Vehicle registration plates of Germany
German car number plates ("Kfz-Kennzeichen") show the place where the car carrying them is registered. Whenever a person changes their main place of residence in
Germany, or buys a new car, they are required to buy new number plates. Number plates can be bought which are valid all year round or between 2 to 11 months within any 12 months. This allows changing between summer and winter cars, such as a convertibleand a sedan/saloon without having the time and money wasted for de- and re-registering. As of 2007, buying new number plates normally costs around €30 and €10 to €40 for fees for de-registering the old plates and registering the new ones. If a car is handed over to someone else permanently (e.g. sold), but stays within the same city/region, the number usually stays the same, registration fees however are applied for name change of the official car papers.
The present number plate format, used since 1994, uses black print on a white background and first provides information about the country where the car is registered within the
European Union. German licence plates show a "D" (for "Deutschland"="Germany") on the blue strip on the left, which shows the European Union's flag, 12 golden stars in a circle on blue ground.
After that, there are between one and three letters which show the city or region where the car is registered, such as B for
Berlin. These units usually coincide with the German districts, in few cases an urban district and the surrounding district share the same letter code. Usually if an urban district and a rural district share the code, the number of the following letters is different. For example, the urban district ( Straubing) SR has one letter after the code (SR - A 123). The surrounding district Straubing-Bogenhas two letters (SR - AB 123) after the code. It depends on the number of registered cars (or citizens) whether the City or the district has two letters, because there are more possibilities with two letters, so the part with more citizens usually has two letters. For example, the urban district Regensburghas more citizens than the rural district Regensburg, so the city has two letters after the code R.
The number of letters in the city/region prefix code mostly reflects the size and location of the district: the largest German cities generally only have one letter codes (B=
Berlin, M= München(Munich), K= Köln(Cologne), F= Frankfurt), most other districts in Germany have two or three letter codes. Districts in eastern Germany usually have more letters, for two reasons:
* As they only started using the modern system in 1990 after
German reunification, many of the possible shorter combinations had already been used up in western Germany. Thus, big east German cities like Dresdenhave two letter codes (DD) instead of one (D) which was already in use for Düsseldorf.
* Fewer people live in eastern Germany, so the number of cars registered is smaller and hence the use of three letter codes.
This is only a rule of thumb, there are a number of exceptions e.g. Germany's second largest city
Hamburg(HH, Hansestadt Hamburg, because of its historical membership in the Hanseatic League) or the west German district Ammerland(WST, Westerstede is the capital of the district).
The reason for this scheme is however not to display size or location, but simply to have enough combinations available within the maximum length of eight characters per plate.
After the location name there are the emission test and vehicle safety test stickers (see below), followed by one or two usually random letters and one to four usually random numbers. The total quantity of letters and numbers on the plate is never higher than eight. One letter with low numbers are normally reserved for motorcycle use since the plate space of these vehicles is smaller.
A problem with this scheme is that the space is a significant character and must be thought of when writing down a number. For example B MW 555 is not the same number as BM W 555. The confusion can be avoided by writing a hyphen after the city code, as in the old number plates, like B-MW 555. For this reason, the police will always radio the location name and spell out the next letters using the German telephone alphabet, which varies somewhat from the English one. Thus, B MW 555 would be radioed as "Berlin, Martha, Wilhelm, fünf-fünf-fünf" and BM W 555 as "Bergheim, Wilhelm, fünf-fünf-fünf".
If a car owner would like to buy personalized plates, they tend to cost around €12 more than standard ones, depending on the region. Personalized plates must be applied for and must conform to the standards above. Car owners can choose certain numbers or letters instead of the random ones at the end. For example, people living in the town of Pirna might choose "PIR-AT 77", "Pirat" being the German for "pirate".
Kielis one of few places (others are Lauf, Heide, Regen, Daun, Brake, Baden, Ulm and some more) where the number plate can be the city name: 'KI-EL' (KI-LL is also often seen). Another possibility which many people choose is a combination of their initials followed by their year of birth, e.g. Peter Meyer born in April 1957 could try to get "PIR-PM 57" or "PIR-PM 457" when registering a car in Pirna. Almost every available combination with "S-EX ...." in Stuttgartand SE-X and SE-XY in Segebergis in use as well. Also, some people choose a combination which reflects their car type. In Berlin, combinations like "B-MW 1234" are common among owners of BMWcars. Other popular self-referential license plates include "P-KW 123" in Potsdamand "K-FZ 123" in Cologne: "PKW" is the German abbreviation for "Personenkraftwagen" (" car") and "KFZ" for "Kraftfahrzeug" ("motor vehicle").
