First Graders and Paper Cones in Germany

If you see an elementary student, holding proudly a big paper cone filled with presents, then you know it is the very first day of school here in Hesse.

Most Germans see this is a serious affair – this is when ‘Der Ernst des Lebens beginnt’ (The serious side of life begins). Some moms even cry, because they worry about their children and the ‘serious effects’ school could have on them.

On the other hand, when our international kids started school, we were so happy and pleased to have come so far. We told them to enjoy school and the healthy and fun environment provided by good educators.

If you want to know more about the origin of the Schultüte, visit:

This shows me on my first day of school. Back in 1967, cones were usually filled with essentials mostly, such as school supplies, but also a few sweets. My home state of Bavaria starts the new school year very late by mid-September, hence the warmer clothing.

My first day of school in September 1967

My first day of school in September 1967

First Day of School Cone

The start of the new school year is just around the corner. In the state of Hesse, school begins again on 16 August (with starting dates varying from state to state).

I have not been out much recently, but I expect the stores to be full of Schultüten (First-day-of-school cone) on display. Parents fill the cone with goodies, stationary supplies, books, etc. The children carry the cone around on their first day of school and get to open it finally once they get home.

As this is something traditionally German, there is no proper translation for this term in English. So far I have seen:

*Kinder cup

*First-day-of-school cornet

*Goodie cornet

*Gift cone

My picture shows me on a day in mid-September when traditionally Bavarian schools start up again. Every morning, my mom would braid my hair and roll it into a “nest” on top. There were times I found snippets of paper, rubber bands, and other light-weight items at the end of the day. Thanks, Jürgen, Johannes, Klaus, and Manfred!

My first day of school in September 1967

If you think my picture looks old , then visit Fanzone 50 for a trip further down the road of Schultüten nostalgia.

Back-to-School Items in Germany

This morning I was reminded by Amazon.dom that it is time for all the Back-to-School sales again. This is not unusual as here in Germany, many parents/students are shopping now for school supplies and clothing, because the state of Hesse starts school again on 23 August 2009.

What made me smile though, when I read the advertisement, was seeing the Welcome Back to School cards. This you would never see in Germany. Willkommen zurück in der Schule! gift cards would be seen a joke as the common consensus is Schule ist doof and Lehrer sind blöd. I have not met a single German student yet who was happy to go back to school at the end of the summer. Instead whining and complaining is much more in tune and widely accepted. Herrje, die armen Schulkinder.

Whereas in our family, with both kids attending an international school, there is generally no such thing as dreading school (certain exceptions granted…). Our hormone-infested teenage son is very cool about going back to school and our preteen daughter is getting so excited to see her friends again, she wants to find out who her teachers are, she is decorating her bag, and has a list of things to do in order to look great on her first day. If they got a Welcome Back to School card, they would not view this in a cynical way.

Nevertheless, there is a day and a time in a German student’s life when he/she is supposed to be happy about school. At the end of a happy early childhood (the age of six) comes the dreaded first day of school when Der Ernst des Lebens beginnt. To sweeten up its earnestness and tragedy, German school kids get a big cone (Schultüte) filled with goodies, which made our local dentists happy, at least this is how it was in my day and time. I heard nowadays, these cones are filled more intelligently – among sweets are school supplies and other small presents. These Schultüten (Leo’s translation: large cornet of cardboard filled with sweets and little presents given to children in Germany on their first day at school) are meant to decrease anxiety and make it look a bit like Christmas in August.

Some parents buy the Schultüten which are available in most stationary departments. Some Übermommies buy the material to craft and customize the first child’s Schultüte with loving hands.

Schultüten in all colors, sizes, and decorative ornaments

Schultüten in all colors, sizes, with decorative ornaments, seen at a local craft shop.

If you are still interested in those Back to School cards (you can choose from two Back-to-School designs aimed at school kids and college students, you can e-mail or print them for immediate delivery, or schedule up to a year in advance), then visit

The U.S.A. seem to be the only country welcoming students back to school by printing cards for that occasion. Then again, Americans wish “Have a nice day at work”, when work, too, is supposed to be serious and a drudgery in Germany. Oh well, this I shall save for another post.

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