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I have a lot of clothing from military surplus, mostly trousers, because they are solid and cheap, and they dry fast.

But I've heard that at least some kinds of military surplus clothing are illegal in Germany (those which resemble Bundeswehr or Polizei clothing). Is it true?

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As a rule, it's illegal in all countries to pass yourself off as a member of a police or military organization when you are not. Wearing a uniform that looks exactly like those organizations will be a problem, unless there is a clear reason (like you are on a film set playing a policeman). I'm also pretty sure wearing Nazi uniforms is illegal in Germany, again unless you've got a really good reason. If you don't look sufficiently like an actual member of the forces, then you are probably OK. –  DJClayworth Sep 13 '13 at 17:22
    
@DJClayworth Well, if military sells its clothing to its own citizen, it means it's legal to wear them. I can buy Polish military things in Poland, and many people wear them, but in Germany it can be quite different. –  Donaudampfschifffreizeitfahrt Sep 13 '13 at 17:24
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Not necessarily. A theatrical suppliers may well sell authentic police uniforms, since they are legal to wear if you are on a film set where it is clear you are not impersontating a police officer. If you take one of those legal uniforms and go door to door asking for information, you are breaking the law. –  DJClayworth Sep 13 '13 at 20:38
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Also, it may be legal to own (and wear) military pants. It may be legal to own military tunics, caps or badges. but not legal to wear all of them at once. –  DJClayworth Sep 13 '13 at 21:05
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@ŁukaszLech wearing part of the uniform (say the dress shirt, or the combat trousers) in combination with civilian garb may be legal while wearing the full thing may not be. Many such items are popular with campers and backpackers for the obvious reason that they're durable, versatile, often relatively light weight. But you're not going to see a backpacker in full combat fatigues, including cap and rank insignia. –  jwenting Sep 14 '13 at 6:49

3 Answers 3

There is indeed some statute suggesting something like that, namely § 132a StGB (which means “paragraph 132a” in the penal code):

(1) Wer unbefugt […] inländische oder ausländische Uniformen, Amtskleidungen oder Amtsabzeichen trägt,

wird mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu einem Jahr oder mit Geldstrafe bestraft.

which could be translated as “A person who without authorization […] wears local or foreign uniforms, official clothes or official signs will be punished with up to one year imprisonment or a fine”. This sounds like the type of rules DJClayworth was talking about in the comments and is probably the source of the rumor you heard. That said I am not a lawyer and I have no idea how strongly this is enforced, how it has been interpreted by the courts or what precisely is forbidden or not.

Some Internet forums (which of course are not particularly authoritative either) suggest that not wearing a full uniform or making sure some part of it like regimental or rank signs are missing would be enough to avoid falling foul of the law. I would therefore not assume that the fact the army is selling its surplus, if it is, necessarily means it's legal to wear a full uniform. Conceivably, it could also simply be a catch-all text to give legal cover to the police when someone wears some uniform with an intention to deceive, I really have no idea.

More on this in Wikipedia

There is also an entirely different paragraph forbidding signs associated with “unconstitutional organizations” which covers symbols associated with the Nazi party and, presumably, many WW2 uniforms.

This one is covered here and also in English

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No, it is not illegal, but it is still not advisable if not applied very carefully.

The highest German civil court, the Bundesgerichtshof, has defined the rules to §132a, at March 15th, 2011 (4 StR 40/11):

Allerdings ist der Tatbestand des § 132a StGB in beiden Tatvarianten nur erfüllt, wenn es sich bei der jeweiligen Uniform bzw. dem Amtsabzeichen um solche handelt, die auf Grund öffentlichrechtlicher Bestimmungen eingeführt sind1. Amtsabzeichen werden zudem nur dann von der Strafvorschrift erfasst, wenn sie, ohne Bestandteil der Amtskleidung zu sein, an vorschriftsmäßigen Uniformen angebracht sind und den Träger als Inhaber eines bestimmten Amtes kennzeichnen.

The violation of the §132a is fulfilled if the given uniform or signs are defined by public designations. Further signs only violate the law if they are used on the correct uniform and designate the wearer as a holder of certain rights.

Still good to remember, just in case you meet some overeager members of the police. I think you do not intend to wear Nazi symbols, so I won't go into detail here.

But it is still not advisable because military gear in cities (if it is not inconspicuous enough) gives you a bad image because it is too much associated with Nazis or thugs. This can be only countered with antagonistic signals (e.g. wearing gothic or punk style, long hair etc.). Outside the cities it is accepted more easily, but you may still get wary looks.

EDIT: To demonstrate what I mean with "overeager", the highest German court needed to decide in all earnest twice that crossed-out swastikas as symbol of antifaschism are NOT forbidden symbols. Sigh...

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Good to know (+1) but if you meet an “overeager” member of the police, as a foreigner, possibly with limited command of the German language, I don't think starting to reason and invoke court decisions is the best way to stay out of trouble ;-) –  Relaxed Sep 17 '13 at 5:56
    
@Annoyed: Correct, but you have a completely different body language if you know that you are right and still remain calm and polite. The police expects you to show guilt and fear and if this is absent, they start thinking twice to press charges, especially if they know that their stance is dubious. Yes, sir, I was under the impression that it was allowed, but if you say otherwise, I am very sorry for that. Please write down my personal data and address, I am also willing to follow you to the police station to >document your charge<. –  Thorsten S. Sep 17 '13 at 19:03
    
@ThorstenS. in contrast, if they want to cause trouble for you, being defiant only makes things worse for you. And they know you're less likely to press matters with lawsuits and prolonged legal procedures because you have a plane to catch and just want to get out of there. And the case only applies to wearing insignia, states that wearing them on something not the designated uniform they belong to is not illegal. It says nothing about wearing that (full) uniform without the matching insignia. –  jwenting Sep 18 '13 at 8:40

The other answers cover the legal part pretty thoroughly. Being German, here is some personal experience: As long as you don't show any sign (country flag, badge, any other affiliation) you are pretty much on the safe side, especially if the cut of the clothing does not resemble uniforms currently in use. I know several people who use old police jackets as motorcycling gear (lettering removed) and older army-style coats.

It is not a very unusual sight to see people in camouflage trousers and they are not associated with being Nazi clothing; it is quite popular among punks and leftists also (well, it was, you don't see them as often anymore).

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