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Explanation of 'Landesfarben' (Germany)

Last modified: 2011-06-13 by german editorial team
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Explanation of Landesfarben

I will try to report on the Landesfarben problem, even if I am not sure I can explain it correctly, especially from a historical point-of-view. To put it shortly: Landesfarben does not always mean, that there is a flag striped two or three times in these colours. In most of the German states —that is in the non-maritime states— this does apply, but certainly not in Bremen and Hamburg. In a strict sense Landesfarben means "colours of the (federal) state" and does not imply any use on flags. Historically however, the colours of the flags, very frequently derived from the arms, as did the Landesfarben. Also the flags were usually, at least in the non-maritime states, simple striped flags. The concept of the Landesfarben is, in my humble opinion, a concept of the 19th century, which means, that there are many problems and mistakes (...). The term Landesfarben is used indiscriminately, even in official publications and legal texts; this led already former researchers to believe that there were actual flags in the Landesfarben colours in Bremen and Hamburg, or at least to depict Landesfarben in form of flags (see for example Neubecker 1929).

So what then are Landesfarben used for? Landesfarben usually means:

  1. The flag uses these colours (often, but not always in horizontal stripes).
  2. In the case of Bremen the order, in which the Landesfarben are mentioned as red-white, this implies the order of the (at least) eight stripes of the flag from the top, so that red is always on top.
  3. Any decoration during festivities (banners, ribbons, etc) should be in these colours.
  4. At least in former times very important: the cocard would be in these colours. In the times when the term Landesfarben originated, cocards were much more important than flags for normal persons.
  5. Nowadays, cocards might be used on police caps or hats, for instance.
  6. Sometimes orders and decorations have ribbons in the Landesfarben.
  7. Sentry boxes and toll-bars had been painted in these Landesfarben.
So to come back to Hamburg. There is simply no striped flag of white and red, and as far as I know, there has never been one. This is difficult to prove, though, as it is always difficult to prove the non-existence of anything. There are books that show the Landesfarben, as if these were horizontal bicolours (e.g. Neubecker 1929). However, neither are there photos known to me that show these flags nor are there legal texts prescribing this flag nor is there any need for this flag, as there is already a well-known and accepted civil flag and civil ensign, the white castle on red.

Marcus Schmöger, 24 September 2001

As a corollary, the same holds for Stadtfarben (colours of the city). There are numerous examples were a city flag is not a bicolour or triband of the city colours, at least in some north German states where the design guidelines are not as restrictive as in, say, Bavaria. What makes things difficult is that in some sources (even Hauptsatzungen, city statutes) Stadtfarben is used equivalently to 'flag colours'...

Stefan Schwoon, 4 October 2001

The concept of "colour" = "stripe" is one of the most misleading in German flag history. There are many instances, when only the "colours" were legally prescribed, assuming that this automatically means an horizontally striped flag of these colours. On the other hand, someone mentioning, for instance, the Hamburg colours being white and red, spawns the idea of a never-existing Hamburg white-red striped flag. So one has to take great care with these expressions.

Marcus Schmöger, 12 June 2002