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.