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German Empire 1871-1918

deutsches reich 1871-1918

Last modified: 2013-11-20 by pete loeser
Keywords: german empire | deutsches reich | iron cross |
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[German Empire 1870-1919 (Germany)] 2:3  Image by António Martins
Flag adopted 16 Apr 1871, gradually abandoned since 1919, abolished 31 Dec 1921

On this page: On other German Empire pages:
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  • See also:

    Introduction

    The Second Reich Germany (1870-1918) was a strange federal monarchy. Over the course of the 19th century, the Kingdom of Prussia grew to become the most powerful of the various German states. After Prussian victory over France in 1870, its position was strong to declare a German Empire (Deutsches Reich) that included all of the German states outside of Austria-Hungary. The King of Prussia was also the German Emperor (Deutscher Kaiser); however, those other German states that had survived until 1870 as independent retained some of their former government structure, though subordinated to the overall Reich government. The monarchs of Saxony, Württemberg, and other monarchies retained their position and royal status. Even Republican city-states like Hamburg that were absorbed retained their Free and Hanseatic City designation, as they do to this day, although the monarchies were all abolished after the First World War.
    Joshua Fruhlinger, 27 Mar 1997


    Civil Flag and Ensign
    National and Merchant Flag
    National- und Handelsflagge

    The schwarz-weiß-rot (black-white-red) German imperial flag was adopted by the North German Confederation in 1867, as a combination of the black-white of Prussia and the red-white of the Hanseatic League and/or of Brandenburg. In 1871 it was adopted as merchant flag for the German Empire, and in 1892 promoted to national flag.
    Norman Martin, 1998

    I am not sure as to an exact definition of the "national flag". It was used in an assortment of ways: at parliaments, schools and occasions where it represented the whole country - sort of like the Union Jack. On all of Germany, the national flags were 1848-1852 (more or less) black-red-gold. After c.1891, the black-white-red. Under the Weimar republic, black-red-gold, etc. Note that it was not quite either civil, state or war flag. I have tried to use the expression as a translation of Nationalflagge.
    Norman Martin, 25 Jul 2000

    Used "at parliaments, schools and occasions where it represented the whole country" - I guess that is what a civil flag is.
    Norman Martin, 26 Jul 2000

         With the establishment of the German Empire in 1871, the black-white-red flag of the North German League was maintained, Art. 55 of the Imperial Constitution of 16 April 1871 has the same reading as that of the North German League: "Die Flagge der Kriegs-und Handelsmarine ist schwarz-weiß-rot" (the flag of the navy and merchant fleet is black-white-red).
         This flag was declared to be the national flag 8 November 1892 and continued in use until after the fall of the monarchy. During the National Assembly that established the Weimar Republic there was nearly as much support for continuing it as for establishing the black-red-gold flag which eventually was established by the adoption of the Constitution 11 August 1918 (in effect 14 August). The provision of the Flag Ordinance of 11 April 1921, however, allowed the use of the old flags, presumably including this one, until the end of the year. In short one could regard the black-white-red flag to have been de facto replaced with the earliest use of the black-red-gold (or red) flags late in 1918, or by the Weimar Constitution (and first flag ordinance) in 1919 or by the final date of the Flag Ordinance of 1921. (It was readopted by the Nazi government in 1933, but again abolished by the flag law in 1935.)
         Source: my series of contributions to FOTW on the flags of the German Empire of 1998, much material from the article I wrote with Rüdiger Dreyhaupt (Martin and Dreyhaupt 1999) and some other material.
         Illustrations (only major vexillological sources): Martin and Dreyhaupt 1999, no. 15; Crampton 1990, p. 42 (which is a copy of Meyers Konversationslexikon 1912, vol. 4, facing p. 799) no. 1; Znamierowski 1999, p. 48; Smith 1975, p. 121.
    Norman Martin, 26 Jan 2001


    Iron Cross
    Eisernes Kreuz

    [Iron Cross as it appears on naval rank flags (Germany)] Image by Marcus Schmöger
    Note: this model of the Iron Cross appears on naval rank flags

    The Iron Cross was a Prussian order first established by King Frederick William III on 10th March 1813 for military valour or patriotic service in the 1813-15 war against Napoleon. It was revived in 1871 for the Franco-Prussian war and in 1914 for the First World War. It was also revived as a German order in 1939 by Hitler. Except for the formal meaning, there is no official significance, although it may have been inspired to some degree by the cross of the Teutonic Knights which is superficially similar.
    Norman Martin, 15 Apr 1990


