* school uniform: Germany activities

German School Uniforms: Activities

Figure 1.--These German school boys were photogaphed some time in the early 1920s. Note the military-style peaked caps. Some boys appear here to have bats, of some kind although they may be stool legs. I'm not sure what sport was involved. A HBC reader writes, "Upon looking at the image it appears to me that the "bats" are actually the legs of three-legged stools on which the front row is seated...one boy near the middle of the row has his legs wrapped around a leg. The boys legs are all off the ground as well, and the stoolsappear to be exactly the same." Another reader agress, "I agree with your commentator that the boys must be sitting on three-legged stools. I don't think there is any question of bats for some athletic activity."

German schools were highly academic. We do not see many of the activities like sports, art, music, drama, and others in available images of German schools. These activities apparently were not important school in German schools, although we have little information on this topic at this time. We don note some special days. We believe that this has changed somewhat at German schools since World War II, but again our information is limited. Hopefully our German readers will provide some information here.

Coming and Going to School

We note many photographs of German children on their way to and from school. Parents seeem to have mostly photographed their younger children. Of course the first day photograophs were especially common as this was seen as such an important step in a child's life. As Germans did not for the most part have school uniforms except caps. his these family school snap shots are a good reflection of not only schoolwear over time, but overall children's fashions. There were also of course season differences. The outfits refected not only age and the type of school, but chronological trends and social-class differences. We can also see the difference in the outfits worn at primary and secondary schools. Particularly notable are the school satchels the younger childrn took to school.


German schools were highly academic, especially before World War II. Most photographs we have found of classroom work show the children working on the basic academic subjects in very formally arranged classrooms. The German classrooms we see seem very trsaditonally structured, with rows of benches or desks neatly arranged and apparently bolted to the floor or at least not meant to be movd. Rarely do we see individual desks. The benches faced the teacher who sat in front of the class and oversaw very structured lessons with little accomodation of individual diffrences. After World War II we begin to see much more flexible class rooms setups, although we do not yet have information on how educational approches differed in East and West Germany.

Fine Arts

We are unsure how Germany's very academically oriented schools approasched the fine arts. We have been able to find very little information about the fine arts in German schools. We have note images of classrooms from the first half of the 20th century. Most show a room largely filled with desks and benches facing the teacher who had a desk at the front of the class. We have not noted specialist classrooms like art rooms, but our archive is limited. Presumably schools had art rooms, especially sevondary schools. Nor have we noted much attention to music which s especially interesting given the importance of music in German life. Learning musical instruments seems more a home activity and private tuition than a school activity. Presunably some schookls had music rooms and organized performace groups, but we have little information. There must have been drama programs, although we do not know if it was class room or extra-curricular programs. We do see scenes from productions. Some schools seem to have has auditoriums where theatrical performances were saged. We know nothing about dance programs in German schools. We assume that fine arts programs have been expanded in German schools after World War II. We have few derails at these times. We do not know how schools in East and West Germany approched the fine arts.


German children like other school children look forward to recess. This was a period suruing the jmiddle of the morning that the children got a break for outdoor play and the opportunity to let off a little steam. The British call it morning break. In America and Britain it was about a 15-20 minute break held about 11:00. It was a free play time. The children could play as they anted within a range of restrictioins such as stauing on school grounds anbd not doing anything dangerous. American and British children above a certain age would opt for sports of some kind. I am less sure about German children. There were definite gender differences. The boys opted for action sctivities, games or sports. The girls were more likely to sit around and chat. Even in mixed coed schools, the girls usually did not join the boys in ganes. The activities persued were to a degree determined by the facilities available. Many British and American schools had paved playgrounds, often with pkaygroind equioment for the younger children. I'm not sure how common that was at German schools. Some German sdchools were run on half-day schedules. I'm not sure how common that was in Germany. With half day schedules, the recess play session would be omitted.

Non-academic Classroom Activities

Most of the images of classroom activities show Herman children involved in standard academic work. We have begun to collect classroom images of German children showing some of the activities with which they were involved. Most German teachers appear to have thought that valuavle class time should be devoted to academic sunbjects. But apparently some teachers working with younger chikldren seem to have been willing gto use classtime for different activities. We have not found very many such images, but will archives the oines we find here. We note German children in the 1920s leaning about traffic lights.