Various combinations that could be considered politically unacceptable—mainly due to implications relating to
Nazi Germany—are disallowed or otherwise avoided. The district Sächsische Schweizuses the name of its main town, Pirna, in its code "PIR", to avoid the use of " SS", the name of the paramilitary organization; similarly "SA" is also unused. This is why cars in service for the government and parliament in Saxony-Anhaltare registered with LSA (Land Sachsen Anhalt). In 2004 in Nuremberg, a car owner was refused a number plate beginning N-PD because of the connection to the political party, the NPD. Banned combinations include the Nazi abbreviations HJ ("Hitlerjugend", Hitler Youth), NS ("Nationalsozialismus", National Socialism), SA (" Sturmabteilung"), SS ("Schutzstaffel") and KZ ("Konzentrationslager", concentration camp). Some registration offices have overlooked this rule by mistake, however; there are a few cars registered carrying prohibited codes, such as "B-SS 12". Some counties also allow these combinations if they are the initials of the owner (e.g., Norbert Schmidt might be able to get XX-NS 1234), but in this case, if the car is sold and re-registered in the same county by the new owner, the number can be changed (otherwise the number stays with the car until it registered in a different area).
The first German license plates that had a lettering plan were issued from 1906 onwards. Berlin for example was using I A (I for Prussia), Munich II A (II for Bavaria), Stuttgart III A (III for Württemberg), Baden used IV. Hamburg (HH), Bremen (HB) and Lübeck (HL) used the same combination as today. Other bigger cities: B Braunschweig, IV B Baden (Heidelberg, Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Freiburg, Lake Constance), II N City of Nürnberg and Fürth, I S Province of Hannover, I H Provinz Pommern (Poland), I K Provinz Schlesien (now Poland), I T Province of Hessen-Nassau (Today Frankfurt, State of Hessen and neighboring counties), I Z Province of the Rhine (Cologne, Düsseldorf and other large cities in the Ruhr Area) and finally I X Province Westfalia.
During World War I the German Army was assigned the combination MK for "Militärkraftwagen des Deutschen Heeres", military vehicles of the German Army. After WWI, during the Weimar Republic, the German Army used RW for "Reichswehr".During the Nazi regime (1933-1945) new combinations were issued: DR, Deutsche Reichsbahn (Train Department), OT Organisation Todt (civil and military engineering), Pol Deutsche Polizei (Police), RAD Reichsarbeitsdienst (Labor Department), RK Deutsches Rotes Kreuz (Red Cross), SS Schutzstaffel ("protective unit", the most vicious of all Nazi organizations), WH Wehrmacht/Heer (German Army), WL Wehrmacht/Luftwaffe (Air Force), WM Wehrmacht/Kriegsmarine (Navy), WT Wehrmacht/Straßentransportdienst (Army, everything transport related).
From 1945 to 1956 there were lettering combinations assigned by the allied forces. Examples: BY Bayern 1946–1947, AB Bayern 1948–1956, B Bayern 1950–1956.HE Hessen 1946–1947, AH Hessen 1948–1956, H Hessen, 1950–1956.AW Württemberg-Baden 1948–1956, W Württemberg-Baden, 1950–1956, WB Württemberg-Baden 1950–1956.GF Berlin 1945–1946, BG Berlin 1945–1947, GM Berlin 1945–1947, KB Berlin 1947–1948, GB East-Berlin 1948–1953, KB West-Berlin 1948-1956.MGH Hamburg 1945, H Hamburg 1945–1947, HG Hamburg 1947, BH Hamburg 1948–1956.BD Baden 1945–1949, FB Baden 1949–1956.WT Württemberg-Hohenzollern 1945–1949, FW Württemberg-Hohenzollern 1949–1956.
In 1956 the current system was introduced in West Germany, replacing the post-war system which was based on occupation zones.
As West German districts were extensively rearranged in the early 1970s, many prefix codes were expired and new ones were created at that time. However, number plates issued before these rearrangements remain valid, providing the vehicle is still in use and has not been reregistered since. So it is still possible, if rare, to see a
classic carwith registration codes of administrative units that haven't existed for over 30 years (e.g. EIN = Einbeck).
When originally planned, the system included codes for districts in Eastern Germany which were to be reserved until reunification. That included the territory of the GDR as well as the territories annexed to
Polandand the Soviet Unionafter World War II, which West Germany's government still claimed in that era until about 1970. When reunification came in 1990, the reserved codes (e.g. P for Potsdam) were indeed issued to East German districts as originally planned and as they existed at that time. However, districts in East Germany were rearranged again in the mid-1990s, thus many of these codes have expired, but can likewise still be seen on older vehicles.
