Reading time: 2:00min | My struggle with the German flag.
In the summer of 1997, I went to Gdańsk and bought an old wooden sailboat. It was a Polish IOR design, a 1-ton from the early 70s, an old regatta boat that had survived the Wende. Her name is Danziger. She still enjoys the winds in good hands.
When we brought her to Germany with my brothers, friends, and the former owner’s help and arrived in Kiel, we needed a German flag. I went to the sailing shop in Laboe, and touched the German flags, presented abundant in various sizes. Of course, they were black-red-gold and radiated something that I can best describe as a visit to the porn section of a video store. You look at them with interest, but then you prefer to rent an Arnold Schwarzenegger film from the action film department around the corner. Unfortunately, there was no Arnold film. Ok. Then, for the full experience, at least in the largest size, please.
Black, red and gold on the tail meant a big jump for me into an unfamiliar place that caused some doorstep angst for me liberally educated young German at that time. Over time, when I had experienced the massive Dannebrogs at Danish ships’ sterns and the Dutch’s flags on the water, I slowly began to get used to black-red-gold.
But I still haven’t got used to the colour combination. It is incredibly sad. And that’s also because of the gold. It is the glimmer of hope between the black’s void and the red’s danger. Without hope, there is no sadness. Because what would happen if there were no hope? Wouldn’t sadness then turn into despair? The German flag does not radiate despair. But it doesn’t have the optimism of the Dutch and French flags, the Italian flag’s joy — not by a long shot.
Sailing around with this emotional weight is not much of a joy. Then came 2006, the famous summer fairy tale, when Germany hosted the World Cup, came second and rediscovered its patriotism (in a heartwarming inclusive way), after 60 years. Black-red-gold had moved from the fringes of sailing and the Bundeswehr (army) into the mainstream of German households. A good reason to make peace with the flag at the stern.
If it hadn’t been for the financial crisis. It pushed anti-Europeans and Euro-enemies in droves into the German TV studios and made the far-right AfD possible. Again, Europe desperately needed friends. And because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Europhile, I swapped black-red-gold for blue-and-stars on the stern of my sailing boat. By the way, sporting the European flag on one’s stern will cost a fine when caught by the German water police. Europe won’t get anywhere if our mutual flag is illegal.
Today, I will continue to fly the European flag because Europe is far from being out of the woods. When we have finally taken another big leap forward, as we did when we decided on the EURO, black-red-gold can revisit my boat and is very welcome. I’ve learned that the German flag’s gold is a joyful yellow, officially registered as RAL-1028, Melon Yellow. Reassuring. And somehow predictable. Things are never as bad as they seem or as we Germans say “rarely is something eaten as hot as it’s cooked”.