Non-academic School Activities

We also notice extra-curricular sctivities. German schools were highly academic in character, but we do notice some extra-curriculsr activities. German schools do not seem to have placed a major emphasis on sports. We do not seem many German images of school sports. Many German boys did sports through after school clubs away from school. We do. however, notice some sports at school. We know that some teachers organized hiking after school. We also notice some music activities, primarily choral groups. After World War II we notice changes at Germsn schools with an expanded extra-curricular program along with a greater attentiion to non-academic subjects in the curriculum..


We do not have a lot of information on German school lunches. TYhere must have been differences between primary and secondary schools. Almost all German primary children walked to school. Thus they lived close enough to school to go home for lunch. We believe that many did, but we also know that many children ate their lunch at school. This is because countless portraits show the children carrying a lunch case in addition to their book satchels. The fact that not all the children have these satchels cofirms that some children ate lunch at schools and others did not. We suspect that the parents were given a choice. That was how it was at my American elementary school in the late-40s and early-50s. As far as we know, German primary schools did not have cafeterials until well after World war II. There may have been differences between city and village schools. We suspect that many if not most village children went home for lunch and that many city children ate lunch at schools. This is, however, largely a guess. As far as we know, German elementary schools did not have cafeterias. We see a few images of primary children being served lunch in their ckassroom, but this may have been a temporary matter during the Depression to make sure the children got a least one good meal. Hopefully our German readers will know more. The situation must have been different in secondary scjool. Many German children did not attend secondary school, especially working-class children. This meant that the schools wre often a considerabke distance from home. Some of the children may have walked ot used bicycles, but often they to take public transport likr trams. This mean that many students could not go home for lunch. Even so, I do not think that many secondary schools had cafeterias. Presumably the children brought their lunches to school. A complication here is thst some schools may have operated on shifts, although we think that was mostly after World war II. After the War, Germans built many more modern schools. This was in part because so many schools were destroyed by the Allied bombing. We think that many of these new schools had cafeterias, although this needs to be confirmed. We no longer see the lubch satchels to any extent after the War. Another question is if there were differences between East and West Germany. West Germany of course was more affluent, but East Germany incouraged women to work more and took on greater respinsibilities in child care where it was necessary to provide meals.


We note some images that look like teachers taking their students out for hikes into the country. As the boys do not wear uniforms, they were not youth groups. And as sometimes there are different age children present, we suspect that they may not be class groups, although often the children look to be largely the same age. One possibility may be a class field trip. We are not entirely sure to differentiate hikes from field trips with more narrow eduvational purposes. We think that these outings may have been fairly common through the 1920s and early 30s. They may have declined after the NAZI take over (1933). This is suggested by the photographic record as most of the outings we have found with teachers seem to pre-date the NAZIs. Perhaps our German readers will know more about this. Teachers may have been concerned about being misunderstood when the NAZIs banned youth groups other than the Hitler Youth (HJ). Even informal assoviation may have seemed rather like organizing youth. Also the HJ program included hikes and other outings which may have reduced the interest among the boys in additional such outings.

Special Days

We note a number of special days in German scgools. The most important is probably the First Day for beginning students. We are not sure just what happens at school with the children. The new children do bring their gift conds to school, but apparently are not allosed to get into them until after school. Parents commonly took photographs and many had formal studio portraits made. We notice one school celebrating Alphabet Day in which each new reade is assugned a letter. We don't see this very commonly. It might be an East Germn school, because Alphabet Day was a major event in Soviet schools.

Home Work

Schools have varied over time as to the home work. And of course the age and grade level of the children is a factor. After the first 4 years of primary school (Grundschule/Volkschule), children attend different types of schools with varying academic programs. Presumably the more intensive academic programs involved more home work. We do not have much information on the extent to which home work was assigned over time. We do not have a lot of information on this, but the satchels the children wore bck and forth from school was one indicator that home work was being assigned. Educators have differed over the importance and value of home work. More constant has been the chidren's attitude toward home work. Another variable is the parents ability or interest in helping the children. Also children had different home situatins where they could do their home work.


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Created: 2:50 PM 9/1/2004
Last updated: 6:50 AM 12/3/2010