Copenhagen 1892: Flags at the Royal Golden Wedding Anniversary

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The last time there was a royal golden wedding anniversary in Denmark was in 1892. A flag decorated Copenhagen celebrated the happy marriage of King Christian IX and Queen Louise. Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, their daughter, may have inspired a peculiar Saint Andrew’s cross flag: a merger of a Nordic swallow-tailed flag and a Russian naval ensign.

This photograph from 1892 shows a festively decorated building on the corner of Vesterbrogade and Frederiksberg Allé, two streets in Vesterbro close to the centre of Copenhagen. A number of different flags can be detected, some of them quite out of the ordinary.

Most of the flags are Danish flags, a number of them swallow-tailed. These are not naval or state flags, though. Since the 19th Century the swallow-tailed Dannebrog (the so-called splitflag) has been in wide-spread unofficial use at wedding parties, birthday celebrations etc.

There are also Norwegian and Swedish swallow-tailed flags in the black and white photo (Sweden’s blue and yellow appear a little lighter than Denmark’s red and white). Erroneously, the Norwegian and Swedish flags have two swallow tails like the Danish flag. In Norway and Sweden three tails is the norm.

The white flags with a Saint Andrew’s cross appear to be some sort of Russian flags. A white flag with a blue saltire is the naval ensign of Russia. On the building in the picture, these unofficial Russian flags are swallow-tailed like the Nordic flags.

On 26 May 1892, Christian IX and Louise had been happily married for 50 years and had been King and Queen of Denmark for more than half that time. The golden wedding celebrations in Copenhagen lasted for days. Photos and paintings from the time show that streets and houses and ships were decorated with literally thousands of flags, put up by the authorities and by private citizens.

King Christian IX and Queen Louise were known as “Europe’s parents-in-law” because their children married into prominent royal families all around the continent.

Their eldest sons became King Frederik VIII of Denmark and King George I of Greece. Their youngest son, Prince Valdemar, was suggested as a possible king of Bulgaria in 1887 and of Norway in 1905. Among their three daughters, Alexandra was married to Britain’s King Edward VII and Dagmar was married to Russia’s Emperor Alexander III. She was known as Maria Feodorovna in Russia and was the mother of the last tsar, Nicholas II.

A large number of King Christian’s and Queen Louise’s children, grandchildren, relatives and in-laws as well as foreign dignitaries gathered in Copenhagen for the celebrations. The Russian imperial yacht, the Polar Star (in Russian, Полярная звезда), lay at anchor in the harbour. The vessel was in Copenhagen not only at this occation, but rather often in fact, as the Empress loved to visit her parents and always travelled from Saint Petersburg to Denmark by ship.

Manned and commanded by the Russian Navy the imperial yacht of course flew the Russian naval ensign. This fact may explain why the Saint Andrew’s cross would have been known and used by Copenhageners to represent Russia in flag decorations in 1892.

125 years later, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, a great-great granddaughter of King Christian IX and Queen Louise, celebrates her royal golden wedding anniversary. It was on 10 June 1967 that Princess Margrethe, then heir to the Danish throne, married Henri de Laborde de Monpezat, today known as Prince Henrik of Denmark.

Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik have decided to celebrate their wedding anniversary in private with their family away from rolling TV cameras. So, there will be no public festivities in Copenhagen today and, it’s safe to say, far fewer flags than in 1892.

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A Busy Flag Day

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In Denmark, April 9 is an official flag day. It was on this date in 1940 that Denmark was invaded by Nazi Germany. To commemorate the beginning of the German occupation and mourn the Danes who died in World War II, Dannebrog is flown at half mast – but only until 12 o’clock. After noon the flag is flown at full mast to symbolize that Denmark became free again.

In Denmark, flags are fown from 8:00 a.m. but no earlier than sunrise. Flags may not be flown after sunset. For at little over two months in the winter, the sun rises later than 8 o’clock in the morning. Anyone in charge of hoisting a flag will have to check the astronomical data in an almanac or calendar.

In Copenhagen on April 9, the sun rises at 6:20 a.m. and sets 13 hours and 45 minutes later. The person in charge of hoisting the Dannebrog on April 9 should to do so at 8:00 a.m. The flag must be taken down no later than 08:05 p.m.

Whenever the flag is flown at half mast it should first be hoisted to the top of the flagstaff for an instant before being lowered. At half mast the distance between the upper edge of the flag and the top of the flagstaff is about one third of the total height of the flagstaff.

On April 9, the day of commeration of the Wehrmacht invasion of Denmark, the rule is to first fly the flag at half mast, then to hoist the flag to full mast at noon. This is done to celebrate the eventual liberation of Denmark from German rule in 1945 and to honour the heroes of the Danish Resistance. If a two-minute silence is observed at noon, the flag is hoisted to full mast at 12:02 p.m.

