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September 30, 2022

Six weeks into the school year we have learned a lot about German schools – or at least our school in Berlin, Dreilinden Grundschule.

The school logo in tiles on the front of the building

First, we got a very long and detailed list of school supplies from both teachers. We had quite a shopping spree at the Schreibwarenladen (writing wares shop), which maybe wasn’t the most cost-effective place to go, but the proprietor was extremely helpful and friendly in explaining new vocabulary and directing us to the proper items. Everything from magazine holders to store workbooks in the classroom, to fountain pens (with blue ink), to half a dozen different sizes of paintbrushes, to specific notebook colors and line spacing sizes for each subject. If my kids were not organized before (they weren’t really) – they are now! Also coming from urban US public schools where art class is maybe paid for by PTA fundraising, the many different art supplies signaled serious art class offerings and that was exciting for our kids. Woohoo! We don’t really do back-to-school shopping usually, so this was a fun splurgey thing to do.

Here they are on the first day of school, holding their art folders (size A3 as stipulated on the list):


The next thing that was different was school lunch. At home, even after pandemic relief funding resulted in free school lunch for all kids in all of California, our kids rejected school lunch and we kept on packing them their midday meal. Here, the hot lunch is so attractive that they have started printing the weekly schedule and posting it by the door.

The weekly schedule, with added highlights
(because the school materials list required multiple colors of highlighters and they must therefore be put to use!)

Friday always includes salmon, I think because fish on Fridays? The meal is served on real plates, and the water dispenser offers a choice of still, medium-strength, and full-strength fizzy water. There is great excitement about all of this. The one odd thing (to the kids) is the flooding of many dishes with sauce. As Fruitbat describes: “They put the meat in the dish, then the potatoes, then – whoomp! They cover the whole thing with so much sauce.” This is hilarious to them, and they say the sauce is good.

Instead of packing full lunches, we have now acquired Brotdosen, literally “bread cans,” to pack a sandwich and fruit for snack time. This the kids pack themselves, which is a nice break for Peter, the parent usually on lunch duty. We are also not using any plastic bags, which is a nice break for me, the parent who usually washes out the plastic bags for reuse. We are definitely bringing these suckers back to CA:

Okay, then there’s the school part of school. Both kids have very structured schedules, although school ends at different times on different days, and it’s not the same for both of them. This means that three days a week, we get Schatzi home from school 90 minutes earlier than Fruitbat. I am very glad they can walk themselves to school!

And grading…very different from our experience in Oakland! Sixth grade is serious, because this is the final year of elementary school, and kids have to apply to the next level of schooling, which is tracked. Third grade is also serious, because it’s the first year of grading, and they are trying to teach kids and parents alike how it works. The grades are 1 through 6 (instead of A through F) but distributed differently – to get a 1 is like an A+, you need to score 97% or higher. Our kids are used to being above grade level, but not having much specific numerical feedback. I think it’s good practice for them to get grades, but it’s also less pressure than other kids (especially for Fruitbat’s level) because we are going home again after this year.

We cannot, cannot, cannot be more grateful to Kita on Kains and Kinderstube and BAKS+ for all the German language support that our kids received in California. A shout-out also to Oma for ensuring a steady stream of German children’s books over the years!! They aren’t used to doing dictations or having as many tests as they have here, but their German is strong enough that they’re both completely at home speaking with their teachers and classmates, and for schoolwork they are doing just fine overall. Both of them have some catch-up to do on capitalization and spelling in German – one day a week is still not quite the same as full time school. And both of them find English class to be a riot, as it is entirely too easy and also focused on British English. “Why do you say ‘I have got a sister’? That’s not necessary, just say ‘I have a sister,'” complains an exasperated/amused Fruitbat. I don’t know, but you better get all 1’s in English, girl!!

All in all, the school part of this adventure – the main reason we’re here! – is going really well. The independence of strolling around the block to school is fantastic for all of us. Both kids have made friends, and Schatzi has already been to two birthday parties, which alleviates my anxieties about whether they’d fit in or be miserable outcasts (mom fears). We didn’t realize we could opt out of Religion class, so that’s been interesting – we are not religious – but we hope that some familiarity with the Bible will be useful in future literature classes. And Herbstferien (fall break) is right around the corner…

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