Black, red, gold: The origin of the German flag


So just as I was wondering
what video I should make next, one of you wonderful people
came up with an interesting question: What is the origin of the German flag? It’s actually not all that old, because for a very long time there was
no such thing as a single German nation state: instead, there was a loose
confederation of independent states that together made up the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire did use a banner that
included the colours black, red and gold; but for the origin of the modern tricolour
we have to go forward in time to the end of the Empire. This was the German Campaign
of the Napoleonic Wars, and it lasted from 1813 to 1815. One of the forces taking part
was the Lützow Free Corps. Their uniform was black with
gold-coloured buttons and red facing. The troops were mostly students
fighting against French occupation. As a volunteer force, they were required
to supply their own uniforms. Black clothes and brass buttons were cheap and
plentiful, so that’s what they used. But they had their own interpretation
of these colours: From the blackness of servitude through bloody battles to the golden light of freedom. Now, exactly what happened after the war
is a bit of a mystery, but we do know that some of the veterans
went on to form the “Urburschenschaft”, a kind of student fraternity,
the first of its kind in Germany. And it had a banner that was red, black, red
with a golden oak branch. But in 1819, such organisations were banned. One of the members of the now-disbanded
Urburschenschaft was August Daniel von Binzer, and he wrote a poem, which is the earliest mention of the colours black, red and gold in that order. So those three colours came to symbolize
the struggle for freedom, but in those days it was conventional to list
the colours from the bottom up, which is why in paintings of this period
the tricolour appears upside-down. In 1848 the inevitable happened:
the March Revolution. In the event it turned out to be
very short-lived, but never mind. The revolutionaries used
the colours of the Urburschenschaft, but this time in the modern order
with black at the top. But even though that revolution failed, the anti-monarchists continued to use
the colours black, red and gold. In 1919, when Germany had finally
become a republic, this was the obvious choice
for a new national flag. When the Nazis came to power, they banned it, but it was restored after the war, although East Germany had to differentiate it by adding the symbol of a hammer
and a pair of compasses. And that, basically, is the history
of the German flag: a symbol of rebellion and freedom. Like most flags, really. If you have something for my notice board,
please send it to this address. Please note that I can only accept
letters and postcards: so please don’t send me parcels or packages, or anything that must be signed for.

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