BRD (Germany)

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This article is about the Cold War-era abbreviation for the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). For the current country, see Germany.

BRD (eng.: "FRG") was an unofficial Cold War-era abbreviation for the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland). It is now uncommon, but was used consistently by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) between 1968 and 1990 to refer to what was generally known in English as West Germany. Unlike the English counterpart FRG, which was used as an IOC country code and a FIFA trigramme, the use of BRD was discouraged by the authorities of the Federal Republic of Germany itself at some time, because it was considered to be derogatory communist jargon. The term was not banned by law, but its use was discouraged or forbidden in schools. Later this changed and the term was generally accepted.


The official name was and is Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany). The name, even though in the beginning referring only to the state established in the Trizone, was to reflect a name for all of Germany, therefore it was particularly to include the term Deutschland (Germany). This corresponds to the spirit of the then West German constitution, the Grundgesetz, allowing all Länder (German federative states), then under allied control, to give in their adhesion to the new republic. In 1949 the initial eleven states in the Trizone and West Berlin did so.[1] However the latter was factually inhibited by Allied objection accounting for the status of the city as a quadripartite allied occupation area. The Saarland gave in its adhesion with effect of 1 January 1957, while the then so-called New states of Germany did so with effect of 3 October 1990, including reunited Berlin.

So the term Germany had an importance as part of the official name, which is reflected in the naming conventions which developed in the Cold War. Starting in June 1949 the abbreviation was sometimes used in the Federal Republic of Germany without any special connotations. The initialism BRD reached some frequency in West German scientific and ministerial use, so that it was added to the western edition of the German language dictionary Duden in 1967. The German Democratic Republic at first used the name "West Germany" (abbreviated "WD") for the Federal Republic of Germany. However, since the 1950s the communist authorities insisted on calling the Federal Republic of Germany "Deutsche Bundesrepublik" (abbreviated "DBR", i.e. German Federal Republic), because they considered the German Democratic Republic part of Germany too, and thus would not permit the democratic government in West Germany using the name "Germany".

However, this changed in 1968 with the new constitution of the German Democratic Republic. The communists no longer strove for German reunification, and the name "BRD" was introduced as a propagandistic counter-term to the term "DDR", trying to express the equality of the states. Though the state designated by "BRD" was depicted like "the evil German state" in official GDR propaganda, the abbreviation itself was neutral. The GDR used the twin abbreviation "DDR" for herself without any problems (the West would thus speak of the "so-called 'DDR'" when it had to be belittled).

In 1965 the Federal Minister of All-German Affairs issued the Directives for the appellation of Germany recommending to avoid the initialism. On 31 May 1974 the heads of German federal and states governments recommended to always use the full name in official publications. In November 1979 the federal government informed the Bundestag that the West German public broadcasts ARD and ZDF agree to refuse using the initialism.[2]

West Germany had always claimed to be the Germany, and she did not like the analogy to DDR, or two separate German states. This West German claim was also reflected in the Hallstein Doctrine determining her foreign and interior policy until c. 1970. Starting in East German Neues Deutschland the initialism BRD (FRG) for the Federal Republic of Germany prevailed since the early 1970s, while East German official sources adopted that initialism as standard expression in 1973.[2]

The East German dropping of the idea of a single German nation was accompanied by skipping the terms Deutschland (Germany) and deutsch (German) in a number of terms.[3] So using the abbreviation BRD (FRG) perfectly fitted in the official East German policy to silence about Germany. At the same time, the GDR had replaced the vehicle registration code D, hitherto shared with the Federal Republic, for "DDR" and demanded that West Germany recognize the division by likewise accepting "BRD". Thus in the West the initialism became even the more undesired and using it was often considered either unreflecting or even expressing naïve Communist sympathies. Because of this, the term "BRD" has since been considered communist jargon in the then West German Federal Republic of Germany.

