In its simplest sense, Burschenschaften simply refers to student associations. There is a history to these associations, though. By 1815, Baden, Bavaria, and other principalities had received constitutions. But in 1820, the German Confederation had passed an Act which limited the subjects that might be discussed in these constitution chambers, hence giving monarchs the right to resist the demands of constitutionalists. But nationalist and liberal expectations remained in the minds of many, causing groups of university students formed these Burschenschaften’s. They promoted liberal politics and wanted a unified German state. Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), who later became German chancellor had joined one of these associations, and these society’s probably fed his views on German unification.
Returning from the Wars of Liberation from Napoleon, these groups first organized at Jena in 1815. Their flag was black, red and gold. A major rally of all these groups took place at Wartburg in 1817, where the students demanded German unification under a liberal constitution.
In March of 1819, Karl Sand assassinated a conservative dramatist named August von Kotzebue (1761-1819). The Austrian Prince Metternich (1773-1859) used this incident to suppress the Burschenschaften. In July 1819, he issued the Carlsbad Decrees which dissolved these student clubs and provided for university inspectors and press censors. General censorship was introduced throughout Germany, and the country was established as a police state. The association went underground but remained somewhat influential. All significant German reform movements had ended, and the conservative Metternich era remained until the rebellions of 1848.
The black, red, and gold colors of the Burschenschaften flag later became the federal German colors under the Frankfurt Parliament, the German government which lasted for only a while. In 1949, these colors were revived for the present German flag.