In 2017, April 9 is Palm Sunday. Unlike Easter Sunday, Palm Sunday is not an official flag day in Denmark. In 2023 Easter Sunday will fall on April 9. Therefore, in six years time something unusual will occur on April 9 in that the flag will be flown at full mast all day. The reason for this is that official ecclesiastical flag days supersede other flag days.

In the Church of Denmark it is customary for the Dannebrog to be flown outside churches during services. The flag is flown at full mast unless their is a funeral service in which case the flag is flown at half mast. So, if a service is conducted on Palm Sunday between 10:00 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. (for example) the flag needs to be hoisted to full mast during that time. For the person in charge of flags outside a Danish church April 9 will be quite a busy day!

 

IN DANISH: I Danmark hejses flaget kl. 8.00, dog ikke tidligere end solopgang. Flaget nedhales senest ved solnedgang. Når der flages på halv stang, hejses Dannebrog først helt til tops, hvorefter det nedhales til halv stang. 9. april er en officiel flagdag i Danmark til minde om den tyske besættelse i 1940 og de faldne under krigen. Der flages på halv stang til middag, hvorefter der flages på hel stang resten af dagen. Palmesøndag er ikke en officiel flagdag. I folkekirken er det kutyme i forbindelse med gudstjenester at flage på fuld stang foran kirken.  

Rowing Blade Flags

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Rowing blades have the same function as flags. Their design make it possible to identify competing rowers from a distance. Where national flags are sometimes too similar, rowing blades are ment to be much more distinguishable.

The rowing competitions at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have ended with a total of three British gold medals. Germany’s and New Zealand’s Olympic teams rank second with two gold medals each.

In the most prestigious categories Mahé Drysdale of New Zealand won the men’s single scull competition and Kim Brennan of Australia won the women’s single scull competition; Great Britain came first in the men’s eight competition and USA won gold in the women’s eight competition.

A total of 69 countries qualified at least one rower to participate. So, a wide range of rowing blade designs could be seen on the water in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon.

Together with national flags and specially designed clothing, rowing blades are part of the branding and symbolism that surround the competing teams at professional rowing events. Going back a very long time, boats, oars, and blades have sported the colours of their respective national, club, school or university teams.

Simple, easily visible and mutually distinguishable designs on oars makes it possible to identify different competitors from afar. This is the reason why not all national rowing teams sport their national flag on their blades.

Countries with rowing blades similar to the national flags are e.g. Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia and South Africa.

Other countries use rowing blades with elements of their national flags: The People’s Republic of China a white background with five golden stars on a red band. Norway a red background with white-blue-white stripes. Denmark a white background with a red stripe. This is the reverse of the Danish flag which has a white cross on red. The white-red-white design, unusual in a Danish context, may be explained by the wish not to be confused with Switzerland’s or Austria’s designs.

The United States of America use blades with a design not unlike the flag of Czechia: Two horizontal bands of red and blue and a triangle of white. The colours are those of the US flag, the Stars and Stripes.

A third group of countries incorporate elements of their national coat of arms in their rowing blade designs. Sweden’s three yellow crowns on blue blades are identical to the Swedish coat of arms. The red and white checkers from the arms of Croatia on flags, sports clothes and rowing blades make Crotia’s sporting teams and Olympic athletes easily recognizable. The Greek rowing blades have the white cross on a blue background known from Greece’s arms and flag.

Finally, a fourth group of countries use rowing blades with no connection to the national flags and arms. The blades of the New Zealand team are black with a silver fern and the letters NZ in white. The blades of the Australian team are white with vertical tripes of green-yellow-green.

Many sports fans all over the world know very well that the sporting colours of Australia are green and yellow and those of New Zealand are black and white. For example, the famous NZ national rugby team is know as the All Blacks. The flags of Australia and New Zealand may look very much alike, the rowing blades of these rowing superpowers certainly do not.

 

This is part 2 in a series about flags at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Read also:
What On Earth Is “Chinese Taipei”?
FLAG FAIL: An Open Letter to the IOC
Extracting the Essence of the Union Flag

FLAG FAIL: New Flag Days Reveal Lack of Knowledge

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Two new official flag days in the Kingdom of Denmark led to embarrassing flag fails. The purpose of flying the Greenlandic and Faroese flags was to strengthen the bond between the three countries within the Danish Realm. The level of knowledge of Greenland and the Faroe Islands in Denmark certainly needs to be raised.

In 2016 Denmark introduced new official flag days. On June 21, the national day of Greenland, the Greenlandic flag is to be hoisted on all government buildings in the Kingdom and on Danish embassies abroad. On July 29, the Faroese feast day of Saint Olav, Ólavsøka, the flag of the Faroe Islands is to be hoisted in a similar fashion.

Albeit celebrated as an opportunity to strengthen the Faroese and Greenlandic identity vis-à-vis the Danish majority population of the Kingdom of Denmark, the new flag days, however, revealed an embarrassing lack of knowledge of the flags of the two North Atlantic nations.

On June 21 Danish government officials proudly tweeted out images of the Greenlandic flag, Erfalasorput, hoisted for the first time in front of Danish embassies around the world. But in several instances the flag had been raised upside down!

