The present German 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, in the form of a D (for Deutschland) on the blue strip on the left, like many European Union number plates.
After that, there are between one and three letters which show the city or region where the car is registered. DD stands for Dresden, D for Düsseldorf and MST for Mecklenburg-Strelitz, for example. These units usually coincide with the German districts, in few cases an urban district and the surrounding district share the same letter code. Hanseatic cities may have an H in front of them, e.g. HH for Hansestadt Hamburg or HRO for Hansestadt Rostock. The number of letters in the city/region prefix often reflects the size of the city: one letter for a large city (B= Berlin or H=Hannover) two for a medium-sized city (DD= Dresden) or three for a small city (MST=Mecklenburg-Strelitz).
After the location name come the emission test and vehicle safety test stickers, then one or two usually random letters followed by 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 plates space of this vehicles is smaller.
Car owners can personalize their plates by choosing 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”; another favourite is BAR-BQ 777 for Barnim. Various combinations that could be considered politically unacceptable, mainly due to implications relating to Nazi Germany, are disallowed or otherwise avoided. The district Sächsische Schweiz uses 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 avoided. 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.
Example of banned combination (“NS”) which has been issued accidentally.Other 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.
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