One example of a reserved code being reused before reunification was the letter L which was originally planned for
Leipzig, but was given to the newly formed Hessian district Lahn-Dill-Kreisin the 1980s as hopes for reunification faded away. After the rather unexpected reunification the L was returned to the city of Leipzig and the Lahn-Dill-Kreis was issued with LDK instead after a transitional period when L was in use in both districts.
Another reserved code was G for
Gera. In the 1980s the West German TV series "Der Fahnder" [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088517/] G was an imaginary large city in the Ruhrgebietarea.
Modern German plates use a typeface called
FE-Schrift("fälschungserschwerende Schrift", tamper-hindering script). It is designed so that the "O" cannot be painted to look like a "Q", and "vice versa"; nor can the "P" be painted to resemble an "R", amongst other changes. This typeface can also more easily be read by optical character recognitionsoftware for automatic number plate recognitionthan the old DIN 1451script.
Certain types of vehicle bear special codes:
Classic cars (known in German by the pseudo-Englishexpression "Oldtimer") can get an H ("historisch", historic) at the end of the plate, such as "K-AA 100H" in order to preserve the so called "vehicle of cultural value" (kraftfahrtechnisches Kulturgut"). It includes also a flat tax of appr. €190 per year. The requirements for a vehicle for an H-Plate are:
**minimum age of the vehicle of 30 years from first registering
**must be in original condition and well maintained. Some features such as safety belts or a catalytic converter which have been added are accepted and are not in conflict with the "original condition" rule
* Cars with seasonal number plates have two numbers at the end of the plate indicating the months between which they are registered to drive, with the licence being valid from the start of the upper month until the end of the lower month. This results in lower fees for de- and re-registering cars, as well lower insurance premiums.
* Official cars such as police, fire fighting and municipality vehicles do not carry a letter after the sticker, such as "M-1234". :These include:
** vehicles of the district government: 1-199, 1000-1999, 10000-19999
** vehicles of the local government (for example: fire brigade): 200-299, 2000-2999, 20000-29999, 300-399
** police: 3000-3999, 7000-7999, 30000-39999, 70000-79999
** disaster relief (mostly changed "THW", see below): 8000-8999, 80000-89999
** consular corps: 900-999, 9000-9999.:However the registration law has changed in 2006 so that in after March 2007 official vehicles will get standard number plates.
* Vehicles which are exempt from vehicle taxes (for example
ambulances, tractors, agricultural trailers, trailers for boats or trailers for gliders) have green print on a white background plate. Regular trailers for lorries can be exempted from tax if the owner agrees to pay an increased tax on the vehicle which tows the trailer. There is also a tax exemption for trailers for which the owner agrees to hand over his trailer without payment to the armed forces (if Germany is in a state of emergency or defence).
* Vehicles which have not been registered (because they are for transfer within Germany) have to carry short-term plates valid only for five days. The code starts with the numbers "04", e.g. "DD-04000", and the plate has a yellow strip on the right showing when they are valid. The date is listed numerically, on three lines, reading day, month, year, with two digits each. The vehicle need not have a valid technical inspection, however it must be technical fit to be operated in public. Insurance premiums are quite high, appr. €100 for the above mentioned 5 days. Most insurance companies credit this premium if the car is registered as a normal car with the same insurance company after these 5 days.
* Car dealers' plates are in red print on a white background, and the code begins with "06". Red plates may be attached to cars which are changing hands, such as the test run of unregistered cars, and the
liability insuranceis connected to the plate, not a specific car.
* Car collectors: Red plates starting with the number 07 are reserved for collectors of vintage cars. This car must have a minimum age of 20 years from first registering. From April 2007 onwards the required minimum age will be 30 years. Plates issued under the old 20 years rule remain valid after this date. The collectors must get an official certificate of approval (such as no criminal records). They are allowed to use one set of plates on any of their cars under the condition that they keep a strict record of use. No day-to-day use of the cars is allowed. A valid official technical inspection is not mandatory but the car have to be technical fit for use on public roads.
*Export plates (also known as "Zollkennzeichen", customs plates) are used for exporting vehicles abroad. The plates are the only ones which do not have the blue Euro strip on the left; the owner does not need to be a German resident to register the car. The date on the red strip on the right hand side does not show the expiry date of the plate; instead it shows the expiry date of the vehicle insurance. After this date the vehicle must have left Germany.
* Diplomatic plates: plates of cars covered by
diplomatic immunityhave the digit "0" (Zero) on the left instead of the registration location code. This does not only include ambassadors of foreign countries: the German Federal President's license plate is 0-1, the Chancellor's 0-2, the Foreign Secretary's 0-3. The plate of the President of the Federal Parliament is an exception: it shows 1-1. This reflects the fact that the Parliament's President is not part of the executive branch but still ranks higher in (symbolic) importance than the Chancellor. These vehicles are tax-exempt and need not to be insured since the German government acts as insurer.
