If you have children in school here in Germany, at some point, either at the end of one school year or the beginning of the next, your child will hand you a meager piece of paper called a Materialliste, which is exactly what it sounds like, a list of supplies for the coming school year. Now, if you are used to these sorts of lists from your childhood somewhere other than Germany, the list might look innocuous. C’mon, a few notebooks, a pen or two, a binder, right? Wrong!
Usually there is a list of Hefte, or notebooks that are more like the blue books we used to write our exams in college. There are any number of types. If your child is in first grade, they have some with lines with larger spaces in between so they can learn writing. They all have numbers and are called things like DIN A4 Heft, mit Rand, kariert, für die erste Klasse. The first time got this list, I ambitiously went to the writing supply store thinking I, a smart woman with a couple of degrees under my belt who indeed speaks fluent German, could figure it out. I was wrong!
There is a type of notebook for each class, with grids, without grids, with lines, without lines, big, small, skinny, fat (Doppelheft). Then there is the homework book, the one for music, and the ones for math. If you get the wrong one or it has a name that is different from the one you knew from the previous year, good luck trying to find it. My kids are also overwhelmed by the list. Now I have learned my lesson. I either send the kids to the writing supply store on their own and have them just hand over the list, or I send my mother-in-law, who is a former teacher. She can usually figure it out, but it does seem that some teachers call the notebooks by different names. If the guy behind the counter can’t figure it out, you have to wait until school starts, and then someone panics because they don’t have everything on the list on the first day.
If you are lazy and wait until the first day of school, the real fun begins. Then you get to go to six different stores looking for this or that notebook or this kind of pen (remember, in first grade they often have to all have the same kind of pen) or eraser or paintbox or whatever. And each of these stores is full to the brim with people are stomping and pushing you over trying to get to the new package of pens before you do. It is all too much for me, and in a couple of years, when Olivia is 6, it will begin again. I think I might send her older sisters with her when the time comes. Some things you don’t have to put yourself through over and over.