Gold or Yellow?

By Stephen Fuchs on Email @StephenWFuchs

I recently received an interesting email from someone who criticized my choice of the German flag on the DANK National website, dank.org, that I designed.  The email was brief but went like this…

You may want to know that the colors of the German Flag is Black, Red. GOLD and not Black, Red yellow. Please correct the color of the German/American Flag on your web page.

It isn’t unusual for me to find a strange message like this in my inbox, but this one actually got me thinking.  First of all, due to nasty web compression, the gold or yellow color was in fact a little off, but it was actually more “gold” than the official color of the flag set by the Cabinet of Germany on 2 June 1999.  For anyone interested, the official color is Cadmium yellow or Pantone 7405.

Wait, the official name of the color is Cadmium yellow? Not gold?

Gold is a very strange color to replicate, especially on a computer screen or in print, as it is technically a metallic element and not a color.  There are many variations to the color of the metal itself, as well as the portrayal of it as a printed color, all of which range from a bright yellow to a medium brown.

So what color is the German flag?  I figured I would do some research and share it on this blog.  The German constitution states: “The federal flag shall be black, red and gold.”  When the flag was adopted during the Weimar Republic, the color was greatly criticized by the far right and was refereed to as Schwarz-Rot-Gelb (black-red-yellow), Schwarz-Rot-Senf (black-red-mustard) or sometimes more negatively as Schwarz-Rot-Scheiße (black-red-shit).  When the Nazi’s came into power in 1933, they used the same derogatory terms to describe the colors and went to using the original colors of pre-1918 Imperial Germany – black-white-red.

So, when the German flag went back to its black, red and gold colors the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) stated that the usage of the name “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 considered to be an offense.

Even though the official color looks a lot like yellow, and is even called Cadmium yellow, it is gold.  German heraldist Arnold Rabbow summarized this issue back in 1968 by saying…

the German colours are black-red-yellow but they are called black-red-gold.

The official German flag with the correct colors, approved in 1999.

A version of the German flag where the golden band is of a metallic golden colour. This version was sometimes used in official publications before the introduction of the federal government’s corporate design in 1999. Also note the slightly brighter red.

Stephen Fuchs
Stephen founded German Pulse and LGBT Germany out of a passion to introduce Americans to a Germany that goes beyond beer and polka (although with enough beer he has been known to polka it up a bit). He's a coffee addict, lover of wine and good times, a hit in the kitchen and editor of TV commercials. You can follow him on Twitter (@StephenWFuchs) to find out a lot more.
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