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Weimar Republic 1919-1933 (Germany)

Weimarer Republik, German State, Deutsches Reich

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[Weimar Republic 1919-1933 (Germany)] 2:3
by António Martins

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In 1914, the German Empire entered into the conflict which acquired the name of World War One. When in the fall of 1918, Germany was finally clearly losing the war, disorder and rebellion broke out in many places in Germany. Among others, on October 28th 1918, the large naval garrison at Kiel, with the ships in port, mutinied and at least some lowered their ensigns and raised red flags. As far as I know, these were plain red flags, although some may have had the initials or names of the Independent Social Democrats (USPD) or, less likely, the Social Democrats (SPD). When on 21st June 1919, the German fleet of 10 battleships, and 169 smaller ships scuttled their ships at Scapa Flow (Scotland) rather than surrender, the reports that mention flags indicate that they were flying the Imperial ensign.

During the overthrow of the monarchy in November, there are many reports of the use of red flags as symbol of the new order: on the 9th and 10th, red flags were raised at the railway station at Mannheim, at the palace of the crown prince and the castle in Berlin, at the Royal Palace in Leipzig, and carried by troops marching through the street in Berlin. In addition many of the ships also raised the red flag. Some of these represented the fledgling Communists, but many were more identifying with the new Social Democratic government. For instance, the auto carrying Chancellor (later President) Ebert flew a red flag on November 9 and 10. The confusion concerning flags can be seen in some photographs of the period. For example, in a picture showing the Guard Division marching into the Pariserplatz (in front of the Brandenburg gate) on December 10th, 1918, it is not clear what flags outside of white and black lance pennons the troops are carrying, but the welcoming crowd has red flags, black-white-red tricolors, Imperial Ensigns and black-red-gold flags. In a picture about a month later showing the 47th division, returning from the front, marching into the same square, the troops are marching under the black-white Prussian colours, soon to become the official Landesflagge of Prussia, while the buildings are decorated with Imperial ensigns and a few black-white-red tricolors. There are many pictures during this period of soldiers flying red flags. During the Spartacist uprising (December 1918-March 1919), the Volksmarinedivision and other Communist units flew of course the red flag.

Although I have several dozen photographs of government troops during the uprising, not one shows any flags even one of a parade has no flag visible. It is difficult to be certain about flags during such periods of political upheaval. In general, one cannot assume that old flags were being used merely because new official ones had not been adopted, nor can one necessarily conclude that old ones were discarded merely because the new government was not fond of them. I could make some guesses, but I am trying to report what I have really good reason to believe.

Norman Martin, 1998

The flags described here were used officially until 1935 (not 1933), although after 1933 they were in practice used simultaneously with the Third Reich flag.

Željko Heimer, 8 October 1996

Flag Proposals 1919-1933

During the whole period of the republic, there was considerable dispute about the flag: the pro-republican parties (especially the Social Democrats) supporting the black-red-gold, while the right wing parties (including the monarchists and the Nazis) urging a reversion to the black-white-red. The Nazis especially were very strongly opposed to the black-red-gold referring to it as black-red-mustard, or worse black-red-chicken s---. When in 1933, the Nazis took power, they altered virtually all the country's flags.

Norman Martin

Martin and Dreyhaupt 2000 shows a plate with many flags that mainly I don't know. The caption is Der Kampf um die richtige Flagge and show 32 flags and one coat-of-arms. Seems to be proposals (1870, 1920, 1926) and except for some (specially the Unity Flag of Neubecker) are less known. I believe that proposals came from E. Wolf, M. Eimer, Neubecker and others (including some unknown).

Jaume Ollé, 24 January 2001

Der Kampf um die richtige Flagge meaning "the struggle about [what should be] the correct (or appropriate) flag".

Santiago Dotor, 25 January 2001

Weimar Constitution of 11th August 1919

The Weimar Constitution [which gave name to the republic] of 11th August 1919 provided for (Art.3) a national flag and a merchant flag.

Norman Martin

Article 3 of the Weimar Constitution provided for the national flag (Reichsfarben) to be black-red-gold. Technically, I suppose the previous national flag (black-white-red) would have continued in effect until then. One might also say that Germany had no national flag from the proclamation of the Republic the previous November [1918], or that the black-red-gold or the red flag was de facto in use in this period; in fact, all three flags and some others were intermittently in use, but none had a constitutional basis until the adoption of the Weimar constitution.

