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Protocol Office Article 2012.04.01 Fed­er­al coat of arms

The eagle is the heraldic animal of the coat of arms of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its history as a emblem is far longer, however, dating back to the dawn of human civilization.

As a symbol of the sun, the life-force and the highest deity, the eagle was already revered in the highly developed civilizations of the Orient and in antiquity by the Greeks and the Germanic tribes. To the Romans, too, it was the symbol of the supreme god – and later of the emperor. From there and through its religious significance in Christendom it came to be incorporated into mediaeval imperial symbolism.

The origins of the “Reich eagle” on German soil probably date back to the time of Charlemagne. Around the year 1200 the black eagle on a gold field was generally recognized as the imperial coat of arms. Starting in the 15th century the double-headed eagle was used as the symbol of the emperor; in the 19th century it also became the coat of arms of Austria and, during the 1848 revolution, was adopted as the Reich coat of arms by the National Assembly that convened in St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt am Main. The eagle was retained during the German Empire (1871-1918) and the Weimar Republic (1918-1933), albeit with variations in symbolic meaning and design.

After World War II, in conscious acknowledgement of the democratic legacy of the Weimar Republic, the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany incorporated the Weimar eagle into its coat of arms. It was designed by Tobias Schwab in 1926. Federal President Theodor Heuss officially reintroduced it in his "Announcement Concerning the Federal Coat of Arms and the Federal Eagle of 20 January 1950" describing the federal coat of arms and the federal eagle. The text of the description was likewise adopted in slightly modified form from that of the Weimar Republic (the word “Reich” was replaced by the word “federal”).

The federal eagle is portrayed not only on the federal coat of arms, but also on the flag of the federal institutions, the standard of the Federal President and on official stamps. These designs are based on those of artists from the Weimar era and differ chiefly in the positioning of the wings. In addition to the official depictions, artistic renderings of the federal eagle are permitted and have found their way onto coins, stamps and the letterhead of federal authorities.

In 1955 the German Democratic Republic (GDR) enacted legislation establishing its own state coat of arms, which it reaffirmed in Article 1 of its second constitution adopted in 1968: “The state coat of arms of the German Democratic Republic consists of hammer and compasses surrounded by a wreath of ears of grain around the lower part of which a black-red-gold riband is wound.” According to the official commentary in the constitution, this was to symbolize “the firm alliance of the working class with the class of cooperative farmers and the intelligentsia”. The GDR added this coat of arms to its flag in 1959 to stress its separate statehood vis-à-vis the Federal Republic of Germany.

Since the GDR acceded to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, the coat of arms of the “old” Federal Republic has been the state symbol of reunified Germany.

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