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Colours of the Flag (Germany)

Last modified: 2002-09-28 by santiago dotor
Keywords: germany | specification: colour | colour |
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Origins of the Colours

The German flag consists of the colors of the coat-of-arms of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (i.e. the First Reich) — a black eagle, with red beak and claws, on a gold field. The red, at least, does not mean anything; it is usual to paint the claws red, unless the beast itself is red or on a red field. The Belgian tricolour has a similar origin: the dukes of Brabant bore a gold lion with red claws and tongue on a black field.

Anton Sherwood, 19 October 1995

The black-red-gold was not taken from the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. That is only a legend, even though one must admit it appears to be logical. We have to go back only to 1813, to the time of the Liberation War against Napoleon. It was not only a war for independence, but also for German unification, after the breakdown of the Roman Empire in 1806. During the war there was a free corps called Lützowsche Jäger (Lützow's Rifles), soldiers —especially students— which became pioneers of the national movement. They wore —by chance— black tunics with red facings. From these colours the first flag of the student movement [Jenär Burschenschaft] after the war was inspired: Gules, a fess Sable, an oakleaf Or. Shortly afterwards the gold was given an equal rank, to make the flag similar to the French tricolour, a symbol of the revolution and of a new beginning. Similarly to the Tricolore, the flag was then called Dreifarb (tricolour).

However black-red-gold would not only stay as colours of a student movement, they were to become the German national colours. Therefore it was necessary to find a good reason for black-red-gold. A clever student from Jena declared, that these were the old Imperial colours. All fellows agreed, because this way the colours were given an acceptable historical background. And if you want, you can establish a relationship between this flag and the old Imperial coat of arms. But such relationship is only a happy accident. Source: Hattenhauer 1984.

Carsten Linke, 24 May 1996

With due respect to Smith 1975 and Hattenhauer 1984 I personally do not quite agree with the theory of the German colours originating in the uniform of the Lützowsche Jäger, which was all black (to the point they were known as the schwarze Schar or black troop) except for the lapel and cuff facings which were red and the buttons which were gold. I do not say it is impossible that such uniform could originate a black-red-gold triband, but honestly I find its similarity to the livery colours of the old Reich far greater.

Santiago Dotor, 2 October 2000

According to Putzger's Historischer Atlas 1925, these colours [also] appeared on the flags of Waldeck-Pyrmont and Reuss ältere Linie [old line] and jüngere Linie [young line].

Ziko Marcus Sikosek, 2 October 2000

It is true that the Landesfarben of Reuss (both lines) and of Waldeck-Pyrmont were black-red-yellow. As far as I know, the national colors were always referred to as black-red-gold, although shades were not mentioned. Occasionally gold was a slightly darker color than yellow, but this could not be depended on. It would be odd if the national colors were chosen because they were the colors of three of the smaller German states and it is fairly clear that the national colors were chosen because it was believed (probably mistakenly) that these were the traditional national colors. This may possibly have also been affected by the colors of the Lützow Free Corps, the colors of the Jena Burschenschaft, and the arms of the Holy Roman Empire. As far as I know, there is no 19th century evidence of any influence from Reuss or Waldeck-Pyrmont.

Norman Martin, 2 October 2000

The theory that the black-red-gold originated from the Lützow Free Corps is advocated in Schurdel 1995. Schurdel says the colours of the uniforms originated from black being the colour in fashion of the time. As far as I understand him, the colours on the uniforms were adopted for a tricolour, as the Germans wanted a tricolour just as the French had one, but the German tricolour should have its own colours — naturally, I suppose, as they had been fighting Napoleon. The black-red-gold was developed in the years 1815-1848 and was for the first time officially adopted by the parliament of the German Confederation in Frankfurt on 9 March 1848. The idea that it was the old national colours which were adopted for the tricolour was an idea invented for marketing the colours, and believed by many (such as the members of the Bundestag when the flag was adopted in 1848), but the resemblance was really just coincidental, according to Schurdel 1995.

Elias Granqvist, 2 October 2000

So the colours are the same as those in the old Imperial coat-of-arms (even if the livery colours, strictly speaking, would omit the red) and the members of parliament who discussed and passed the law believed those were the traditional German colours, but actually they come from the almost-completely-black uniforms of a small Prussian volunteer force. How strange...

Santiago Dotor, 3 October 2000

Colour Specifications

Today I got a letter from the German Federal Ministry of the Interior whom I had asked for the correct colour shades of the national flag. The reply of 30 July 1998 states:

In accordance to article 22 of the Constitution the federal colours for the Federal Republic of Germany are black-red-gold. Technical prescriptions of the colour shades had not been fixed by the Federal Minister of the Interior, since these always change in the course of the years. Currently the following colour shades are used:
  • for the federal flag:
    • black = RAL 9017
    • red = RAL 3020
    • gold = RAL 1028
  • for printings:
    • black = 100% black or HKS black
    • red = 100% magenta + 100% yellow or HKS 14
    • gold = 10% magenta + 100% yellow or HKS 4
Best regards,
(by order) Dr. Schäfgen

Dieter Linder, 5 August 1998

As approximate colour shades Pantone 032C (for red) and Pantone 109C (for gold) can be used.

Armand Noel du Payrat, 13 March 2001

German flag colours are officially specified in RAL. These can be transcribed into the Pantone and HKS systems as follows, I also have a ministerial department's CMYK recommendation:

ColourRAL (official)PantoneHKSCMYK
BlackRAL 9017
RedRAL 3020PMS 485HKS 14C 0, M 100, Y 100, K 0
Gold / yellowRAL 1028PMS 116HKS 5C 0, M 10, Y 100, K 0
These semi-official CMYK values result in a slighty too light yellow, as RAL 1028 corresponds to a shade between PMS 116 and 123 or CMYK C 0, M 35, Y 100, K 0.

The semi-official CMYK values for yellow correspond to the Pantone colours given by Armand du Payrat. As for the shade he gives for red, 032, it is as exact as PMS 485, as the differences between those shades are minimal and neither corresponds exactly to the official RAL colour.

Ralf Stelter, 13 March 2001

Gold or Chrome Yellow?

During the time of the first republic (1919-1933) especially monarchists used black-red-yellow (instead of gold) as a spiteful nickname for the new flag, or disdainfully called the gold mustard yellow.

Carsten Linke, 2 May 1996

I read that the gold on the German flag, when in a real flag and not on paper, is chrome yellow.

Pascal Vagnat, 6 May 1996

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