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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 [Jenaer 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 Oct 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 Oct 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
Norman Martin, 2 Oct 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
Elias Granqvist, 2 Oct 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 Oct 2000
- for printings:
black = RAL 9017
red = RAL 3020
gold = RAL 1028
Dieter Linder, 5 Aug 1998
black = 100% black or HKS black
red = 100% magenta + 100% yellow or HKS 14
gold = 10% magenta + 100% yellow or HKS 4
As approximate colour shades Pantone 032C (for red) and Pantone 109C
(for gold) can be used.
Armand Noel du Payrat, 13 Mar 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:
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.
Colour RAL (official) Pantone HKS CMYK Black RAL 9017 Red RAL 3020 PMS 485 HKS 14 C 0, M 100, Y 100, K 0 Gold / yellow RAL 1028 PMS 116 HKS 5 C 0, M 10, Y 100, K 0
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
I'm not sure how the vexillological shorthand "Au" is really
defined, but for clarity I would call the bottom stripe of the German flag
simply "Y+". Au implies for me a "metallic colour", which is definitely
not correct for German flags. However, in many official publications German
flags are shown with a metallic golden stripe (as the authorities take
the laws too literally). Traditionally, "Gold" in the German triband,
has been just a poetic term for yellow.
Marcus Schmöger, 28 Mar 2003
German vexillologist Arnold Rabbow said very wisely that, "in reality
the German colours have always been black-red-yellow, but from the very
beginning they were called black-red-gold".
Source: [rab69b] and [rab01]
Santiago Dotor, 3 Apr 2003
I originally got the timeframe wrong, but for the first ten or so years,
the German Democratic Republic (a.k.a. East Germany) flew the plain black-red-gold
horizontal triband, i.e., identical to the West German flag. The emblem
wasn't put on the flag until 1959.
Both German constitutions (i.e., East and West) specified the national colors as black-red-gold. Having grown up in E Germany and having been in the middle of unification with W Germany in 1990, I have seen a lot of German flags (both East and West) and there just isn't any discernable difference in colors. Do you have any sources to support your claim?
It's always called gold, never yellow. This may irritate some flag geeks who may claim that as far as flags are concerned, there should be no difference between yellow and gold, but German republicans tend to take this issue very seriously. In the early days of the German (Weimar) republic, monarchists and other anti-republicans used to mock the new national colors, esp. the gold (which was new, the imperial flag having been black-white-red), calling the national colors black-red-yellow or (even worse) black-red-mustard. This has been such a sensitive issue that disparaging the flag is still a felony until, so you may actually get in trouble (at least in theory) if you call the bottom shade anything other than gold.
Thorsten, 3 Apr 2003
My source is Smith 1975.
Al Kirsch, 3 Apr 2003
It may very well be - and probably is - that the two German governments
had different specifications for the precise shades of red and "gold" used
in their respective flags. Probably not so for the third color, since
as we know, "black is black (I want my baby back)."
Anyway, we should not take these slight differences in shade, assuming they existed, as meaning the BRD and DDR used different *colors.* Many countries (including, e.g., the United States) have changed their precise color specifications over time; "Old Glory blue," the color now used in the official specification for the S&S, is somewhat darker than "national flag blue," which was used in an earlier version. But I would not construe that to mean that the U.S. flag now is anything other than the same "red, white, and blue" it has always been.
Joe McMillan, 4 Apr 2004
The supposed difference in color probably stems from the fact, that
the West German (and now whole German) authorities have always claimed,
that the designation black-red-gold does mean, that the bottom stripe should
be really *metallic gold*, as they publish it in official books, e.g. [lab00]
and earlier editions of this book. Dark yellow is only meant to be a cheap
surrogate. On the other hand, East German authorities always printed the
bottom stripe in a (dark) yellow, which is historically, heraldically,
vexillologically correct. Real flags (cloth) always showed a (dark) yellow
colour in both cases, that of course might have differed somewhat due to
different production procedures and specifications.
This is a good example for the difference between "book vexillology" and "cloth vexillology".
Marcus Schmöger, 4 Apr 2003