long time, and were only replaced during the times of the German Empire, which had a black-white-red tricolor as the flag. The black-red-yellow trifecta symbolizes the republican system adopted by the country after the First World War.

The flag was adopted by West Germany on May 23, 1949, and remained the national flag of unified Germany after reunification.

West Germany had a flag identical to that of the unified Germany, while the eastern faction also had the same flag with the addition of one symbol, the emblem of East Germany. The present national flag of Germany, also used by West Germany and the Weimar Republic before it, is given below:
Gloss German Flag On White
Current national flag of Germany
The German flag is in the ratio 3:5, i.e., the width of the flag is 5x if the height is 3x.
The most prominent early instance of a 'national' flag representing Germany is in the times of the Holy Roman Empire. This flag also incorporated black, red, and yellow, though red was only nominal, and white was also present in very small amounts. A later flag of the Holy Roman Empire incorporated similar figures and color scheme, with an increased percentage of white. These two medieval flags are shown below, along with the period in which they were used.
Imperial Banner Of Holy Roman Emperor
The early flag of the Holy Roman Empire, used in the 14th century.
The early flag of Holy Roman Empire
The early flag of the Holy Roman Empire, used from the 15th century until the Napoleonic Wars.
Various Germanic factions used several flags during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. The national colors of Germany were incorporated in the uniforms of German soldiers, which were black with red and yellow buttons. The colors symbolized the message of going from the darkness (black) of oppression through bloody (red) battles towards the glory of freedom (yellow/golden).

A unified Germany was formed as the German Empire, and established a new tricolor as the national flag of Germany: the black, white, and red. The yellow strip, which had been criticized in the years preceding the formation of the German Empire, was not revived until the demise of the Empire, and was again removed when the Nazi party took control.

The black-white-red tricolor is shown below:
Tricolor flag used by the German Empire
Tricolor flag used by the German Empire
The flag of the Weimar Republic, established after the First World War, was banned in Nazi Germany, and was replaced by the flag of the Third Reich, which reinstalled the colors of the German Empire. It also introduced the Nazi swastika in the national flag. This flag is given below:
The national flag of Nazi Germany
The national flag of Nazi Germany
This flag was abolished after Germany's defeat in the Second World War, and both factions of Germany adopted the flag of the Weimar Republic as their national flags. This system sustained till 1959, when the German Democratic Republic―East Germany―added its socialist emblem to the flag and maintained the modified design as its national flag until reunification. The flag of East Germany, with the added emblem, is given below:
National flag of East Germany
National flag of East Germany from 1959 to 1990