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German Empire 1871-1918

Deutsches Reich, Kaiserreich

Last modified: 2006-09-23 by jarig bakker
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

German Empire pages: See also:


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. 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- und Handelsflagge / National and Merchant Flag

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
N.B. 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

More information on the history of the Iron Cross (Eiserne Kreuz) at Andrew D. Biggers' The Historic Iron Cross 1813-1957 website.
Santiago Dotor, 20 Apr 1999

State Ensign 1893-1918 / Reichsdienstflagge der Kaiserliche Marine

[State Ensign 1893-1921 (Germany)] 2:3  image by Santiago Dotor and Jaume Ollé
Flag adopted 20 Jan 1893, abolished 1 Jan 1922

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 decree (Bekanntmachung) 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 decree (Verordnung) 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 Jaume Ollé

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