Buying the “Schulranzen”

Last weekend we went to buy a Schulranzen, an essential part of starting school in Germany.

I’ve been trying to find a good translation for Schulranzen over the past few days, and every time I keep coming back to “satchel”.  Although they look nothing like what I associate with that term, LEO agrees with me, and Wikipedia informs me that many years ago the term really was used for a traditional type of school satchel.  So satchel it is.



Not that they look anything like that.  Schulranzen refers to a type of rucksack that primary school children use.  It is one of those “must have” items to start school with, and there is a wide range in quality and prices.  Although the latter tends to start at around 100EUR.

One of the major brands is “Scout”, which are not only amongst the most colourful, but for some reason have a high percentage of plastic to them.  I don’t mean to reinforce the corners, I mean whole sides!

Then there are a few models from well-known brands such as Samsonite and Jack Wolfskin, but there are a whole range of other manufacturers to choose from.

We were lucky enough to find a shop stocking a good selection, so we were able to find one that we as parents were happy with, whilst at the same time has a design that our daughter liked.

Things to be considered were not only the material, but also the weight, the type of rucksack straps, the comfort of the rear side and the size and number of the compartments.  Some even came with matching sports bags, pencil cases and even purses.

Of course, this would not be Germany if there was not a DIN standard for Schulranzen – and the magic number is DIN 58124.  This specifies what percentage of the visible area has to be a luminous colour and how much has to be reflective.

In the end we agreed on a model from DerDieDas which not only conformed to that DIN and came with lots of extras, it also weighs only 850g.  The decision process in the shop took about 90 minutes, and means that a major part of our school preparations have now been completed.

Starting school

atg-sarahThis summer our daughter will be starting primary school in Germany.  Studying about the culture of this country,  I thought I had learnt quite a bit about the school system, but now the more I learn about it first hand, the more I sometimes despair and long for the English school system that I once knew.

Let’s start with the age difference.  I started primary school in Kent at the age of 4, although I believe I was in the last intake where this was possible.  Other children that followed were always 5 years old.

In my part of Germany, children start school at 6. And only then if the school doctor considers them to be ready.

My primary school day used to be from 9am until 3.30pm. My daughter will start her lessons at around 8am and be finished by 12 noon.  I did not have any homework until I was 11, but my daughter will have homework from the first day.

I was taken to school on the first day by my mother.  But in Germany, a large part of the family comes along on the first day. A first day that does not start in the school, but in a local church. Not our church, by the way. To sweeten the day, children receive a Schultüte. More about that another time.

A big part of the build-up to the big day is buying the Schulranzen – a large rucksack that primary school children use to carry all of their books, pencils, painting set and sport clothes.   German schools do not usually have a uniform, but they do tell you what sort of pencil your child needs, and even what make and size of painting set to buy.

Yes, buy.  English primary schools may supply their pupils with books, pencils, paint brushes and, of course, paint.  But in Germany this cost – and the task of buying the right things – is left to the parents.  It is not usual for the rucksack alone to cost over 100EUR.

Even social activities cost money, like singing in the school choir which will cost 8EUR per month.  Who says that German education is for free?

Unfortunately, we have already missed our first parents’ evening in the new school.  We only found out about it, because one of the other parents told us about it when we met them the next day.  For some reason we did not receive an invitation from the school. I hope this is not a sign of things to come.

It has been frustrating in the last year, not to be able to buy books in England for our daughter that are targeted at 6-year-olds. Because, of course, being from England the books assume that 6-year-olds can read a certain amount of words after a year of school. My daughter, although she knows her alphabet and a small amount of arithmetic, does not know enough words yet to be able to understand the book without us reading it to her.

Imagine, then, my amazement during a recent visit to Madrid, that children there start school at 3, and can read by the time they are 5!

In my daughter’s Kindergarten there is a so-called Vorschuljahr, or “pre-school year”. But right from the beginning of that year they told us that they would not be teaching the children to read – they leave that to the school.

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