No school without the “Schultüte”

written on 03/09/2020
by Ulrike Winter

Most of us remember well our first day at school. In Germany, when the so-called “Schultüte”, or “school cone” played an important role:

At some point on the way to school, our parents pushed this “school cone” into our arms and we then proudly entered the classroom carrying this heavy load: the school bag on our back, the school cone, some 70-80 cm long  in our arms. 

The weight depended on the filling, and sometimes presented a bit of a challenge for us young kids. There it lay in front of us on our assigned desk until the official end of the first day of school.

The obligatory photo in front of the blackboard or the school entrance door - of course with the school bag and school cone – was taken before returning home.

It felt a bit like Christmas because until the opening you did not know what treasure you were holding in your hands. The top-secret contents of the school cone were usually only allowed to be examined at home, together with the family and relatives, after the schooling ceremony.

Of course you already suspected certain things, because the classic contents were usually sweets, although the lower third of the bag may have been stuffed by the parents with cotton wool or paper, either to save money or due to concern for the health of their children.

The German economy discovered the school cone business decades ago. Up to the 1970s colourful homemade cones were the order of the day, but today you find expensive “designer” products for special target groups, and busy or stressed parents can also order the printed cardboard or the completed cone by post.

A lot has also changed in terms of content. In addition to sweets new school kids can now find cinema vouchers, DVDs, new soccer shoes or even their first mobile phone in the bag.

The tradition of the school cone has become an integral part of the first day at school in Germany. Its origin can be traced to central Germany at the beginning of the 19th century - apparently it was thought that entry into the hard school life should be sweetened with a suitable treat. Originally kids were told that school cones grew on a tree in the teacher’s garden.

Once these had grown big enough, it was time for children to go to school. After the First World War, Berlin was one of the first large cities to use school cones filled with sugary sweets, and since 1950 the tradition spread to the whole of Germany. The tradition is hardly known outside Germany, with only a limited number of Austrian areas adopting it after 1945.

The tradition however does not mean that school nowadays in Germany is so “hard” that you have to balance it with something nice. Now it is just a way of making that important first day something special for the kids to look forward to.

Photos 3,4,5 and 7: ©Ulrike Winter