So the initialism reached only occasional frequency in West German parlance. In order to be precise West Germans prevailingly used the terms Bundesrepublik or Bundesgebiet (federal republic, or federal territory, resp.), referring to the country and Bundesbürger (federal citizen[s]) as to its citizens, with the pertaining adjective bundesdeutsch (federally German).

To distance themselves from the term "BRD", the government of the Federal Republic of Germany officially used - if at all - the abbreviations BR Deutschland, BR Dt., BR Dtld. or simply Dtld. until German reunification. After the hardly established federative states of the German Democratic Republic had given in their adhesion to the Federal Republic, "Germany" ("Deutschland") is always used as the official short name.

Some federal states, generally responsible for West German school education, already in the 1970s had recommended to skip the initialism in education. For example, a decree by the educational authorities of the state of Schleswig-Holstein of October 4, 1976 declares the term to be nicht wünschenswert, undesirable.[4] The conference of all the states ministers for school education decided on 12 February 1981 to not print the initialism in books, maps, and atlasses for schools.[2] This was occasionally explained to pupils, when coming to Eastern and Western naming conventions for the Federal Republic of Germany. In many schools the term was sanctioned as an error. The different usages were so ingrained that one could deduce a person's or source's political leaning from the name used for West Germany—or one single letter (BRD vs. BRDt).

However, as the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache figured out, this debate on the initialism had little influence on changing the West German parlance with the usage of the initialism - anyway at a low frequency - not dwindling further due to the debate.[2]

Some extreme right-wing groups, which do not recognise the current government of Germany, use the term "BRD" in the same way the communists used it, to express their view that the government of the Federal Republic of Germany is not the legitimate German government. Sometimes it is written "BRd" (to indicate the government only of a reduced Germany) in this context.

Similar naming difficulties[edit]

A similar ideological question was the question whether to use "Berlin (West)" (the officially preferred name) or "West Berlin" (German: Westberlin). The naming of the German Democratic Republic was also a controversial issue, West Germans at first preferring the names Middle Germany and "SBZ" (Soviet Occupation Zone), which was only changed under Willy Brandt when the West Germans started using the official name, German Democratic Republic or "DDR". However, many German newspapers, for example those owned by the conservative Springer company, always wrote "DDR" in scare quotes until 1 August 1989.[5]

Another example was the naming of the Soviet defence organisation. The official name was the Treaty of Warsaw but the West constantly called it the Warsaw Pact. The uniformity in usage was such that the mere wording could tell you from whom a person got his news.


  1. ^ The initial states were the following: Baden (south), Bavaria, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Schleswig-Holstein, Württemberg-Baden, and Württemberg-Hohenzollern. The latter two and the first merged in Baden-Württemberg in 1952.
  2. ^ a b c d Stefan Schmidt, "Die Diskussion um den Gebrauch der Abkürzung «BRD»", in: Aktueller Begriff, Deutscher Bundestag – Wissenschaftliche Dienste (ed.), No. 71/09 (4 September 2009)
  3. ^ E.g. the North German Plain, covering the north of East and West Germany, appeared in East German atlasses as Nördliches Tiefland (Northern Plain).
  4. ^ Erlass der Schulbehörde Schleswig-Holstein
  5. ^ Heiner Bröckermann and Sven Felix Kellerhoff, "Als aus der "DDR" die DDR wurde: Der Verzicht auf die Gänsefüßchen kam in der WELT zur rechten Zeit", in: Die Welt, 1. August 2009.


  • Helmut Berschin: Deutschland – ein Name im Wandel. Die deutsche Frage im Spiegel der Sprache, Olzog, München/Wien 1979, ISBN 3-7892-7180-2.
  • Stefan Schmidt, "Die Diskussion um den Gebrauch der Abkürzung «BRD»", in: Aktueller Begriff, Deutscher Bundestag – Wissenschaftliche Dienste (ed.), No. 71/09 (4 September 2009) [1]

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