The timing of most German school holidays match my British expectations. Two weeks at Christmas, two weeks at Easter, six weeks in the summer, plus the odd week somewhere in the middle of these blocks. This is not so different from home and behind each is a clear reason. To this, however, is one glaring exception: the Winterferien (winter break) – a week-long holiday a mere four weeks after Christmas (in Berlin at least – it differs from Bundesland to Bundesland).
Still refreshed from the Christmas break and motivated by New Year’s resolutions, the timing of this particular holiday always seems a bit odd. Four weeks just isn’t long enough to develop that sense of having slogged through countless early mornings and late night homework sessions. The bonus, I suppose, is that it makes going back after Christmas at the coldest and darkest time of the year a touch easier. “Just think, it is only four weeks until the Winterferien.”
As with many such traditions, there is a story to it. Winterferien are a DDR (GDR) legacy. Back in those days, DDR school children were given a three-week (!) holiday at the end of the academic half year having received their ‘Halbjahreszeugnis’ (half year report). The three weeks were not just a marker of having completed half a year at school, they were also an opportunity to go skiing or partake in other winter sports – often at state-run winter holiday camps. Interestingly, Austria and Switzerland had and still have Winterferien too. The initial motivation there was to save money on heating school buildings during the coldest weeks of the year, serendipitously at peak winter sport season. Continue reading