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On a number of occasions, such as at football matches and political demonstrations, I have seen citizens of the post-unification Germany flying what I thought was the historical flag of the BRD (the flag with the eagle symbol). To my surprise, this interview with the German ambassador to Malaysia shows that he is displaying the same flag.

Why is this? Is there a particular reason for not flying the flag of the current German state, but flying this flag instead?

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    WP says that the flag is an official variant of the flag of Germany. It would be very improper for an ambassador or other public official to use a non official flag while on duty – SJuan76 Oct 16 at 17:45
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What you probably saw was this:

enter image description here

That is the government flag of Germany.

The government flag may only be used by federal government authorities and its use by others is an offence, punishable with a fine. However, public use of flags similar to the Bundesdienstflagge (e.g. using the actual coat of arms instead of the Bundesschild) is tolerated, and such flags are sometimes seen at international sporting events.

The flag of Germany is this:

enter image description here

That one everybody can use.

As to why civilians (like sport fans) will use some variant of the government flag: IMHO it has a certain conservative/nationalist tone as the official flag was also the flag of the Weimar Republic, so you associate yourself more with the state/government and less with the citizens/republicans.

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There is no ‘historical flag of the BRD’. The current Federal Republic of Germany (German abbreviation: BRD) is contiguous with the state that was founded in 1949. The only changes to the federation were the reorganisation of states in the South-West (creating Baden-Württemberg out of three predecessor states) and the admission of the Saarland in the 1950’s followed by the admission of 5 states that formerly made up the GDR plus the enlargement of Berlin (accompanied by a status change for former West Berlin) in 1990. At none of these points did any grand scheme of the state change; most notably, constitution, national flags and national anthem remained the same throughout.

As Martin Schröder outlined, the black-red-gold flag is the official civil flag of Germany and has been since 1949. One version with an eagle shield is a state flag (although the plain black-red-gold is also sometimes used as a state flag); another version with an eagle is apparently an unofficial variant but I daresay that the majority of citizens would not know the difference.

An ambassador in their office would most likely have a state flag with the eagle on display as it seems slightly more official than a mere civil flag (and because they have the authority to use it). Most flags flying outdoors (e.g. on the Bundestag) will be the civil flag (citation needed).

It’s worth noting that these two are not the only black-red-gold flags with a coat-of-arms on them. As Wikipedia’s list of German flags shows, three German states (Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate and the Saarland) use a black-red-gold flag with their state coats-of-arms on top (Rhineland-Palatinate in the canton, the others in the centre). But more importantly and controversially, the flag of the GDR was also black-red-gold but including the hammer-and-compass symbol of socialist East Germany. This last one, obviously, has quite different implications from any of the above which are just ‘I like my country’ or ‘I support my national football team’.

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  • BRD (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) was the name of the state founded in 1949 which you mention -- known in English as West Germany or by a name you state, the Federal Republic of Germany. Why do you use the latter name to refer to the state founded in 1990, known in English as Germany? – Rosie F Oct 20 at 9:24
  • What do you mean by "is contiguous with"? It actually means "is touching" or "is next to". If that phrase is interpreted that way, it makes your statement false. "Contains" would make it true; if that's what you mean, please could you clarify your answer accordingly? In any case your answer would be clearer if you would clarify the distinction between the 1949-1990 state (West Germany) and the 1990- state (Germany). – Rosie F Oct 20 at 9:26
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    @RosieF: There was no new German state founded in 1990. In 1990, what used to be East Germany, or the GDR, merged into the Federal Republic of Germany (in German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland/BRD). This is still the official name of the country nowadays, although it is commomly shortened to Germany (in German: Deutschland). – O. R. Mapper Oct 20 at 13:23
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    @RosieF There wasn't a new state founded in 1990. The GDR (in german the DDR) was dissolved and fully absorbed by the FRG (in german the BRD). Its just that in english, nomenclature changed because West Germany and East Germany were now meaningless terms. But the FRG continued to exists. In fact, the constitution of the FRG explicitly allowed the GDR to merge with it (via the old form of Article 23, which was removed in 1990 and replaced with the current article in 1992). The official name is still FRG (Federal Republic of Germany), although colloquially, just Germany is used more often. – Polygnome Oct 21 at 0:07
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    @RosieF I meant contiguous in a temporal sense. The state that was founded in 1949 continues to exist to the present day; only the area under its jurisdiction changed. I also refer you to what Mapper and Polygnome said. (While West Germany was probably the more common term in English compared to FRG/BRD, German also knew Westdeutschland as well as Bundesrepublik/BRD to unambiguously describe the state pre-1990. I think that Westdeutschland was less common than Bundesrepublik/BRD though.) – Jan Oct 21 at 2:39

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