Being expat

Flag facts

When we’re asked what flag is our country’s one, my children (and I) have a similar reaction like when someone asks us “where do you come from?”.

If you ask my three children which country or culture they feel more close, they would tell: Swiss, Dutch, German, Italian, British…

When my son was asked lately to indicate the flag of “his country” for a yearbook, he hesitated. It took him a few days to fill in the blank and he finally decided for the Tricolore, the Italian flag. In a restrictive way, our family has the deepest bonds with Italy (where I grew up and my son was born), Switzerland (where I’m born and my husband’s passport country) and Germany (my passport-country).

When fellow blogger Becky Mladic Morales from Multicultural Kid Blogs asked for contributions to her June MKB blogging carnival about the topic “flags”, I decided to write down a few informations about the three flags that are the most important for my family.

The Swiss flag

The Swiss flag is a red square with a bold, equilateral white cross in the center that does not extend to the edges of the flag. The dimentions of the cross are formally established since 1889: “The coat of arms of the federation is, within a red field, an upright white cross, whose [four] arms of equal length are one and a sixth times as long as they are wide.”

The origin of the flag is described in several medieval legends: it is first attested at the Battle of Laupen in 1339 where the troops of the Swiss Confederation used a white cross. The modern design of the white cross in a square red field was introduced only during the Napoleonic period. Its first use was in 1800 during the Hundred Days by general Niklaus Franz von Bachmann – he used it in his campaigns of 1800 and 1815 – and was introduced as official national flag in 1889 after having been introduced at the federal treaty of 1815.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-06-09 um 21.05.56

The shape of the cross in the Swiss flag is the base for the Red Cross symbol, a red cross on white background. It was “the original protection symbol declared at the first Geneva Convention, the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Armies in the Field or 1864. According to the ICRC the design was based on the Swiss flag by reversing of the colours of that flag, in order to honor Switzerland, where the first Geneva Convention was held, and its inventor and co-founder, the Swiss Henry Dunant.” An interesting fact: no historic record has been found of an association of the Red Cross emblem with the flag of Switzerland earlier than 1906.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-06-09 um 21.15.32

The German flag

When Germany’s feudal states tried to unite in 1848, the first flag of Germany was adopted, even if the union didn’t occure. The flag consisted of equal widths of black, red and gold. Those three colours appeared also on the uniforms of the German soldiers during the Napoleonic wars. When the states finally united in 1871, the colors were replaced with black, white, and red until 1919, after the defeat in World War I (during the Weimarer Republik), when the German republic was declared, the black, red, and gold flag returned.

After a little more than a decade later, the flag was retired in favor of the Nazi party flag, which also became the National flag until World War II, when the tricolor flag was welcomed again. During the time when East and West Germany were divided, East Germany added its coat of arms to the flag. Since 1989, the German flag returned like the original tricolor.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-06-09 um 18.17.59  Bildschirmfoto 2014-06-09 um 18.18.51

There are different theories about the colours black-red-yellow/gold:



The combination of the colours black, red and gold goes far back in the history of the German Empire. The coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation showed a black eagle on golden ground.
Its claws and the mouth were coloured in red since the 13th/14th century. Oldest witness for that is the ca. 1300 created “Heidelberg Song Manuscript Manesse“.

Already in the year 1184, on the Hoftag (court day) in Mainz, the colours black, red and gold should have been named as “German Colours”.

In the year 1212 Archbishop Siegfried III. of Epstein crowned the Staufer Frederic II. to the German King in the cathedral in Mainz. Here Frederic weared a coronation coat in the colours red, black and gold. That coat was in use for the most coronations of the German kings and emperors until the end of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation (1806). (Flaggenlexikon)

Codex Manesse; Meister des Codex Manesse (Grundstockmaler) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Some do explain the three colours by the uniforms of the corps called “Luetzow Hunters” (Lutzower Jäger): ” This military unit was recruited from non-prussian voluntaries, consist therefore in voluntary fighters from many German states, and count in this way for the vanguard of a national inspired people’s army” and which Karl-Theodor Koerner (1791–1813) described in his poem “Luetzow’s wild, audacious hunt”, where “their black uniform with the red cuffs and golden knobs with the black caps and the black – red – golden cockade thereupon” as very popular. (cfr. Flaggenlexikon)

The Italian flag

The flag of Italy is a tricolour (il Tricolore). It consists of three equally sized vertical pales of green, white and red. It’s current form is in use since the 19th of June 1946 and it was formally adopted on 1 January 1948.

The Cispadane Republic used this tricolour the first time in 1797. Napoleon’s army had just crossed Italy in 1796. – The colours red and white were the colours of the conquered flag of Milan and green was the colour of the uniform of the Milanese civic guard. A common interpretation is that the green represents the country’s plains and hills, the white the snow-capped Alps and thre red the blood split in the Wars of Italian Independence. A more religious interpretation referring the three theological vitues is that the green represents hope, the white represents faith and the red represents the charity.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-06-09 um 21.46.07

If you live in a multicultural family, which are the flags you teach your children about?

This post was written for the MKB Blog Carnival of June, 

the topic being “Flags”. You can find the list of the other posts 

on the website: after the 11th of June

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4 replies »

  1. Thanks for these informations! I love the topic for this month’s carnival. We will explain to our kids all the facts we will learn about the other countries. So good for their general culture!

    • Yes Eolia, I must say that I have learned so many interesting facts about the colours, the shapes etc. that flags from different European countries have in common – writing them in this post would have been too long! – and I found them really fascinating. I’m actually looking for some apps too.

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