“HH-SV”, “SE-X”, “DU-MM” – all sorts of nonsense can be done with German license plates. The so-called desired license plate is the only choice for many vehicle owners when it comes to registration. You can particularly associate a statement with the longer license plates – be it a stupid saying, your favorite football club or your own abbreviation and year of birth. If you have a license plate, please do something personal.

But there are limits. Paragraph 8, Paragraph 1 of the Vehicle Registration Ordinance states: “The combination of characters of the identification number and the combination of the distinctive symbol and the identification number must not violate common decency.” This somewhat vaguely worded sentence theoretically offers a lot of scope when it comes to its interpretation. What are good manners anyway?

The fact is that anything that can be associated with the National Socialists and the Second World War is taboo. A license plate with the abbreviations HJ (Hitler Youth), KZ (Concentration Camp), NS (National Socialism), SA (Sturmabteilung) and SS (Schutzstaffel) will therefore fail the registration office throughout Germany.

There are also regional bans. In some offices, signs with the identifiers AH (Adolf Hitler), HH (Heil Hitler) and SD (Security Service) are also sorted out. In 2016, the city of Düsseldorf banned the abbreviation “IS” (Islamic State) for a while, but the signs can now be reserved again. By the way: Only the identification numbers are affected by the bans. The “HH” of the Hanseatic City of Hamburg is therefore permitted as a distinctive symbol.

It can also happen that supposedly harmless identification numbers are not allowed if they form an undesirable combination with the distinguishing sign. Stuttgart, for example, does not offer any license plates with the letters “S”, “A” or “D”. Together with the “S” in Stuttgart, this results in the Nazi abbreviations SS, SA and SD. In Cologne, there is therefore no license plate with “Z”, Nuremberg prohibits “PD” and “SU” and the district of Dithmarschen (HEI) does not offer the “L”.

The numbers on a license plate can also cause problems: Depending on the district or city, combinations like 88, 888, 8888, 188, 1888 and 8818 won’t get you anywhere. Explanation: If you use the respective letter in the alphabet instead of the number, you get abbreviations that can be read, for example, as “HH”, which can stand for “Heil Hitler”. In general, most right-wing extremist combinations are blocked.

Loopholes remain: A quick check shows, for example, that the city of Augsburg allows signs with the identifier “A-HH 180” for reservations.

In some places there may even be problems with the numbers 14 or 28. The “14” is considered to symbolize the slogan of the American neo-Nazi leader David Lane, which in English consists of 14 words. According to the authorities, “28” represents the letters “B” and “H”, which is related to the right-wing extremist network “Blood

The development of license plate bans is certainly dynamic. For example, the letter “Z” is banned in some places because the Russian army used it as an identifying symbol on tanks and military vehicles after the invasion of Ukraine.

However, such innovations usually do not have a retroactive effect. Anyone who already has such a license plate will be allowed to keep it.