German Schoolwear Garments: School Items

Figure 1.--Here we have a German boy, presumably ready for his first day at school. He doesn't have a gift cone, but he does have his book and lunch satchel. The portrait is undated, but was probably tken about 1905. We do know that he was a Berlin boy.

Many Germans boys sent off for their first day of school were equipped with a book satchel or bag, a lunch satchel, and a pencil case. This was very common into the 1930s. Boys before Workd War I often had slates as well. These items were very standard and the satchels continued to be seen into the 1950s. German parents loved to have a portrait made of the new scholar all done up for school. As the century progressed we begin to see more family snap shots rther than formal portits. These images leave us a wonderful record as to the school items German children were equipped with in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Book Satchel

The most common item the boys have is a book or school satchel or bag which had shoulder straps. The German term is Schulranzen. Sometime as with the boy here, all we can see is the straps. While we have relatively few 19th century images, we note that it was very common for German primary children to have book satchels through the 1930s. We have less information after the the 1930s, but they have also been common after World War II (1939-45) as well. Many of the children photographed for the ritual first day of school portrait had these satchels which appear to be leather and worn over the shoulders.

Lunch Satchel

We also notice a smaller satchel or case worn over one shoulder. We had thought that it was a pencil case, but our German readers tell me that it was a liunch case. This is apparently the German version of the lunch box that American boys carried to school. These small bags are called Kindergartentäschchen. They are usually used by the children to carry their food with them, when they go to kindergarten or first grade. A German reader tells us, "I think it's interesting to see it with a normal school stachel or Schulranzen. But it may be used for the same purpose. Remember the unidentified school image? These kids wore also Kindergartentäschchen and you assumed they were primary school children. My sister and I wore also a Kindergartentäschchen to Kindergarten and we did get Schultüten on our first day, too."

Pencil Case

Most of the boys had a pencil case. Most were wooden and carried in their book satchel. Thus we only see them in the classroom photographs.


German and other European children in the 19th and early 20th centuries normally took a slate to school for praticing both riting and doing sums at their desks with chalk. Paper at the time was too expensive for practice seessions. An important part of the school day mihjt be soent doing work on these slates. The slates are not normally seen in the portraits taken of children with their satchels, but most children had them. They were usually carried inside the satchels. Whatcan be seen is many portraits is the sponge or rag hung outside, presumably because it was wet after the school day.


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Created: 6:06 PM 9/17/2006
Last updated: 1:37 AM 1/21/2014