German Language Blog

School life in Germany: The former German Democratic Republic Posted by on Apr 10, 2012 in Culture

How do German students spend their days in school? Of course, they attend classes, sit tests, and prepare for their graduation. But how does this exactly look like?

Although schooling is more or less a worldwide operation I have recognized that there are still significant differences between countries. For example, in France the satus quo is full-time school and in several countries, scattered around the globe, students have to wear school uniforms.

Indeed, I find it quite difficult to give a “unitary” overview of German school life because the different types of school are already that diverging that even I, as a German, do not dare to claim that there is something like a common life in schools, thus, I can only provide insight into my own experiences.

Since I was born in the former German Democratic Republic, a socialist regime with a dictatorial government, I got to know a school life that was definitely distinctive to today’s school life. The first two school years, I was not only taught in reading, writing, and math but also how to live perfectly a particular political idea – communism. It was aimed that I would become a so-called Thälmann Pionier (pioneer) – a person who worships solidarity and who is always willing to act on behalf of the community. Maybe one could find such a point of view praiseworthy but is it really praiseworthy when you have to give up individuality?

School uniforms are still proscribed in Germany – because of Nazi Germany, when the achievement of the uniformity of the masses was highly valued. School uniforms were also a taboo in the former German Democratic Republic (for the same reason) but in order to “strike the balance” between Germany’s cruel past and the political idea of communism, the government of the GDR made sure that equality was, at least, partly recognized by attire. So, students had to wear uniform sports gear, which, on the one hand, indicated their membership of school and, on the other hand, made it easier to distinguish competing schools at sporting events.

Other garments that students had to wear on special occasions were a blouse and scarf. So-called Jungpioniere (Youth Pioneers) – from grade 1 to 3 – had to wear white blouses and blue scarfs.  Genuine Thälmann-Pioniere (Thälmann Pioneers) – from grade 4 to 7 or 8  – had to wear a red scarf instead of a blue one.

As you can see in this picture, there were complete pioneer uniforms but I think only active members of the Ernst-Thälmann-Pioneer-Organisation had to wear the whole uniform – skirts for girls and pants for boys. “Normal” or “inactive” members had only the shirts and scarfs.

Students had to wear these garment on Pioneer Days, when the socialist idea was celebrated. These festivities were topped off with flag ceremonies, speeches, and the handing in of our waste material collections. It was a bon ton for students to collect bottles and old newspapers and bring them on these days.

I am happy that I hadn’t had to experience this my whole school life because the flag ceremonies and speeches usually bored me to death and I did not like to collect waste material at all. Another reason why I am happy that Germany re-unified in 1989/90 is the fact that I hadn’t had to attend school on Saturdays anymore, what justifiably annoyed me a lot because all adults could rest the whole weekend and students had to attend school on Saturday until lunch.

Of course, there are much more characteristics of the school life of the former German Democratic Republic, but to focus on every detail would go beyond the scope of a single blog entry. So, I am confident that this is not the last post on this topic.

Tags: , , ,
Keep learning German with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


  1. A’laa:

    I was looking for a web that would help me learning Germany so what i am suppose to do?

  2. Pius:

    Interesting reading.

  3. marick:

    Very interesting….. I would really love to hear more about the GDR. Thanks!

  4. Guy:

    Yes, very interesting. My wife’s aunt lives in Waltersdorf (bei Zittau), also lived through this era in Germany. It is very interesting each time we visit with her, to hear how life was, and is for her, today.

  5. Sandra Rösner:

    Hello everybody,

    A’laa, here you can find our free software:

    I will think of “my” past, when there’s something worthy to write about you’ll find it here.

  6. Jong Minnich:

    I simply wished to thank you so much yet again. I am not sure the things that I would’ve tried without the actual solutions provided by you on my problem. Entirely was a real terrifying crisis for me, nevertheless encountering a skilled technique you resolved that forced me to weep with delight. I’m happy for your assistance as well as hope you really know what an amazing job you have been carrying out educating the others using your web site. More than likely you have never met all of us.

  7. Robert. Srebrianski.:

    Guten tag,
    Very interesting reading. I was in GDR just before wall came down. I enjoyed my visit immensely.
    Lovely people, And lovely country. I would like to return to Germany some day. Robert.

  8. Sam-in-Oz:

    Hi Blogger, I am writing from Canberra Australia. We have had a lot of wind the last month and I’ve only just been able to connect to the internet. Thanks for the great article. It assisted me a lot with my TAFE social studies assignment 🙂