The flag of Germany or German flag (German: Flagge Deutschlands) is a tricolour consisting of three equal horizontal bands displaying the national colours of Germany: black, red, and gold (German: Schwarz-Rot-Gold). The flag was first adopted as the national flag of modern Germany in 1919, during the Weimar Republic, until 1933.
Since the mid-19th century, Germany has two competing traditions of national colours, black-red-gold and black-white-red. Black-red-gold were the colours of the 1848 Revolutions, the Weimar Republic of 1919–1933 and the Federal Republic (since 1949). They were also adopted by the German Democratic Republic (1949–1990), albeit, since 1959, with an additional ('socialist') coat of arms.
The colours black-white-red appeared for the first time only in 1867, in the constitution of the North German Confederation. This nation state for Prussia and other north and central German states was expanded to the south German states in 1870–71, under the name German Empire. It kept these colours until the revolution of 1918–19. Thereafter, black-white-red became a symbol of the political right. The national socialists in 1933 re-established these colours along with the party's own swastika flag. After World War II, black-white-red was still used by some conservative groups or by groups of the far right – as it is not forbidden, unlike proper national socialist symbols.
Black-red-gold is the official flag of the Federal Republic of Germany. As an official symbol of the constitutional order, it is protected against defamation. According to §90 of the German penal code, the consequences are a fine or imprisonment up to five years.
Vexillology rarely distinguishes between gold and yellow; in heraldry, they are both Or. For the German flag, such a distinction is made: the colour used in the flag is called gold, not yellow.
When the black–red–gold tricolour was adopted by the Weimar Republic as its flag, it was attacked by conservatives, monarchists, and the far right, who referred to the colours with spiteful nicknames such as Schwarz–Rot–Gelb (black–red–yellow) or even Schwarz–Rot–Senf (black–red–mustard). When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the black–white–red colours of pre-1918 Imperial Germany were swiftly reintroduced, and their propaganda machine continued to discredit the Schwarz–Rot–Gold, using the same derogatory terms as previously used by the monarchists.
On 16 November 1959, the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) stated that the usage of "black–red–yellow" and the like had "through years of Nazi agitation, attained the significance of a malicious slander against the democratic symbols of the state" and was now an offence. As summarised by heraldist Arnold Rabbow in 1968, "the German colours are black–red–yellow but they are called black–red–gold."