    State Ensign 1893-1918
    Reichsdienstflagge der Kaiserliche Marine

    [State Ensign 1893-1921 (Germany)] 2:3  Image by Martin Grieve, 20 Sep 2008
    Flag adopted 20 Jan 1893, abolished 1 Jan 1922

    Source: Alfred Znamierowski: "The World Encyclopedia of Flags, 1999."
    Martin Grieve, 20 Sep 2008

    Like the Foreign Office state flag, but instead of the eagle a golden crowned anchor in the disc. Flown by naval vessels not entitled to fly the war ensign. Adopted 1893 and abandoned by 1921. Illustrated in Crampton 1990 p. 42 (which is a copy of Meyers Konversationslexikon 1912, vol. 4, facing p. 799) and National Geographic 1917 p. 367, no. 1000.
    Norman Martin, 1998

    The state ensign was adopted by the Bekanntmachung (decree) of 20 January 1893, which read "ratio 2:3, central white disk 5/9ths of height, the red is light Zinnoberrot (brick red or English red, today we might say vermillion), the yellow is dark (golden yellow)". It was possibly abolished in the Constitution of 11 August 1919, which only mentions Reichsfarben (national colours) and Handelsflagge (civil ensign). A new state ensign was introduced by the Verordnung (decree) of 11th April 1921, but as this decree also says that former flags could be used until 1 January 1922, it might be possible that the state ensign was in use until this date.
    Ralf Stelter, 8 Feb 2001


    State Flag 1893-1919

    [State Flag 1893-1919 (Germany)] 2:3  Image by Martin Grieve, 20 Sep 2008
    Used between 1893-1921

    Other National Administrative Branches (Übrige Verwaltungszweige des Reichs) flew a flag like the Foreign Office state flag, but instead of the eagle an Imperial crown in gold. Flown by government vessels not qualified to fly the [war] ensign or any of the Foreign Office ensigns. Adopted 1893 and abandoned by 1921. Illustrated in Crampton 1990 p. 42 (which is a copy of Meyers Konversationslexikon 1912, vol. 4, facing p. 799), National Geographic 1917 p. 367, no. 1010.
    Norman Martin, 1998

    An improved image of the State flag of Germany from 1893 - 1918. The image is dramatically improved by the finer details.
    Source: Alfred Znamierowski: "The World Encyclopedia of Flags, 1999."
    Martin Grieve, 20 Sep 2008


    Detail of German Arms 1888

    [detail of German Arms 1888] Image by Martin Grieve, 26 Sep 2008
    (click on image for better view, but don't fall off your chair)


    Imperial Eagle Flag
    Reichsadlerflagge

    [Reichsadlerflagge (Imperial eagle flag)] image sent by Tom Dietsche, 11 Sep 2006
    Not an official flag

    I am trying to identify this flag, which I think is some type of Prussian Flag. It appears that someone has hand-sewn a red piece on the bottom of what was a black/white/red flag. Is this what is called a ‘crowned eagle’?
    Tom Dietsche, 11 Sep 2006

    This is one of the banners that decorated the lamp poles on one occasion only, and that was for the Coronation of Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1859-1941, Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia. He succeeded Fredrich I and this Coronation was in June of 1888. All streets of Berlin were decked out in such trapping. Wilhelm II was crowned 15 June 1888. The arms can also be found in Leonhardt's Das grosse Buch der Wappenkunst, 1978, p. 191 - Kaiserliches Wappen Wilhelms II. 1888-1918. The quartered small inescutcheon is from the Zollern Arms of 1248. The chain is from the Order of the Black Eagle. The floating crown is the Imperial Crown. Only the Emperor was allowed to use the eagle-escutcheon.
    Jarig Bakker, 11 Sep 2006

    The described flag is the so-called "Reichsadlerflagge" (Imperial eagle flag). A very famous  flag used for decoration only. Not an official flag, anyone was allowed to use it. This is was not a Prussian flag, it's a German flag used between 1871 and 1918. You can find more information (if you read German) and pictures at my Eine frühe Variante der Reichskolonialflagge? (An early variant of the Imperial colonial flag?).
    Jörg M. Karaschewski, 11 Sep 2006


