What does a flag mean

Correct use of flags

More than just a piece of cloth

Flag science (vexillology) does not see a flag as just a rectangular piece of cloth. For the flag connoisseur, the flag consists of different areas. The inner part of the flag on the mast side is the leech part, the half facing away from the mast is the flight part. In addition, the flag is divided into upper and lower areas.

Then there is the concept of the jack. This term is used twice: On the one hand, the bow flag, for example on a warship, is referred to as a jack. On the other hand, Gösch stands for flags for the top corner of a flag on the mast side.

Because there some flags carry another small flag or a coat of arms. For example countries that were once British colonies: their "jack" is still the British "Union Jack" today. However, the upper left corner of a flag is only occasionally referred to as a jack - this is only the correct name for the bow flag.

Flag hierarchies

There are clear hierarchies for flags. In principle, the national flag always has priority over the flags of the federal states and cities. The European flag, on the other hand, is more senior than the national flag.

If several flags are hoisted in front of a building, there are rules in which order they have to be hung. The highest-ranking flag hangs on the left in most federal states - from the perspective of a person looking at the building from the outside. Although there are federal regulations on the use of flags, which most federal states also use as a guide, the federal states can, in principle, decide for themselves.

However, when it comes to international flags, there is no ranking. National flags are considered equivalent internationally. That is why the flags are hung according to the alphabetical order of the country names. For events of the European Union, the "EU alphabet" applies, according to which the names of the member states are written in the respective official language.

A small problem with international arrangements is that flags are not standardized and have different formats. In particular, the aspect ratios of many flags differ. The German federal flag is a rectangle with a ratio of 3 to 5, the Austrian flag has an aspect ratio of 2 to 3 and the Swiss flag is even a square.

Dignified handling

As a matter of principle, flags should never touch the ground, so they must not simply be thrown "into the corner" even when dirty. Even the washing of a flag is "dignified": after cleaning, the flags are not dried in an attic, but in the hall of the respective service building.

Flags are also not allowed to be misappropriated, for example by using them as a tablecloth or decoratively wrapping a lectern with it. And it goes without saying that no dirty or damaged flags are hoisted.

Only in daylight

In principle, flags are only hoisted by authorities in daylight. They must be caught in the dark. In most cases, the duration of the flagging is based on the respective opening times of an authority.

In addition, there is a decree on the flagging of official buildings of the federal government, in which certain days of remembrance such as May 9 (Europe Day) or July 20 (Hitler assassination 1944) are specified. Care is also taken to ensure that flags fly freely in the wind and do not wrap themselves around the flagpoles or even knot them.

Half mast

Setting flags at half mast is also a science in itself. The layman would expect the flag to be hoisted only halfway up the mast. But it's not that easy. In order for a flag to be raised at half mast, it must first be raised to full height. Only then is she lowered to half mast. The lower edge of the flag should be at the height of the center of the mast.

Fetching the flag from half-mast also requires a ritual: First, the flag must be raised all the way up before it is lowered.

Country flags for everyone?

At the 2006 World Cup, Germans were seen for the first time in decades in a downright euphoric way of handling flags from all over the world. And if you look closely, there were very many violations of the general flag order.

Everywhere on cars and houses there were flags that didn't really belong there: private individuals are only allowed to use the neutral national flag with the three colors "black-red-gold" or the neutral version of the respective flag of their federal state.

As soon as the flag bears a federal eagle or a coat of arms, it is an official flag that is actually not allowed to be used by private individuals. Raising foreign national flags is generally allowed in Germany. In case of doubt, you should ask the embassy of the country concerned whether the respective country restricts or prohibits this.

Author: Helmut Brasse