Norman Martin, 16 September 1998

Flag Ordinance Decree of 27th December 1919

In December 1919, President Ebert issued a decree establishing:

Norman Martin, 1998

[These flags were] adopted by the decree about the flag of the Reichpresident, the flag of the Reichminister of Defense and the new flag of the Reich Navy of the 27th September 1919, published in the Marine-Verordnungsblatt, p. 463. These last flags were abolished by the Ordinance on the German flags of the 11th April 1921. The last sentence of the first part of the ordinance gives a clue on the validity of the previous flags and not only those adopted in 1919. It states that, "the former flags might be used till the 1st January 1922".

Pascal Vagnat, 17 September 1998

Editor's note: See also Weimar Republic Flags 1921-1933 for information on the Flag Ordinance Decrees of 11th April 1921 and 5th May 1926.

National Flag


[Weimar Republic 1919-1933 (Germany)] 2:3
by António Martins

The black-red-gold tricolour. This flag was in use until early 1933 (de facto 31st January, de jure April), but was again adopted by the Federal Republic in 1949 and is still in use. It was also used by the German Democratic Republic 1955-1959. Illustrated in Große Brockhaus 1928, vol. 4, p. 656, no. 1; Smith 1975 p. 121, Crampton 1990 p. 43 and Album des Pavillons 1990 p. 17.

Norman Martin, 1998

I noticed that Smith 1975 shows the 1919-1933 black-red-gold flag in 2:3 proportions and the current black-red-gold flag in 3:5 proportions. Smith also shows the Weimar government ensigns and civil ensign as 2:3, and the naval ensign and jack as 3:5. Is this correct?

Tom Gregg, 15 January 1998

Smith 1975 is in agreement with the illustrations in the official 1928 Wappen und Flaggen des Deutschen Reiches und der deutschen Länder [rmi28], published by the national Ministry of Interior on the dimensions of all the Weimar flags. He is also in agreement on the present flag with Reibert 1942, which is quasi-official and with Pedersen 1970, who gives explicit dimensions. So I would bet on the Smith data.

Norman Martin, 15 January 1998

Civil Ensign

Merchant Flag / Handelsflagge

[Civil Ensign 1919-1933 (Germany)] 2:3
by António Martins

The black-white-red tricolour with the national flag in the canton. The usage was suspended for two years, but became permanent with the 1921 Ordinance on Flags. This flag was in use until early 1933 (de facto 31st January, de jure April). Illustrated in Große Brockhaus 1928, vol. 4, p. 656, no. 2 and Smith 1975 p. 121.

Norman Martin

In 1919 the black-red-gold flag was adopted [as national flag] but as a compromise the black-white-red remained as merchant flag with a canton bearing the black-red-gold (and the war flag was the same plus an Iron Cross in the middle). The Nazis eliminated the red-black-gold in 1933 but continued to use the black-white-red (without the canton) as national and merchant flag until September 15th, 1935.

Norman Martin

I understood that this [black-red-yellow] canton was as high as the black stripe, but I found today in Smith 1975 that the canton was smaller than that. On the images Smith 1975 gives, the canton is 3/5ths of the black stripe, and it seems (maybe it is a printing error) that it had white fimbriation on its fly side.

Željko Heimer, 3 October 1996

The 3/5ths seems to be correct, but from my observations only the small black stripe was fimbriated white on its fly side.

Carsten Linke, 4 October 1996

[Martin and Dreyhaupt 2000 shows the] Handelsflagge black-white-red with black-red-yellow canton in ratio 6:8 with a narrow white line [along the canton's] fly.

Jaume Ollé, 24 January 2001

Use of the Imperial Civil Flag and Ensign 1919-1921

Alte Handelsflagge

The black-white-red flag (...) 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.

Norman Martin, 26 January 2001

Jack 1919-1921


Similar to the merchant flag except for having an Iron Cross in the center and the black-red-gold canton fills the entire depth of the black stripe. Hence, it is much like the old Jack with a black-red-gold canton. The ratio of height to length was 3:5 and the Iron Cross was 2/3rds the height of the flag. This was replaced in 1921. I do not have an illustration, but it is like Große Brockhaus 1928, vol. 4, p. 657, no. 1, except for being slightly longer.

Norman Martin

Editor's note: see also Proportions of the War Ensign and Jack 1871-1935.

Rank Flags of the Navy

In addition to the flags established by the 1919 Constitution and the 1919 Decree, at least the following Imperial naval flags remained in use:

Norman Martin, 1998

Yacht Club Burgees


[Martin and Dreyhaupt 2000 shows the following] Verbandsflaggen:

Jaume Ollé, 24 January 2001