    Flags and Ensigns of Public Departments - Introduction

    In both the "Admiralty book of flags" (1889 ed.) and "Album des Pavillons," also (1889 ed.), some German flags which are not mentioned on FOTW are illustrated. In the British Volume, these flags appear below the sub-title "Public departments" with a note mentioning that "The following Badges are placed upon the Ensign as shewn below." Four enlarged details are then illustrated and are titled as follows:

    1. Hired Transports, Vessels for Cargo Works etc.
    2. Custom House.
    3. Royal Mail Vessels.
    4. Other Royal Vessels belonging to Department of Trade.
    A further inscription infoms the reader that the badges should be placed "in the lower left hand canton." I presume that these are introduced in 1871 (with perhaps the exception of the Royal Mail Vessels ensign which is reported by Marcus Schmöger, who gives the date 1867). Presumably all these flags fell into dis-use in 1892 as no mention of them exists in the Admiralty flag book of 1907.
    Martin Grieve, 26 Sep 2008

    Just to clarify my presumption on the abolition date of 1892: There are 3 "landmark dates" that apply to flags of Imperial Germany and these are:

    • 1871-1892
    • 1892-1903
    • 1903-1919
    The Naval Ensign was changed in 1892 when the eagle was replaced and it could just be the case here that all of these Public department ensigns and jacks were discontinued.
    Martin Grieve, 28 Sep 2008

    [Editorial Comment: Jacks are normally flown from the bow of a docked vessel while in port, and Ensigns are normally flown from the stern (rear) of a vessel while at sea. Flags are usually flown on land.]


    Hired Transport Ensign
    for vessels hired for Cargo Works, etc.

    [Hired Transports, Vessels for Cargo Works etc.] Image by Martin Grieve, 26 Sep 2008

    I found a similar flag in [sig12] flagchart 22 row 4 column 2, showing a Prussian eagle in the centre, an iron cross in the upper hoist and the four red crossed anchors in the lower hoist. It is underlined as Arbeiter Fahrzeuge p.p. der Marine 1863. Whatever that means, I believe it is a flag of non-combat vessels according to English terms probably denoted as "auxiliary vessels."
    Klaus-Michael Schneider, 5 Oct 2008


    Custom House Ensign

    [Custom House] Image by Martin Grieve, 26 Sep 2008


    Royal Mail Vessel Ensign

    [Royal Mail Vessels] image by Martin Grieve, 26 Sep 2008


    Other Royal Vessels Ensigns
    for vessels belonging to Department of Trade

    [Other Royal Vessels belonging to Department of Trade] Image by Martin Grieve, 26 Sep 2008


    Jacks - Introduction

    In Hounsell's "Flags and signals of all Nations" published in 1873 the ensigns of the Public Departments are drawn, but the various devices that deface the lower left canton are shifted slightly toward the hoist as opposed to being centrally positioned within that real-estate. I do not know what the situation actually was for obvious reasons, but Album des Pavillons (1889) which was the French Naval Authority on  contemporary Vexillological matters illustrated those defacements as such.
    The album proceeds to enlighten its audience that there were jacks for these departments, presumably flown from the front, but this raises a question: Where the ensigns are flown from the stern or would the flag that occupied that position have been the merchant vessels red-white-black, and if so, where would the defaced German ensign be situated?
    The images below are jacks of:

    1. Hired Transports, Vessels for Cargo Works etc.
    2. Custom House.
    3. Royal Mail Vessels.
    4. Other Royal Vessels belonging to Department of Trade.
    These are the Black-White-Red horizontal tricolours of Imperial Germany with the various devices on the middle of the white stripe.
    Martin Grieve, 27 Sep 2008

    [Editorial Comment: Jacks are normally flown from the bow of a docked vessel while in port, and Ensigns are normally flown from the stern (rear) of a vessel while at sea. Flags are usually flown on land.]


    Hired Transport Jack
    for vessels hired for Cargo Works, etc.

    [Hired Transports, Vessels for Cargo Works etc.] Image by Martin Grieve, 26 Sep 2008


    Custom House Jack

    [Custom House] Image by Martin Grieve, 26 Sep 2008


    Royal Mail Vessel Jack

    [Royal Mail Vessels] Image by Martin Grieve, 26 Sep 2008


    Other Royal Vessel Jack
    for vessel belonging to Department of Trade

    [Other Royal Vessels belonging to Department of Trade] Image by Martin Grieve, 26 Sep 2008


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