I’ve experienced several “American expat in Germany” rites of passage since I first moved to Germany, which was eight years ago: having a German wedding, learning to drive stick in the Swabian Alps, figuring out what goes in the Gelber Sack, pregnancy, giving birth, Kita/Kindi and now Grundschule. Our oldest is a Vorschulkind, or a child on the verge of entering school. She’s participated in special group activities at Kindi as well as attended welcome events at her future school in preparation.
The anticipation and the excitement is the same here as in America. But, the rituals, as ever, seem to be better defined and executed in such a way that really makes you feel like you are preserving a tradition from the same photo from generation to generation. The first one we experienced was the selection and purchase of the Schulranzen or school satchel. I’ve never seen anything like it before moving to Germany. It is a massive, structured square, kind of like a mini suitcase, that the children wear on their backs. When I had to wake up early in the mornings and drive from Aalen to Schwäbisch Hall to my Goethe Institute I remember seeing the school children hurrying through the streets with these cases with reflectors on their backs. I never imagined that I would ever have to shop for one of those.
As we often do for our purchases, we consulted the Stiftung Warentest ratings and decided which brands had the best results for ergonomics and durability. We settled on Scout, one of the most popular Schulranzen brands. Unfortunately, many of the patterns and designs are a bit too aimed at the Kindergarten-set, frustrating considering that these bags are meant to last the lifetime of a grade school child. Our daughter picked a pink polka dot satchel with a fairy on it, and it was with some relief that there was also some green in it too.
It’s not the nauseating amounts of pink or the endless Star Wars motif that is so shocking though, it’s the price. Most of the brands that made it on the Stiftung Warentest list cost close to 200 euros. So if you have small children whom you are intending to send to a German school, start saving now.
The bang you get for your euros? A matching gym bag, a smart looking set of Staedtler color pencils in a matching pencil case which has a slot for each of these pencils plus the pencil sharpener, eraser and the future fountain pen, another small matching pencil pouch and a matching wallet.
The Schulranzen came in the mail, but we kept it hidden until the Easter bunny rolled into town a couple months later. According to tradition, Easter is when Vorschulkinder receive their school bags and oh boy, was that the favorite gift of the quarter!
Next tradition: the Schultuete!