Faroe Islands: Processions, Flags and Viking Games

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Today on July 28th, the eve of Saint Olav’s day, the national feast of the Faroe Islands is celebrated with the traditional boat race in the harbour of Tórshavn. For a couple of days at the hight of summer the beautiful Faroese flag is flown everywhere and by everyone on the 18 isles in the North Atlantic.

July 29th is the feast day of Saint Olav, king of Norway. He was killed in the battle of Stiklestad on that date in the year 1030 and was canonized shortly after. Saint Olav’s shrine in the cathedral of Nidaros in Trondheim, Norway attracted large numbers of pilgrims in the middle ages. His feast day is still celebrated by catholics and protestants in Norway and elsewhere.

The Faroe Islands were part of the Norwegian Realm. Following the 1814 Treaty of Kiel Norway entered into union with Sweden. Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands remained with Denmark. The two latter countries are still part of the Danish Realm. Many Faroe Islanders want their home rule replaced with full independence.

The flag of the Faroe Islands was designed and hoisted for the first time in 1919. Since April 25th, 1940 the use of it is official. The flag’s name in Faroese is Merkið, meaning ‘the flag’ or ‘the mark’. It was other Nordic cross flags like the flag of Norway and the flag of Denmark, Dannebrog, which inspired the designer Jens Oliver Lisberg.

On the Faroe Islands the feast of Saint Olav, Ólavsøka, lasts for several days with lots of music, flags and festivities, a service in the cathedral of Tórshavn and the official opening of parliament. It is common for Faroese children to sing or play an instrument and faith plays an important role in society as do sporting traditions which go back as far as Viking times and spark strong local pride and competitiveness.

On July 28th, the evening before Saint Olav’s day, one of the annual national boat races takes place in Tórshavn. Boys and girls, men and women from all over the islands compete in traditional wooden boats in classes of 5, 6, 8 and 10 rowers. Winning an Ólavsøka first price is of course very prestigious as a sign of excellence in strength and team work.

Both on the 28th and the 29th there is a procession in Tórshavn. Children, sports associations, choirs, marching bands, people riding horses, elected officials and clergy, all take part in these processions. On the second day it is the members of the Faroese parliament, Løgtingið, who walk in procession between the cathedral and the parliament house, Tinghúsið.

Except maybe for the abundance of people wearing traditional costumes the one common feature in all these events are the hundreds of white-blue-red Faroese flags in the streets and on the harbour quays.

Happy Saint Olav’s feast! Góða Ólavsøku!

Tour de France: A Festival of Regional Flags

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The French national Tricolore and French regional flags are inseparable parts of France’s famous bicycle race. On the route and in the finish line areas thousands of flags are flown by tourists, fans and compatriots of the riders.

The world’s biggest bicycling race is the Tour de France: Three weeks and 3,500 kilometres of dramatic, demanding and sometimes quite dangerous bicycling up and down the beautiful French countryside from the fair farmland in the north to the the steep mountain roads of the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Massif Central in the south.

The first race was in 1903. Today, many years and many doping scandals later, the Tour de France is still loved and watched by millions around the world. It draws fans and tourists from all over the world to France every summer.

This year’s winner, Christopher Froom, who also won the yellow jersey in 2013 and 2015, was born in Kenya of British parents and has represented Kenya and the United Kingdom in professional cycling. In 2016, too, he and his UK based Team Sky had a loyal following in France made visible with lots of UK flags.

Traditionally the flags of Belgium and Flanders have been waved prominently in the history of the Tour de France. This year the Flemish Belgian Thomas de Gendt came second in the mountains classification. The number one mountain climber in 2016 is Rafał Majka of Poland. His red and white polka dot jersey matches the flag of Poland perfectly.

The flag of Slovakia goes together with the green jersey. Five times the Slovak Peter Sagan has won the prestigious points classification. He and the runner-up, Marcel Kittel of Germany, as well as Michael Matthews of Australia, who is third in the points classification, are sure to find supporters en route waving their national flags.

Columbian flags along the roads of France indicate the staunch support for Columbians Quintana and Pantano. And Norwegian flags fill the traditional “Norwegian corner” just across from the golden statue of Joan of Arc on the final stage of the Tour, in Rue de Rivoli in Paris.

