The 28-year-old had finished the 800-metre run section of her discipline and should have been placed for silver – but was disqualified for supposedly stepping on the border of the track.
It was only after she complained, and a jury of judges examined a video of the race, that her disqualification was withdrawn and she was able to take her place on the podium.
“The main thing is that it shines, it doesn't matter what colour it is,” she said.
She was second to the British athlete Jessica Ennis, who took gold with the best result of the year. The Russian Tatiana Tschernova was third.
It was a disastrous Games for the German swimmers, who returned home without any medals at all – the first time they did this badly was 80 years ago.
The national swimming association ruled out making managerial changes though, with sports director Lutz Buschkow and president Christa Thiel, both saying they would remain in their jobs.
Franziska van Almsick, who in her career won 10 Olympic medals, called for more international input in training. “Changes must be undertaken. It cannot get any worse than this,” she said. “We Germans are eccentric and think we have to go our own way.”