Thursday, August 25, 2005

school daze

My little darlings jumped out of bed this morning at the crack of dawn and took off for school again - Boy12 on the bus to a neighbouring town where he attends the Gymnasium, a secondary school for students intending to go on to university, Boy9 on foot to our local elementary school. This will be his last year there - next year he'll most likely attend his brother's school for grade 5 if his marks are good enough.

Summer holidays are staggered in Germany so that not all states are on vacation at the same time. I can't imagine how large the already horrendous traffic jams would be if the whole country headed north to Denmark or south to Spain all at once. Students in Bavaria are still on holiday until September, for example, while those in Berlin have been back at school since August 6. We had our holidays quite late this year and next year will be the same.

Every child in Germany must be registered at and start attending an elementary school between the ages of 6 and 7. There are very few exceptions and homeschooling is illegal.

The Erstklässler, or first-graders, get special treatment. In Lower Saxony where we live, the little ones are eingeschult (literally "schooled-in") with a special ceremony on a Saturday, a couple of days later than the bigger kids.

The Einschulung begins with family and friends attending a church service (optional, but when people tell me that there is a separation of church and state in Germany, I just smile quietly to myself) where each child receives a small cross to hang around his or her neck and a blessing from the pastor.

After that it's off to the elementary school to meet the teachers and check out the classrooms for an hour or so. Usually the older grades will put on a little musical show to welcome their new schoolmates.


It's typical for German (and Austrian, and maybe Swiss?) first-graders to receive a Schultüte or Zuckertüte on the first day of school. The Schultüte is a large, brightly decorated cardboard cone filled with sweets, school supplies and small gifts to make starting school a little easier. They can be bought ready made, but many parents like to create their own according to their child's taste. Sports or princess themes are very popular. Some of the cones end up being almost as big as the children themselves!

The first Schultüten date back to about 1810, children in Saxony and Thüringen being the first lucky recipients. The custom later spread to Jena, Dresden and Leipzig in the late 1800's, and finally to all of Germany. It used to be customary for the godparents to give their godchild a Schultüte, but nowadays it is usually a gift given by the child's parents or grandparents.

19 Comments:

At August 25, 2005 1:16 PM, Blogger Elemmaciltur said...

Hehehe, nice informative start-of-school entry. I always thought about the Schultüte as a strange but pretty neat tradition here. Never knew about it until I've been living here for at least 2 years. ;)

 
At August 25, 2005 3:34 PM, Blogger Philip said...

You describe the German customs so well. I sent my first-grader off on the bus just a moment ago...

 
At August 25, 2005 3:52 PM, Blogger christina said...

elemm - yeah, there are so many customs with interesting backgrounds.

Hi Philip- I hope Kelly enjoyed her first day and that you didn't miss her too much.

 
At August 25, 2005 7:51 PM, Blogger Elemmaciltur said...

Christina - I've just answered to your comment on my blog...just go and read it...I reckoned you really need to read it.

 
At August 25, 2005 8:58 PM, Blogger Crystal said...

Schultüten is a real interesting concept and this is my first time hearing about that. I guess it's almost like a pinata, which many American & Mexican children have for Birthdays. I didn't know that homeschooling was illegal in Germany, that's a concept that's really taking off here in the States.

 
At August 25, 2005 8:59 PM, Blogger Cin said...

Hello Christina! Love the idea of the Schultüte - I think this would be a lovely thing to do for someone starting a new phase in their life, not necessarily starting school, but perhaps a new job or a new writing project.

 
At August 25, 2005 9:13 PM, Blogger christina said...

hi crystal - yes, the Schultüte seems to be restricted to German speaking countries. I hadn't heard of it either until I moved here.

Thanks for visiting, Cin! You're right, it would make a lovely gift for any kind of new start, and the creative possibilites are really endless. They also sell very small cones that would be great for adults.

 
At August 25, 2005 10:20 PM, Blogger Katja said...

When I lived in the US for a year (with Canadians btw), the little girl I took care of started Kindergarten. I actually made her a Schultüte. She loved it and all the other Kids in her school were sooo jealous (her Mom mader her bring it to school). I guess that is the ONE time that Germans are ahead of Americans, when it comes to gift-giving-occasions!
But I never really heard the story of the Schultüte. Thanks for telling it.

 
At August 26, 2005 2:30 AM, Blogger Cathy said...

Christina;
Thanks for posting; you're the first and I was so excited!
I liked the photos of the Schultuten; my dad (the crazy man on the beach)is German and I have a picture of him as a child holding one on his first day of school; such a nice tradition. Stay in touch and I will keep watching your posts. I hope that I will start to get more original in my postings soon !

 
At August 26, 2005 6:25 AM, Blogger srp said...

Thanks for visiting my site today and the kind words. My brother lives in Vienna and we have visited there. He spends a lot of time in Germany performing. I think he just finished up at Bayreuth Opera Festival. I love to hear him talk now, after six years there he often forgets the English word he is trying to say and sticks in the German equivalent.

I say we need to start this tradition here in the US for kids starting school.

 
At August 26, 2005 2:45 PM, Anonymous haddock said...

The Juniorette has her first day at school soon. In Hessen thats the 6th September.
She will be sporting a Werder Bremen Schultüte as that's the soccer team that she supports.
The whole idea of the Schultüte I think is great - Thanks for the background on it, it is really quite interesting.

 
At August 26, 2005 4:08 PM, Blogger christina said...

Mr. Haddock - oh yes, the football ones are very popular - usually Hannover 96 around here. I'll be helping out at the Einschulung tomorrow so I'll have to check out what's in this year.

 
At August 27, 2005 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Germany has many traditions - I think this is one of the best :) I wish I could go back to first grade and get a 'tuete.

You mentioned you lived somewhere up north? I wanted to go up there next spring to take photos of the Leuchtturm. Anywhere else you'd recommend visiting on my way up?

 
At August 30, 2005 11:45 AM, Blogger Ms Mac said...

I haven't seen any kids with Schultüten here in Switzerland. Oh no, now I feel all bad that maybe I missed out on something. Must ask my go-to Swiss friend about them!

I'll let you know!

 
At September 12, 2005 3:47 PM, Blogger hippo_pepperpot said...

those things are cool! wish we had something like that back in the states or here in the UK...got your blog via tat...xx

 
At September 17, 2005 12:55 AM, Anonymous Armin said...

A bit late, but here's a manual trackback from my entry about Schultueten. I blame it all on you ;-)

 
At October 02, 2005 2:20 AM, Anonymous Christian Kruse said...

There are no schultüten in swiss. My swiss girlfriend and me argued a lot of times about what's in those schultüten ;)

 
At February 10, 2006 10:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi
I'm from New Zealand but lived in Germany as a student in 1988-89.
My daughter is turning 5 in March and I'm looking in the craft shops in order to make my own Schultuete as of course New Zealand has not heard of this tradition!

 
At August 21, 2007 2:24 PM, Anonymous Bill Bradley said...

Thanks for sharing. I am an American (Virginian) who attended a German-speaking school in Julich in 1976. My first grader starts tomorrow and his grandmother - remembering the schultuten that she gave me 30+ years ago - made one for my son. We gave it to him yesterday and he was delighted. My wife wanted to learn more about the tradition so I sent her a link to your post.

 

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