Two months before six-year-old Zara started school in London in 2020, her grandmother Germany He was planning a special surprise for the little girl: a School Cone Giant, or “school cone”, a type of card cornucopia traditionally received by German children on the first day of school.
In many German families, this tradition has been honored by every generation they remember. The contagious or practical question of how to get a great gift to London is not going to break the chain.
German school cones look like a very simple gift: a large decorated cardboard cone, filled with sweets, stationery and toys.
But in the last two centuries, they have occupied a unique place in German culture The most loved and deeply symbolic gift From one generation to the next A powerful cultural and psychological subject.
German parents donated school cones During the two world wars, In the ruins of post-war cities and in the decades since the country was divided.
In good times, cones were filled with fancy goodies; At worst, potatoes, or nothing. The conch itself was a gift.
For many Germans, they are The final symbol for the start of school And enter a new phase of life.
Jacqueline, Zara’s German mother, who works as a coach in London, says: “For our family, it would not have been possible to start a school without a school cone. “I can not imagine without one, it’s a way to sweeten the first day of school.”
In his native Saxony, the cone is presented as part of a larger celebration with a ceremony at school and a feast at home. This is something I missed in the UK: “Here, the first day of school is only the first day of school.”
Bettina Nessler, the family of the owner of Nestler Feincardonogen, Germany’s largest maker of school cones, describes the school’s entrance ceremony as “like a small wedding”.
In Saxony, where Nestl is located, the cones are particularly lush and planned a year in advance.
The cone itself, is known in some areas Sugar bag (“Sugar cone”), Even in January, classes are ordered to start in September.
It is believed that Saxony, East Germany, The practice of giving the conch began.
In one of the first notes on the tradition, the son of a shepherd in Saxony recalls that on his first day of school in 1781 his teacher gave him a “sugar cone.”
In those days, cones were simple, small paper bags, filled with grapes or other nuts.
Today they are 85 cm long and can be used for pictures of cars, unicorns or astronauts, flashing LED lights and even buttons that make ghee or roar when pressed.
But whether it’s a grape bag or a modern super icon, The main object remains the same.
“School Conch is a Traditional Ritual”Says Christian Kontaw, a historian and folklorist at the Commission for Daily Cultural Research in Westphalia, West Germany. “The child leaves the early years and goes to school. This fact is taken very seriously in Germany. Tradition makes it clear.”
In addition, conical markers A new special bond: “By switching to school, the child moves away from the family a little bit,” says Kantov. “With the habit of giving more cones, the family made a connection again and said, ‘Yes, now you’re a school-age child, but you are still a part of our family. We support you on this new path, and go with it.
For some The memory of that special bond will last a lifetime.
Hans-Gunder Lowe, a retired professor in Hamburg, grew up in the ruins of post-war Germany. The photo, taken on his first day at school in 1949, reveals his family’s desperate attempt to present something casual.
“I have in my hand a homemade school cone decorated with polished aluminum foil. Somehow my mom managed“He says.” She should have done it while I was asleep. “
Lowe has collected dozens of old school cones, which are now in the museum, as well as photographs documenting the heritage. He has also written a book on the history of the practice.
Then as now Starting school can trigger feelings of anxiety in children. According to research on early childhood changes, Rituals They will help you to positively face and experience the moment of change.
Research authors argue that when well managed, such changes can be “major turning points in a child’s life” and “provide challenges and opportunities for learning and development at many levels.”
In Germany, cones evoke powerful feelings of nostalgia for adults. But as Lowe’s book documents, they also reflect the country’s turbulent and violent history.
In a photo taken during the First World War, A girl like a school cone in one hand and a pomegranate in the other.
The children sent photos with their school cones to parents on the battlefield. In Nazi times, some cones had swastikas.
After World War II, when Germany was divided into the Democratic Republic of Germany (Socialist East) and the Federal Republic (Capitalist West), a new split emerged.
In western Germany, the cones were round and in the east, more angular. Decades after reunification, those differences are in line with other subtle differences between East and West German cones.
For the Bettina Nestler family, cones and their East-West history Especially deep meaning, Something intertwined with memories of loss and resistance. Nestler sighed, “What the school cone means to us is a very emotional question,” and his grandfather founded the company in 1953.
He grew up next to the factory, amidst the smell of glue. She took pride in following her ancestors in the profession: “We are part of a very special stage in a person’s life. