Geman School Clothes:  First Day

Figure 1.--This German boy was named in Eckard. He was photographed on his first day of school, probably in the early 1930s. He wears a short pants suit with very large buttons. Note his school swatchel and lunch case. His Zuckertute is samller than some we have seen. That may have been a matter vof cost. Click on the image to see what a French schoolboy looked like at about the same time.

It is a German tradition on a child's first day of school in many countries to take a photograph. Education was very important in Germany, before the NAZIS probably more important than any other country. And we don't know of any ciuntry where it was so widespread to take a first day portrait. Sometimes this was done formally, but more common a snapshot was taken at home. The photographs show not only the child's clothing and in Germany the traditional gift cone or ("Zuckertute") This tradition is less formal today, although children are much photographed than ever before. German boys often wore sailor suits to school on their first day as this was such a popular style for boys, especially younger boys. Many other styles were also worn. Commonly they were short pants outfits until long pants began to be more popular in the 1960s.


The standard first day of school portrait was taken when the child began the first yearr of primary school--Grundschule/Volkschule. This was a 4-year program after which the children were sepoarated by theoretically academic ability. Actually the selection was only in part ability. Most middle-class children attended secondary, but only a few working-class children did so. German children usually began primary school at age 6 years. Some German school began school earliee by attending Kiendergarten. Thus we have some first day portraits for Kindergateners. Unlike America, German Kindergartens were not limited to just 5-year olds. Emulating tge primary children, the Kindergarteners were often given small Zuckertute/Schultüten goodie cones.

Cone of Goodies: Zuckertute/Schultüten

In Germany, there is a charming custom of presenting a cone full of "goodies" to a child on their first day of school. I'm not sure why it was a cone, but the available images show boys with cones. It may include candy, school supplies, clothes, etc. One of the names for the cone is "Zuckertute" and the celebration is known as "Schulanfangfeier". Images from the early 20th century show that this was a very popular custom. I do not know if it is still in vogue. They varied in size and were decorated in various ways. Some of the cones are nearly as large as the boy. The boys were photographed with their Zuckertutes, often in a photographic studio. I don't think that the bpys actaully took the Zuckertutes to school, but here I am not sure. A German reader writes, "HBC uses Zuckertüte for it, a term I'm less familiar with, but it's also used. These Schultüten are common since the late 19th century, they first were hanged on Christmas trees, besides other equipment, later they were used as special present to sweeten the first day at school."

Bread or Pretzel

Some boys were photographed with a good luck bread or pretzel. This was much less common than the cone or "zuckertute". Perhaps these boys did not get a cone, which must have been disappointing as they contained so many goodies. We are not precisely sure just what the symbolism was for the pretzel. Hopefully our German readers will provide us some insights on this.


Large numbers of German children had their first school day portraits taken with Zuckertute/Schultüten or school gift cones packed full of toys, candy, and school supplies. There were some other first day gifts that were not as common, such as bread or prestzels. Another gift was a funnel (Trichter). They were also filled with candy, but did not hold nearly as much goodies as a Zuckertute school cone. Thus the child often got a cone along with the funnel.We have yet to learn of the origins of a Zuckertute. The funnel is, however, know with some certainty. The Germans say "funnel in knowledge" in a similar way Anericans/English might say "drum" or more ominously "beat" in knowledge. The connotations are, however different. The term drum/beat in knowledge has very negatibe connotations. I am not sure when the expressioins would have been used in any kind of positive sence. They once were, including in Germany. See for example a advertising sign Myconius' School. The German connotation for a funnel was ore of a humerous one, the idea that a teacher could just pour in knowledge to any student, even the last campable and the child could learn without any real effort. The origins for this are literary and date back to the 16th century and was especially associated with Nuremberg (Nürnberger Trichter).

School Items

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.

Individual Boys

We have collected several images of German boys on their first day of school. Most are unidentified images, which makes it difficult to track trends. The images do, however, provide quite a bit of information about how younger German boys dressed for school. Sailor suits were a clear favorite in the early 20th century, but mboys wore many other styles as well. We have quite a number of these images from the 1910s through the 1930s.

Post Cards

Many boys had ther portraits taken on their first day to send to family and friends. They were commonly taken with their school satchel and lunch container. There were also commercial post cards which friends and relatives purchased to send to children on their first day. Notably the children depicted on these cards tends to be a fairly accurate depiction of how the children actually dressed for school. They contrast to the rather sentimental Belgian, French, and Dutch postcards of the time which commonly depicted children in much fancier clothes and hair styles than they commonly wore. I'm not entirely sure how to interpret this.


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Created: October 19, 2001
Last updated: 3:15 AM 7/13/2009