• Germany's news in English

Being schooled in German sensibilities

The Local · 14 Sep 2009, 14:21

Published: 14 Sep 2009 14:21 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

It’s something I had to admit to myself in the shower this morning: spending more than decade in Germany has affected my aesthetic sensibility.

Moments before I had been sitting at my desk, leafing through pictures of my daughter’s first day of school last Saturday. I especially liked the photos of her in full first-grader regalia on the steps of her school. The smile. The hair. The gigantic pink and purple Schulranze, a kind of backpack only German schoolchildren seem to have. And, of course, the Schultüte, an inverse cone German parents give to their kids on the first day of school. They used to be filled with new school supplies but these days they’re filled with treats to celebrate the first day of first grade.

But as I had my paternal thoughts, a little voice began to chime up in my head: “Hello? Of course your daughter is cute, but she doesn’t look cute in that get up. The backpack is twice the size of her and that cone is ridiculous. She doesn’t look like a schoolgirl, she looks like an extra in Starship Troopers 3.”

I had to agree with myself. I started wondering if I should be concerned about the health of her back under all that disproportionate weight. Or maybe the state of her teeth, considering the Halloween-rivalling amount of candy in that Schultüte. Though, to be fair, my kids may beg and plead when it comes to candy but they don’t eat much. Me, on the other hand, I don’t beg and plead, I just eat.

But I became alarmed that moments before I hadn’t even noticed the absurd Schulranze and awkwardly inverted cone. I used to laugh – mock even – when I saw German schoolkids struggling like little workhorses to get their backpacks the two blocks to school. Now they just look normal to me.

The first day of school is a big deal in Germany. So big they do it on a Saturday. It’s called Einschulung. There were songs by the fourth graders, a speech by the principal and then they carted my daughter off to a classroom for her first hour of school. After that we all went to lunch. Most people brought their entire family. I just asked a couple of friends if they wouldn’t mind tagging along in exchange for a promise of free beer later. “Just try to look like an aunt or uncle,” I said. “And tuck in your t-shirt.”

I don’t remember the first day of school being such a big deal back in the States. I think my mother just gave me a kiss and a helpless look. I now realise she was trying to tell me I was embarking on 12 years of subservience to people with poor self-esteem and authority issues – though there were notable, memorable exceptions.

Between you and me, I don’t really know though. My memory doesn’t kick in until the third grade when I was given a role in the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” I remember being disheartened that we had to perform in a hallway and that the lead character couldn’t perform in the nude. I was a very dogmatic third-grader.

My daughter’s gotten off to a bit of a rocky start though. Three times the principal has chastised me for not putting a little yellow BVG hat on her he thinks will keep her safe while crossing the street. I disagree with his assessment that the hat will keep her safer than my presence, so I haven’t made her wear it. But I can’t take his disappointed looks much longer.

And someone already stole her paint. Last week she carefully wrote her name on the box and put stickers on each paintbrush. She told me how that would keep someone from stealing them. I guess she learned a valuable life lesson, though you’d think a first-grade classroom would be a safe place to keep some watercolours.

Story continues below…

This morning my wife took her to school. “I really like my Schulranze, Dad,” she said as she left.

“Yeah,” I said. “You look great.” But I was thinking, “Wow, you really look German.”

Since a good German Stammtisch is a place where pub regulars come to talk over the issues of the day, Portnoy welcomes a lively conversation in the comments area below.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
These are Germany's top ten universities
The new library of Freiburg University. Photo: Jörgens.mi / Wikimedia Commons

These are the best universities in all of Germany - at least according to one ranking.

Introducing Swabians - 'the Scots of Germany'
Photo: DPA

These Southern Germans have quite a reputation in the rest of the country.

Woman sues dentist over job rejection for headscarf
Photo: DPA

A dentist in Stuttgart is being taken to court by a woman whom he rejected for a job as his assistant on the basis that she wears a Muslim headscarf.

Isis suspect charged with scouting Berlin attack sites
Photo: DPA

German federal prosecutors said Thursday they had brought charges against a 19-year-old Syrian man accused of having scouted targets in Berlin for a potential attack by the Isis terror group.

Berlin Holocaust memorial could not be built now: creator
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin. Photo: DPA.

The architect of the Berlin Holocaust memorial has said that, if he tried to build the monument again today, it would not be possible due to rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Germany and the United States.

'Liberal' Germany stopping Europe's 'slide into barbarism'
Ian Kershaw. Photo: DPA

Europe is not slipping into the same dark tunnel of hate and nationalism that it did in the 1930s - mainly thanks to Germany - one of the continent's leading historians has said.

Eurowings strike to hit 40,000 passengers
Travelers impacted by the strike on Thursday wait at Cologne Bonn airport. Photo: DPA.

The day-long strike by a Eurowings cabin crew union is expected to impact some 40,000 passengers on Thursday as hundreds of flights have been cancelled.

Deutsche Bank reports surprise quarter billion profit
Photo: DPA

Troubled German lender Deutsche Bank reported Thursday a surprise €256-million profit in the third quarter, compared with a loss of more than six billion in the same period last year.

US 'warned Merkel' against Chinese takeover of tech firm
Aixtron HQ. Photo: DPA

The German government withdrew its approval for a Chinese firm to purchase Aixtron, which makes semiconductor equipment, after the US secret services raised security concerns, a German media report said Wednesday.

Long-vanished German car brand joins electric race
Photo: DPA

Cars bearing the stamp of once-defunct manufacturer Borgward will once again roll off an assembly line in north Germany from 2018, the firm said Wednesday.

10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd