Friday, September 06, 2013

The Schultüte and the Ranzen Go to School

Early photo of boy with Schultüte and Ranzen

Wooden Ranzen School Satchel

School has just begun in Germany, and it seemed to me that a post about the Schultüte would be very timely. American school children, as well as most other school children outside of Germany are not familiar with the custom of the sugar cone Schultüte. In fact, the English language has no exact equivalent word for it, but the picture above will give you the idea of this "school bag." (Tüte means "bag" when translated literally; however the Schultüte was in the shape of a cone.)

After seeing some pictures of a young relative from the area near Saarburg, Schultüte in her arms and a shy smile on her face, I wanted to determine if the custom reached back to the time of my Kreis Saarburg great grandparents or, if not, just when and where did this custom originate.

To begin my search, I called up the German version of Google and found two good articles that answered many of my questions. One of the first things I learned was that German children of the 19th century did have my version of a school bag - something called a "Ranzen," a word that means satchel.   Not every child's family could afford a leather Ranzen and those who had them guarded them carefully. They were shaped like a small briefcase with backstraps. The Ranzen was the German school child's prize possession. The true Ranzen was leather except in areas where people were poor but wood was plentiful. A poor child from the Schwarzwald might have a Ranzen made of wood, as illustrated in the picture above.

I also learned that the beginning of the school year has been a special occasion since the middle ages, usually celebrated with a special church service and a procession to the school and/or the presentation of cookies baked in the shape of letters of the alphabet. It was a momentous event for these young children to take the first steps away from their parents' home into a school room.

In some parts of Germany, parents accompanied their child on the first day of school and stayed for a time, while the children became acquainted with each other and with the teacher. In other regions, the celebration of the first day of school took place in the home, often with godparents and other relatives present. It is my impression that, as the 19th century began, education was less highly valued than in the later days of the century. Parents, especially those who were struggling to put food on the table during the hard times in the 1840s and 1850s, were less than enthusiastic about a child being taken away from the work on the farm for several years.  Such might have been the case for some of my ancestors.  It is not likely that they had either Ranzen or Schultüte.

The Schultüte did not appear until the 19th Century. The first documented report of the cone-shaped Schultuete comes from the city of Jena in 1817, closely followed by reports from Dresden (1820) and Leipzig (1836). It caught on in popularity in the bigger cities first and spread eventually to the small towns and villages of northern Germany.  One source I read was of the opinion that the sugar cone Schultüte was a way of "sweetening" a young child's anxiety at beginning school.

About forty years after the acceptance of the Schultüte as a tradition in northern Germany, a book about the sugar cone tree was written for young children and even recommended by a teaching manual used in many schools. It was meant to be read to a child just before the little beginner started attending school. In this tale, a Schultüte'sugar cone tree began to sprout and grow in the school basement. It produced not fruit but cones with sugar cubes and candies.  It was time for the little ones to go to school when they were brave enough to go into the school's cellar and pick the tree's cones which had now matured and were filled with sweets.

There was also a difference in the Schultüte's first appearance in North Germany to the adoption of it in south and western Germany. The Schultüte was almost unknown in the Catholic part of Germany in the mid 1800s. In the Catholic areas, it is my guess that a blessing for the new little scholars and perhaps a procession from the church to the school took place, sometimes with and sometimes without parents and godparents on hand. One source says that in rural areas there was possibly a large "baked pretzel" for the whole class or small school day treats from the teacher to reasure newcomers on their first day.

After the introduction of compulsory education in all of Germany in 1871, the demand for sugar cones increased greatly and were very commonplace in north German schools as the first years of the 20th century began. By the 1930s, the Schultüte occasionally appeared in the schools of west and south but did not really become a custom until after WWII.

Today the custom has changed in that less and less sweets are appearing in the Schultüte, with more practical gifts such as crayons and pencils, small toys, CDs, books and even articles of clothing replacing them for the good health of the child.

My research about the origins and time period of the Schultüte revealed that none on my ancestors carried such a prize to their first day of school.  But I do hope they had a teacher who distributed small treats or let them share a pretzel.

Der Blumenbaum, vol. 26, no. 3
Der Blumenbaum, vol 23, no. 2üte

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