To the unaided eye, the flags of Belgium and Germany are similar, at times leading to confusion – even for those at the higher levels of the government (check out the fun facts section below)! So, why do those flags look alike, what do they represent and how can you tell them apart?
Similarities and differences
Obviously, the most noticeable similarity has to do with the choice of colors: both flags feature a red, a black and a yellow stripe. However, the latter is not exactly identical for both flags: the German flag has a golden shade, while the Belgian one is actually yellow. Apart from the color scheme, the way these bands are arranged is vastly different: for Germany, the bands are horizontal, whereas the Belgian flag’s stripes are vertical – and that is not a negligible difference.
So, what do those colors and designs delineate? Well, the Belgian flag’s color scheme pays tribute to the colors of the Duchy of Brabant and their 1789 unsuccessful attempt to gain their independence from the Austrian Netherlands. But, although the uprising was ultimately subdued by Austrian troops, the red, yellow and black color pattern chosen by the rebels is still depicted on the current flag. As for the vertical configuration, it has emanated from the flag hoisted at the Town Hall of Brussels by Édouard Ducpétiaux and Lucien Jotrand, in August 1830 – and it apparently draws its inspiration from the French tricolor.
The German flag color scheme, on the other hand, evokes memories of the flag of the German Federation formed in 1848 as well as of that of the Weimar Republic (1919-33). Nevertheless, it is somewhat vague what exactly those colors correspond to. Historically, black, red and gold appeared on the uniforms worn by the Baron von Lützow’s Freikorps troopers during the Napoleonic Wars, in their effort to topple the French rule. In 1832, during the Hambach Festival, protesters marching for freedom and national unity raised the black, red and gold tricolor for the first time. And in the 1918 Revolution, the defenders of the first German Republic assembled once again under the black, red and gold banner.
Who copied who?
As it can be deduced from the above, the similar color scheme shared by both the German and the Belgian flag can be put down to sheer coincidence. Besides, it is hard to establish an unequivocal link between those two flags. As mentioned, the Belgian flag’s colors date back to the Duchy of Brabant, while the German flag’s ones are relatively more contemporary. Therefore, it’s hard to prove what linked those nations’ flags. If anything, the tricolor layout manifests the French Napoleonic impact on those nations, which both sought a way to assert their sovereignty.
- A sizable blunder occurred in 2018, during the visit of Philippe and Mathilde, the Belgian King and Queen respectively, at Rideau Hall, the official residence of Canada’s Governor-General. Canadian officials chose to decorate a maple tree planted in 1977 by the then Queen Fabiola on the grounds of Rideau Hall with the flags of Canada and Belgium. Sadly, the plan didn’t exactly go their way: a monumental gaffe meant that it was actually the German flag that was tacked up on the tree! In the end, that specific flag was swapped for the Belgian one before the situation could get completely out of hand!
- Article 193 of the Belgian Constitution lays down the colors of the Belgian nation: red, yellow and black. Nevertheless, due to a sequence of historical reasons, the colors featured on the official flag appear in reverse order! As for the vertical configuration, with the black band occupying the hoist side, it was established in 1831.
- The German flag debuted in 1848 in the German Confederation and carried on through the various stages the German nation went through. The black, red and golden striped flag was the national flag of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) before the Nazis took over with their swastika bearing red banner. Following World War II, in 1949, Germany was divided into two separate states, yet both the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) continued using the black, red and golden flag – although the latter added a hammer, a compass and a wreath of grain ears in the middle – until the German reunification in 1990.
- Pertaining to the flags’ dimensions, the Belgian flag uses a 13:15 width-to-length ratio, whereas the German flag has a ratio of 3 to 5.