Not only national flags are in widespread use by spectators during the Tour de France, French regional flags are too. Flags of regions and historical provinces as well as flags of national minorities can be seen on the roads and in towns and villages which are part of the race’s route.

Compared to other big European countries like Germany and Spain, France is more centralized politically and linguistically. The historical provinces may not be very well known and the contemporary regions may play a lesser role in the life of the French Republic, but regional identity is manifested by the use of sub-national flags by locals, tourists and bicycling fans.

The red-white-green Basque flag is widely displayed, not just in the Basque lands of the western Pyrenees. The same goes for the black and white flag of Brittany. The Catalans of the Pyrénées-Orientales department use the horizontal red stripes. The very similar, but vertical red stripes of Provence have Catalan roots too: A count of Barcelona married the heiress of Provence in the 12th Century.

The Occitanian cross, yellow on red, is a popular symbol on flags in the former regions of Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon which were merged this year. In a wider cultural and linguistical sense Occitania covers almost all of southern France.

I the departments of Savoie and Haute-Savoie the Savoyard cross, white on red, is equally, if not more, popular. On a windy mountain top this flag can easily be mistaken for the flag of Denmark, also a white cross on red. Danish camping tourists and cycling enthusiast have been known for bringing the Dannebrog to Savoy and other holiday destinations.

France’s cities and landscapes are certainly worth exploring at the hight of summer, whether or not you do it by bike, or bring your own flag.

UEFA Euro 2016: Germany in Black and White

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Germany’s “National Eleven” don’t play in the national colours of black, red and gold. Instead the successful and popular team play in black and white. It has been so for more than a hundred years. The tradition and the colours date back to the time of the Kingdom of Prussia and its ruling family, the House of Hohenzollern. 

The German national football team is one of the world’s best: Four times winner of the FIFA World Cup, three times winner of the UEFA European Championship. Today they play Italy for a place in the UEFA Euro 2016 semifinals.

More than a 100 years ago, at the beginning of the 20th Century, the colours of the German national football team were established as white and black. (This tradition was only broken by the German Democratic Republic; from 1952 to 1990 the East German team played in white and blue.)

Black and white were the colours of Prussia and its royal family. In 1871 Prussia led the formation of the German Empire, and the King of Prussia became the federal head of state with the title of German Emperor.

The Royal House of Prussia, also known as the Hohenzollerns, trace their roots back almost a thousand years to the 11th Century. From the 15th Century onwards they ruled in Berlin and Brandenburg, later expanding both east and west. In 1701 the Kingdom of Prussia was established when Frederick I was crowned in Königsberg, the modern day Russian city of Kaliningrad.

The coat of arms of the Hohenzollern dynasty was quartered white and black. The coat of arms of Prussia was white with a black eagle. Both inspired the black and white flags of the provinces of East and West Prussia as well as the flag of the Kingdom of Prussia. From 1892 to 1918 the Prussian state flag was a horizontal tricolour of black-white-black; in the broader middle stripe a black eagle with the royal cypher of King Frederick I on its breast held the Royal Prussian crown, sceptre and orb in its claws.

Prussia was the dominant constituent country in the German Empire of 1871. The black-white-red tricolour adopted by the Empire as its national flag combined the black and white of Prussia with the red and white of the Hanseatic cities.

The royal colours of Germany’s football team were continued after the fall of the monarchy in 1918 at end of World War I. The Prussian state, with its black-white flag, also survived and was still the largest state in Germany under the republican Weimar Constitution. In 1947, though, Prussia was dissolved by the Allied Control Council following 12 years of Nazi dictatorship and a devastating war.

After World War II Germans regained some of their damaged national pride as the national football team of the young Federal Republic of Germany won the FIFA World Cup of 1954. “The Miracle of Bern” ended with a 3-2 win over Hungary in the final.

This day and age too many references to the historic state of Prussia and to the family of Germany’s last emperor may not be helpful. But it is still a great honour to wear the black and white colours of the Hohenzollern kings of Prussia on the football field. Nothing less than the best is expected of Germany’s team by millions of football fans.