What is the difference between Flagge and Fahne?

I think that both can be used for a flag of a country.

Here are some examples where I think that they cannot be used interchangeably: Truppenfahne, Vereinsfahne, Zunftfahne, Regimentsfahne.

I have also found how to say a flagpole in German: Fahnenmast m, Flaggenmast m. So both Flagge and Fahne can be used here.

In English I can think of more meanings:

country flag (I think that this is Flagge) https://growingkidstherapy.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/o-american-flag-facebook.jpg

protest banner (no opinion) https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a0/TU_banners.JPG

(Truppenfahne - army flag - so it is Fahne) http://www.sanitaetsdienst-bundeswehr.de/resource/resource/MzEzNTM4MmUzMzMyMmUzMTM1MzMyZTM2MzEzMDMwMzAzMDMwMzAzMDY3NjY2OTM3MzYzMDZiMzAyMDIwMjAyMDIw/image_popup.jpg

(Regimentsfahne - Fahne again) http://www.bshv-juechen.de/images/Regimentsfahne-bearb-2014.jpg

company flag (I think that this is Fahne) https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/de/5/57/FCN_Fahnen_8%E2%80%9313.jpg

Flagge = "als Hoheitszeichen oder Ehrenzeichen verwendete Fahne, die mit einer Leine an einem Flaggenmast gehisst wird und besonders zur Kennzeichnung der Nationalität eines Schiffes und als Verständigungsmittel im Seewesen dient" - DWDS

Fahne = "einfarbiges oder mehrfarbiges, oft mit Sinnbildern gekennzeichnetes, symbolhaftes Tuch, das an einer Stange befestigt ist" - DWDS

Am I right? What is the difference?

Thank you.


Very often, the two terms are used as synonyms which they actually are not.

A Flagge means the template, the graphical layout and (maybe) the heraldic that makes up the design. The term is, however, frequently used as a denomination of the concrete instance (like "Fahne"), which I would consider wrong.

Die deutsche Nationalflagge ist schwarz-rot-gold.

A Fahne is the concrete instance showing the design that makes up the flag* on (normally) a piece of cloth.

Über dem Reichstag in Berlin weht eine schwarz-rot-goldene Fahne im Wind

  • 1
    Wikipedia disagrees on Flagge being only a design / layout thing.
    – Matthias
    Oct 26 '16 at 21:19
  • @Matthias so does Duden and Wahrig, too. This could still be correct as stated by tofro, but a source would be appropriate.
    – Beta
    Oct 27 '16 at 5:38
  • @Matthias: Grundgesetz Art. 22: "Die Bundesflagge ist schwarz-rot-gold." This clearly targets the design and layout (only), and not a piece of cloth. In my book, the GG clearly supersedes Wikipedia.
    – tofro
    Oct 27 '16 at 6:52

The words are often used synonymously in colloquial speech.

In the narrow sense of the terms, a Fahne is a unicum for a particular purpose (e.g. Regimentsfahnen) and cannot be easily replaced. A Flagge is replaceable and can be easily replaced if it is worn or damaged. Flaggen are produced in different sizes and in high numbers. A Fahne is firmly fixed on a pole (Fahnenstock, Fahnenstange) and cannot be hoisted and lowered.

  • 1
    I agree. As somebody once said: "Flaggen werden gehisst, Fahnen werden getragen."
    – Ingmar
    Oct 27 '16 at 4:35

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