Black, red and gold © German Bundestag/ Nowak-Katz
According to Article 22 of the German Basic Law, the colours of the flag of the Federal Republic of Germany are black, red and gold.
In addition to this, the federal institutions flag of the Federal Republic of Germany features the federal coat of arms (a golden field bearing a black eagle with a red beak, tongue and talons) at the centre of the tricolour. However, this flag may only be used by official institutions of the Federal Republic of Germany. The national flag itself consists solely of the three colours.
The black-red-gold tricolour was raised for the first time at the Hambach Festival, a demonstration for freedom and national unity held in 1832. Following the 1918 Revolution, the defenders of the first German republic gathered under the black-red-gold ensign. During the division of Germany, this flag remained the only official symbol that both states had in common, although the GDR later added a hammer, compasses and wreath of grain ears to the German colours.
These colours have had an official status as a national symbol
The black-red flag with golden fringes that was manufactured in spring 1813 for a German volunteer corps, the Lützow Free Corps, is regarded as the original form of the black-red-gold tricolour. The colours of the flag matched the unit’s uniforms.
The first tricolour of black, red and gold was made by Johann Philipp Abresch as the main flag for the Hambach Festival. Today, the historic flag flown in 1832 can be seen in the local heritage museum at Neustadt an der Weinstraße.
During the March Revolution, the black-red-gold flag became a symbol of the battle for national unity and civil liberties. As early as 9 March 1848, the Confederal Assembly in Frankfurt am Main declared black, red and gold to be the colours of the German Confederation, reaching this decision on the grounds that these were the “colours of the former German Imperial banner”.
“In just this way, the confederal colours are to be taken from ancient times in Germany, when the German Imperial banner was black, red and golden.”
The black-red-gold flag was raised for the first time in Frankfurt am Main on 23 March 1848.
However, the Constitution of the German Empire put forward in 1849 did not contain any provisions concerning the national colours.
Nor did the black-red-gold flag retain its significance as a unifying national symbol for long. The red flag was a more important rallying point for the social revolutionaries during the unrest that took place in September and October 1848, and all the more so in March 1849. The Habsburgs reintroduced black and yellow as their state colours, while Prussia chose black and white.
From 1892 on, the Ordinance on the Imperial Flag in the German Empire specified black, white and red as the colours of the Imperial flag of the German Empire that had been founded in 1871.
Black, red and gold were only adopted as state colours again in the Constitution of the Weimar Republic. In fact, the conflict about the national colours continued to smoulder, and in 1926 the government of Reich Chancellor Hans Luther actually fell over the “flag dispute”.
Shortly after the National Socialists took power, Reich President Paul von Hindenburg signed a decree under which black, red and gold were to be replaced by two flags, the black-white-red tricolour and the party flag of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), which bore the swastika. After Hindenburg’s death, the State Flag Act of 1935 designated black, white and red as the state colours, while the swastika flag was declared the national and trading flag.
The Parliamentary Council, which deliberated on the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1948/1949, proposed that black, red and gold should be the federal colours. This represented a conscious continuation of the tradition of the Weimar Republic and the National Assembly that had met at St Paul’s Church in Frankfurt in 1848/49. When the Basic Law was promulgated on 23 May 1949, the black-red-gold tricolour became the national flag of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The GDR too chose the colours black, red and gold for its state flag, the statutory basis for which was provided by Article 2 of the Constitution of the GDR of 7 October 1949. In 1959, the state arms of the GDR (a hammer, compasses and wreath of grain ears) were incorporated into the flag.
Under the Unification Treaty of 1990, black, red and gold were retained as the national colours of the Federal Republic of Germany.