The picture on the left shows the flag of Greenland at the Danish embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The same happened at the Danish embassy in Paris, France and at the Danish representations in Geneva, Switzerland (UN) and in Ramallah on the West Bank. Later that day, when the flag fails had been pointed out, many of the tweets were deleted.

It isn’t possible to hoist a Nordic cross flag upside down. So, on July 29, that mistake would be out the question in regards to Merkið, the flag of the Faroe Islands. But somehow a much graver mistake occurred: Many of the Faroese flags, newly ordered by Danish authorities, had been produced with a mix-up of the colours of the Faroese cross.

The picture on the right shows wrong Faroese flags on the old stock exchange in Copenhagen. Flags from the flag company who had produced these wrong flags also reached the University of Copenhagen and the Bornholm Airport, for example, and erroneous flags were hoisted without anyone noticing the mistake.

Most embarrassing was perhaps the Faroese flags with mixed-up colours in the garden of Sorenskrivarin, the court house in the Faroese capital of Tórshavn. The court system in Greenland and the Faroe Islands is still part of the common Kingdom of Denmark authorities and thus would normally fly the Danish state flag which is a swallow-tailed version of the Dannebrog.

“The mistake shows an enormous lack of knowledge of the Faroe Islands in Denmark. Some Faroe Islanders will see this as a sign of lack of respect,” Sjúrður Skaale told the press. He is a Faroese member of the Danish parliament, Folketinget, representing the Faroese Social Democratic Party, Javnaðarflokkurin. When he was first presented with images of the wrong flags Mr. Skaale couldn’t believe his own eyes: “It has to be Photoshop, I said to myself. This can’t be true. It must be a joke.”

Don’t let the flag confuse you: The Kingdom of Denmark is alive and well

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Today, in the vast and fascinating world of flags, something very unusual happened. For the first time in history the flag of Denmark was replaced by the flag of Greenland on all Danish government buildings and on Danish embassies all over the world. Don’t worry, though, it doesn’t mean anything.

According to new flag rules issued by the Danish government in March 2016, all Danish state flags on government buildings are to be replaced by the Greenlandic flag, Erfalasorput, on June 21, the National Day of Greenland, and by the Faroese flag, Merkið, on July 29, the Feast of Saint Olav.

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has explained the new flag rules with the wish to strengthen the bond between Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the three countries which make up the Kingdom of Denmark, also known as the Realm or rigsfællesskabet. His announcement put an end to press speculations, wittily dubbed Flagstaffgate, caused by a decree from the Minister of Finance to count all flagstaffs belonging to Danish state authorities.

What makes this new Danish practice so remarkable is the fact that from now on the Greenlandic and Faroese flags will be hoisted not alongside, but rather instead of the Danish state flag two days a year.

The Danish state flag is the swallow-tailed version of the Danish national flag and is not to be confused with the latter. Whereas the rectangular national flag is being used by civilians – lovingly and enthusiastically and in all sorts of circumstances – the state flag is to be used by state authorities only. And as such it represents the Kingdom of Denmark and is a symbol of its sovereignty over all parts of it: Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Imagine if once a year the Bavarian flag was hoisted instead of the German above the embassies of the Federal Republic of Germany. Or imagine if the UK embassies celebrated Saint George’s, Saint Andrew’s and Saint David’s Day by replacing the Union Flag with the flags of England, Scotland and Wales. Or imagine if Spanish embassies flew the Catalan flag on September 11, the National Day of Catalonia.

These examples are as unlikely as can be! Flagstaffs on embassies, government buildings and military installations are not platforms for symbolic gestures, it would be argued. However, this is exactly what the new Danish flag rules compares to.

But Danes are well-meaning and sometimes shockingly informal people, and there isn’t a very deep understanding of the quasi-federal nature of the Kingdom of Denmark with its ‘mainland’ of Denmark and the two self-governing countries of the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Also very few Danes, perhaps including the Prime Minister, would be able to tell the difference between Dannebrog in its national flag version and its state flag version and the appropriate use of either.

And thus it works: In Copenhagen today the Greenlandic flags on ministerial buildings have, at most, raised eyebrows among those who had forgotten that Midsummer Day is Greenland’s national day. Morning television programmes used the opportunity to invite Greenlanders to talk about Greenland and Greenlandic-Danish relations. On July 29, in an equally positive atmosphere, there will be an opportunity to focus on the Faroe Islands and familiarise Danes a little more with the Faroese flag.

The hole thing doesn’t mean anything, really. As a Greenlandic member of Folketinget, the Danish parliament, said about the new flag rules: “It’s mostly symbolic. I would like the Prime Minister to pay more attention to other, more pressing needs for Greenland.” She and many other Greenlanders want full independence from Denmark someday. The flag of Greenland may replace the flag of the Kingdom of Denmark once a year, but the Realm is still very much political reality in the North Atlantic.