The School Bag
Expat mum Suze Nowak shares more from her family life in Germany in this hilarious rights of passage tale.
My daughter starts primary school in September and she cannot wait. Her enthusiasm is not, as one may assume or indeed hope, the desire to experience the wonder of education or the pleasure of learning to read. Nor is it the feeling of progression, the hoisting of a spindly leg on to the next rung of the ladder of life.
The eagerness to begin this new phase of childhood lies solely with…….a bag.
She will, at long last, be allowed to carry her bag and display it in all its splendour to her school mates. So, you might well ask, what’s the big deal?
Ask any German adult about their very first school backpack and they will, in all likelihood, describe it in intricate detail and with no insubstantial amount of nostalgia to boot. They may well, if you are really lucky, be able to retrieve it from the attic for your delectation. Lovingly wrapped in bio-degradable paper, this bag will be saved for posterity and the delight and awe of future generations.
Here in Germany school backpacks are big in every way possible. Big deal. Big prices. Big size.
Confused? At the beginning of a new school year in Germany, you will bear witness to the sight of hundreds of scrawny, scuff-kneed six year old legs, buckling under the weight of the psychedelic filing cabinets they are schlepping about on their backs on the way to school. This is the phenomenon that is Der Schulranzen.
It’s a rucksack Jim but not as we know it.
The direct translation for Schulranzen is satchel. It is however, about as far removed from any mental picture you may have of the Enid Blyton-esque much loved, leathery buckled knapsack as it is possible to be.
As far as I am aware this is an occurrence peculiar to Germany. You think you can buy your kid any old school bag when they take the leap into full time education? Think again. Every child has a Schulranzen. There is no escape from the absurdity or the cost. Not only are the things roughly comparable in price to an antique sea chest, they are not dissimilar in size or weight.
Apparently though, weight is not an issue as long as, and this is of utmost importance, it is evenly and ergonomically distributed. There is a risk of parental excommunication should your child be allowed to carry any bag slung over one shoulder, (obviously) causing uneven weight allocation and risking the “one shoulder lower than the other” problem.
Dispatching your child to school with an un-ergonomically friendly rucksack is regarded as something akin to child abuse. If you are confused about the plethora of considerations to be taken into account when making this life changing purchase, this issue has been addressed. You will be bombard with leaflets informing you of your nearest “Backpack Presentation and Information Evening”. I kid you not.
I, to my chagrin, capitulated and followed tradition. €100 down (and that was one of the cheapest due to last year’s design!) but with a child about to combust with glee, we left the gushing sales lady, who was no doubt pondering the purchase of a private jet the amount of commission she was raking in.
At least, living up to the stereotype, the bags are, most definitely, built to last and engineered to within an inch of their, no doubt, long long lives. That said, kids will be kids and I am under no illusions that my daughter won’t wish to be seen dead with “Dancing Unicorn” when she goes to “Big School”.
Anyone know where you can get that bio degradable packing paper?