* The military uses old style non-reflecting plates with a dash between the two circles. The German flag is shown, instead of the blue EU strip. Military plates use the letter "Y", rather than a city indicator (no German city name starts with a Y). After the "Y" comes a six-digit number (or five digits for motorcycles), for example "Y-123456". These vehicles are tax-exempt and need not to be insured since the German government acts as insurer. There is also no mandatory technical inspection required but the Armed Forces carry out a regular internal inspection on these vehicles similar to the official inspection.
* Military vehicles which are used by the
Natoheadquarters in Germany use the same design as the Y-plates except they carry the letter "X" followed by a four-digit number, for example "X-1234"
* Some branches of the federal government and federal state governments use the abbreviations of their names instead of a city code. Example: the
Technisches Hilfswerk(German Federal Agency for Technical Relief) uses its abbreviation "THW", so the plates read "THW-80000", for example. All numbers on THW plates start either with the digit 8 or 9. Before the Deutsche Bundesbahn("German National Railways") and the Deutsche Bundespost ("Federal Post Office") were privatised, they used the abbreviations "DB" and "BP" (e.g. "DB-12345", "BP-12345"). The Wasser- und Schifffahrtsverwaltung des Bundes ("Federal Water and Ship Transport Authority") uses BW followed by a digit identifying the region of the office (from 1=north to 7=south).
* The federal police uses the code "BP" instead of the local code. Before 2006 they used the code "BG" (former name: "Bundesgrenzschutz") (BG-#####), this old code remains still valid, only new vehicles will get the new "BP"-code.
* The Police of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) uses "NRW 4" as the local code. This is followed by a four-digit number (e.g. NRW 4-1960). The "4" stands for the State Ministry of the Interior.
*Light motorised vehicles such as mopeds and motorised wheelchairs are required to have a registration plate, see next section.
The "Versicherungskennzeichen" ("insurance plate" ) used for mopeds and other small, low-power vehicles (such as vehicles for the physically handicapped, with a maximum speed of 25
km/h) is much smaller than the plates for normal cars and is only valid for one year from 1st April to 31st March. This plate replaces the official proof of registration since this type of vehicle is registered through the insurance company. There are four colors used: red for temporary use such as testing (very rare), black, blue, green for normal plates. The latter three colors are changed every year in order to make it easy to check whether the vehicle has the latest plate and hence is insured. Furthermore, the year is printed on the bottom line. Using the same colour plate three years later when the same color is again valid does not work since the police can check the combination by radio and see whether the plate is valid for the current year or not. The system is three digits on the top and three letters beneath. The number and the letters are chosen randomly so personalizing the plates is not possible (except by choosing from a small selection the insurer has in his office). Licences can be purchased with insurance companies who give them out together with a paid insurance.
:Colors of the insurance plates from 1st March onwards of each year:
Emission, safety test and registration sticker
Emission test (front plate) and vehicle safety test (rear plate) stickers are also attached to the plate. The expiry date can be figured out as follows: The year is in the centre of the sticker, and the stickers are attached with the month of expiration pointing upwards. The black marking on the side (near the "12") thus makes it easy for the police to see the expiration month from a distance. Imagine a clock, then the marking shows the same position as the face of the clock. For example the black marking is on the left side, so it is the ninth month (or 9 o'clock) and hence the expiry date is 30th September. The colors are repeated every 6 years.
The lower sticker is the official "seal" of registration. It always carries the seal of the respective German Bundesland, mostly with the place or district of issue being added in print.
All these stickers are specially treated to be easily transferred onto the license plates, but hard to be removed without damaging the plate itself, making them relatively counterfeit-proof.
Cars found in a public place where the owner did not pay insurance for more than three months (as reported to the police by the insurance company) may get entstempelt, that means, unstamped: The police will remove the state's official seal using a scratching tool (mostly a screwdriver), damaging the plate beyond repair, and it will be illegal to even leave that car parked on public ground, unless insurance will be paid and new plates will be issued.
Motorcycles carry only the rear plate.
Colours of the emission test and vehicle safety test stickers:
Vehicle registration plates of the U.S. Army in Germany
*"Liste der Kfz-Kennzeichen in Deutschland" de icon List of currently issued registration codes
*"Liste der auslaufenden deutschen Kfz-Kennzeichen" de icon List of no longer issued registration codes
*"Liste aller Kfz-Kennzeichen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland" de icon List of all ever issued registration codes of the current registration system
* [http://www.go-to-do.com/content_eng/privat/auto.html City of Dortmund vehicle registration information]
* [http://www.hegis.de/fed__rep__of_germany.htm More information about German car number plates and their history]
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