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What are the key dates and school traditions in Germany?

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What are the key dates and school traditions in Germany?
Youngsters go to school in Düsseldorf on August 8th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | David Young

Pupils in Germany are starting school or heading back to the classroom after the summer holidays. We break down key dates as well as the culture and vocabulary to be aware of.


What's happening?

Parents are breathing a sigh of relief across Germany. Yes, it's time for children and young people to return to the classroom.

In Germany, more than eight million children and young people attend schools.

In some German states, pupils have already gone back to the classroom, including Berlin, Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as several other states. 

In Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, school starts again on September 4th. In Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg,  pupils and teachers go back a week later around September 11th.


This means that students everywhere across the country will soon all be back in class, ready for the new school year. 

READ ALSO: Why Germany is facing a shortage of 'up to 40,000 teachers'

Key vocabulary

Children in Germany first attend a Grundschule, which has a broad general curriculum. It's similar to a primary or elementary school. 

Children carry special bags for their first day of school in Germany.

Children on their first day of school in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp Schulze

Starting in the fifth year – depending largely on their academic achievement and parents’ final say – children can go to a Hauptschule or Realschule. In these two types of schools kids take vocational classes combined with vocational training.

Another option would be for them to attend a Gymnasium, which is more academic-oriented and prepares children for an Abitur (a school-leaving certificate which leads to a university education).

READ ALSO: German school or international school - which is best for foreign parents?


Each state of Germany’s 16 Bundesländer (states) is responsible for the school calendar. That means that school holidays vary depending on the region you're in.

School holidays include:

Autumn holidays - Herbstferien 

Christmas holidays - Weihnachtsferien

Winter holidays - Winterferien

Easter holidays - Osterferien 

Whitsun - Pfingstferien 

Summer holidays - Sommerferien

For a break down of all the holiday dates across German states, check out this calendar.


Culture around starting school 

Starting school is a big deal in Germany. And you may be surprised to find that it usually takes place on a Saturday. 

Youngsters head off for their enrolment day known as the Einschulung with their parents. It's a day of celebration that can continue with families often having meals and parties in the afternoon after the official ceremony ends. 

On Einschulung day, youngsters are also presented with their very own Schultüte (school gag). Parents stuff these bags that are shaped like cones with huge amounts of sweets and other treats to celebrate the start of school. It is sometimes known as a Zuckertüte (sugar bag).

This tradition is said to date back to the early 1800s in Saxony and Thuringia. Starting in the larger cities, it quickly spread, becoming an integral part of school enrolment across Germany.

To many Germans, these cones are a significant symbol of starting school and entering a new phase of life.

READ ALSO: 7 cultural differences between raising kids in Germany and the US


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