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German Confederation 1815-1866 (Germany)

Deutscher Bund

Last modified: 2002-04-12 by santiago dotor
Keywords: germany | german confederation | bund | ensign: war | jack | hambach festival | text: german | text: deutschlands wiedergeburt | text: germany's rebirth | canton (yellow) | eagle (black) | subnational |
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[German Confederation 1848-1852] 2:3
by António Martins
Flag adopted 9th March 1848, abolished 1867

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The German national revival that accompanied the defeat of Napoleon, together with the spread of liberal ideas caused largely by the French Revolution, created in Germany a relative weakening of dynastic and particularistic loyalities and a strengthening of national feelings, particularly among the youth. When, in 1816, a student organization covering all the German-speaking universities was formed it adopted a black over red over gold tricolour, believing (to judge by the accompanying rhetoric) that these were the traditional colours of Germany. Why they thought this is less clear, especially since the Hapsburg emperors, when they used colours as decorations, used black and yellow, i.e. without the red. Of course, in a way this may have influenced the matter, since the Hapsburgs continued to use black and yellow even after the end of the Holy Roman Empire. There appear to be several theories:

  • The most popular associates it with the uniform of Lützow's Free Corps, a popular 1813 unit formed mostly by young people from all of Germany (thus, not limited to one or another state). This was black with red facings, the gold allegedly coming from the gold buttons.
  • A second theory was that it blended the red of liberty with the imperial black and yellow.
  • A third traces it to the colours of one of the student organisations at Jena.
Since all of these explanations are several years after the fact, I doubt all of them as the explanation. What is known is that once introduced and identified as the old German colours, the notion of black-red-gold as the German colours simply caught on. From then until 1848, the black-red-gold was carried, sometimes with inscriptions like "Germany's rebirth" [Deutschlands Wiedergeburt] in countless popular demonstrations.

After the success of the revolution in Paris in 1848, there were popular demonstrations and demands for constitutional changes, which the alarmed rulers hastened to grant. On March 7, 1848, the diet of the German Bund (league) adopted the black-red-gold tricolour as its flag; from its formation in 1815, the Bund —the confederation of the 39 German states— had not had a flag. When the first elected German National Assembly (Nationalversammlung) met in Frankfurt, it adopted the black-red-gold as national flag and a two-headed uncrowned black eagle armed gold as the coat of arms (Smith 1975, p.119). By the law of 13 November 1848, the black-red-gold was adopted as the ensign (Smith 1975, p.119). The use of state and local flags, along with the national merchant flag, was authorized. The above flags served as the flags of the provisional central authority in Frankfurt from 1849 to 1852, when the Prussians succeeded in restoring the status quo ante (actually this occurred in several steps). Since, nevertheless, the flag laws were not repealed, many people continued to regard the black-red-gold as really the German flag. It was flown at the German Princely Conference (Fürstenstag) at Frankfurt in 1863. It was also accepted as the common flag of the alliance of South German states led by Austria during the War of 1866 and was used as armband by the 8th German Army Corps during that unsuccessful war.

Norman Martin, 14 January 1998

The black-red-gold flags of 1848 were really in more or less official use as long as the Provisional Authority in Frankfurt lasted (roughly 1852), but were never formally abolished and hence were considered by some still to exist as late as 1866, or even later.

Norman Martin, 13 January 1998

With the foundation of the German League, its diet which consisted of the princes or (more usually) their ambassadors was named the Bundestag. It met in Frankfurt. This is the organization that adopted the black-red-gold flag 9 March 1848. Later that year, the first German national elected pariament, the deutsche Nationalversammlung [German National Assembly], met and adopted that flag as Nationalfarben [national colours] and on 31 July and 13 November 1848, as Handelsflagge and with a canton, as ensign.

After the end of 1852, the Provisional Central Authority was abolished and the old Bundestag reestablished. In the period until 1866, it apparently continued although for reasons I do not know, most of the references I have to the gathering of the representatives of the princes (occasionally, some of the princes themselves) seem to call it the Bundesversammlung [Federal Assembly]. One such meeting, in 1863, was called the Fürstentag [Princes' Assembly]. At least so far, I am unclear what the difference between Bundestag, Bundesversammlung and Fürstentag may have been.

Norman Martin, 5 October 2000

War Ensign

[War Ensign (German Confederation 1848-1852)] 2:3
by Jaume Ollé
Flag adopted 12th November 1848, abolished 1867

The war ensign of the German League (Deutscher Bund) was black-red-gold with a black eagle in a gold square in the canton (1848-1866). Without the canton it was the national flag and merchant ensign (1848-1866).


[Jack (German Confederation 1848-1852)] 1:1
by Jaume Ollé
Flag adopted 12th November 1848, abolished 1867

Germany's Rebirth Flag at Hambach Festival 1832

Deutschlands Wiedergeburt

I am looking for the history (and a picture) of a specific German flag. I am not sure of the time period that it was used in. Its appearance is like the modern German flag, with the exception that is has the words Deutschlands Wiedergeburt in the red stripe.

Alexander Steib, 25 April 2000

This flag is illustrated in Smith 1975, p. 119 with the caption:

"Germany's Rebirth" is the promise of the banner carried in the Hambach festival in 1832.
Smith 1975 also says in pp. 117-118:
Students and others who hoped for German unification, impatient with the conservative policies and dilatory methods of existing rulers, held a great festival in Hambach in May 1832 where the new Black-Red-Gold came into its own as the symbol of their cause. Inspired by the 1830 revolution in Paris, which had reestablished the French Tricolor, thousands demanded the abolition of state borders and the democratization of Germany; they were met by repressive police measures. While no immediate practical results in their campaign were obtained, the spirit of Hambach remained an important force thereafter and the new flag, heralded in popular songs, became firmly entrenched as the rallying symbol of German unity.

Santiago Dotor, 28 April 2000

Constituent States

From François Velde's Heraldica website:

The Deutsches Bund was created by a treaty of 8 June 1815, which was included in the final act of the Congress of Vienna of the next day. The 36 founding members were:There were very few modifications afterwards. Württemberg and Baden joined shorlty thereafter (26 July and 1 September 1815). Hesse-Homburg, previously under sovereignty of Hessen-Darmstadt, joined 7 July 1817.

In 1839, as a result of the secession of Belgium and part of Luxemburg from the Netherlands, part of the Dutch province of Limburg (less Maastricht) was declared to be held by the king of Netherlands as grand-duke of Luxemburg (...). After the "War of the Duchies" Denmark lost Holstein and Schleswig (30 October 1864) and effectively ceased to be a member.

The Confederation survived until it was torn apart by the conflict between Prussia and Austria. On 14 June 1866, the Prussian government declared the Confederation to be dissolved and declared war on Austria. The ensuing war resulted in a rapid and crushing victory for Prussia. Austria was defeated and signed the peace of Prague (23 August 1866) recognizing the end of the Confederation. (...)

Santiago Dotor, 4 July 2001

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