Schultüten and that First Day of School

Schultüten and that First Day of School
During the peak summer holiday season Germany's children are "school free" at different times, as the country's school holidays are staggered to lessen the chance of hours spent in kilometer long traffic queues...together with the dreaded "overcrowded everything else".

As holidays range from end June to beginning August in Bremen and Saxony for example, to August until mid-September for Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, the first week of August will see some lucky six-year-olds receive their Schultüte, candy cone. Perhaps helping to help calm any "first day nerves" but mainly to celebrate leaving their Kindergarten days behind, and beginning elementary school.

Becoming "ein Schulkind".

While others continue enjoying their holiday with this milestone moment still ahead of them, that first day at school doesn't begin with schoolwork but a special ceremony.

"Einschulung", German child's very first day of grade school, a landmark in their lives and honored throughout Germany as a special occasion. There are family gatherings, ceremonial speeches, music, singing and school traditions, including a formal introduction to their future teacher and classroom, before new pupils are returned to their accompanying parents. Ready for all those photographs to be taken for posterity.

The right backpack, a 'Schulranzen', will have been bought some weeks before. Usually with a large square frame to make sure papers don't get bent and snacks squashed, and of course decorated with the latest 'in trend' design, although anything to do with space never goes out of style.

Then there is the German School/Candy Cone, Schultüte, or Zuckertüte (sugar bag) as it is still known in some parts of the country as originally it was filled with sweet things of one type or another. An enchanting custom that began around 1810 in the eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia, and over the years was adopted by the rest of the country. As well as parts of Austria, Switzerland, Poland, and the Czech Republic.

In the beginning the decorated and labelled cardboard cone, like a large ice cream cone and now often taller than the average first grader, was taken to the school, hung from a Schultüten-Baum (School Cone Tree) and handed to the children later, but this tradition did not catch on in the rest of Germany where instead it became the custom for godparents to present it to the new pupil.

Now it is more often an exciting project made to their own design by children during their last weeks of Kindergarten, or by parents who have fun with paste and paper making one at home. Perhaps even sitting on child size chairs, and at small tables, in their child's Kindergarten class room. While for weeks before school begins there is a huge selection for sale, but about three-quarters of the cones are handcrafted and one-quarter purchased.

A tradition that originated in the middle ages with Schulbrezel (School Pretzel), and a Brezel Baum, Pretzel tree, which was said to be growing in either the cellar or attic of the school building. For those first school days the teacher would "harvest" some Brezeln every day after lessons had ended, then share them among the pupils until, after two weeks at the latest, the Brezel Baum was empty.

The thrill of those first school days can wear off rather quickly, even in those days, so it was a type of "Trostpflaster", a consolation, and it is thought that it was a practice within the Jewish community that first inspired the custom. The giving of letter shaped cakes, or Challah, to Tora students.

It was the individual towns who paid for the Brezeln originally, but after parents were asked to contribute most chose to use what would have been their donation in their own way; so the Pretzel custom died out and a Zuckertüte tradition began.

Schulbrezeln, large pretzel shaped or plaited circular raisin yeast buns with egg yolk glaze, sliced almonds and crushed sugar lump topping, are still a traditional gift at the start of the school year for children of any age.

Although as a custom it is not so universally followed as Germany's school cone.

The contents of a Schultüte/Zuckertüte must remain a surprise for the recipient, however although they might have been called Zuckertüten in the past these are days of "Healthy Living", so fillings now range from school supplies, soap bubbles, torches, books, and toys to a DVD, clock or any other small gift that can fit inside. Nevertheless as you would expect there will be at least some sweets, especially those Gummi Bears, chocolates, or cookies in there; after all the whole idea is to help sweeten those first few days of school life.

So it is no surprise that for generations six-year-olds starting out on their exciting, if challenging, new "Lebensphase", have enjoyed a first day of school that was a positive and fun filled experience few will ever forget.

A 'How To', with all the instructions for making your own Schultuete,

Illustrations: Erster Schultag ist gemeistert - The 2010 winners of the best "self made" Schultueten in Cronenberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, courtesy, and First Graders with their Schulbrezeln at Grundschule Beuern, Buseck in Hessen.

You Should Also Read:
Forest Schools, Germany's Waldkindergarten
How to Make a Schult?te, School Cone
German Gummi Bears, the Cult Candy

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