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German Coat of Arms

The German coat of arms is one of the oldest pieces of heraldry in Europe as well as the world. A very similar coat of arms originates from Austria, which uses some of the same colors and symbols as the German counterpart.

German Coat of Arms

What is a Coat of Arms?

A coat of arms is, at its basic, a symbol of families and lineages, countries (or in older times, kingdoms), and sometimes corporations. They are very unique since almost everything is representative to whoever wields and portrays the coat of arms. In earlier times, these symbols were used by knights and feudal kings to separate themselves from others, especially from enemies. As time went on, a coat of arms communicated other things like social status, economic status, family lines, and anything specific to the owner or the family of the owner. In recent times, you are likely to find a coat of arms on legal documents or associated with an education institution. Some people also refer to logos as a coat of arms of sorts.

German Coat of Arms

The main part of the German coat of arms is the eagle. The eagle represented invincibility and was one of the most respected animals in medieval times. Sometime around 800 B.C., a gold eagle was used, but around 1200, it was changed to a black eagle imposed on a gold shield, which meant it was a high-ranking imperial symbol. Change occurred again as the single-headed switched to a double-headed eagle, which was used by the German emperor and the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

In the mid-1800s, a Reich coat of arms was instituted because of the Austrian empire’s command of the German leadership and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in Germany. The new Reich consisted of the same two-headed eagle but had a golden star above the eagle and, to each side of the shield, three German flags.

For a few years, from 1867 to 1871, the German coat of arms added many characteristics of traditional heraldry. The shield retained many of the properties of the past and now was flanked by two German men holding swords. A crown and mantle was added, which held up a yellow curtain tied into balls near the men’s heads.

The Weimar Republic changed the coat of arms again (after a few subtle change previous to 1918) since World War I had brought vital political change to the country. The black eagle on the yellow background stayed mostly the same: the eagle got his beak and talons colored red and white outlining on its wings. The government of Germany used a slightly different design of the eagle, but it still had the basic format.

Hitler’s Reign in the late 1930s saw a coat of arms that included an eagle holding a wreath with a swastika in the center. This was considered the official emblem of Nazi Germany, but was reverted to the original Weimar eagle after Hitler was defeated.

When Germany split, the East Germans created a coat of arms with a circle of wheat surrounding a hammer and a sextant, possibly symbolizing rebuilding. West Germany still uses the black eagle and various revisions on the Weimar design. You can currently find the German symbol on government institutions and official seals and on some European coins.

Additional Information

If you want to find professional designers of coat of arms, whether German or otherwise, visit some of the following sites:

To see other information about heraldry, go to Heraldry of the World.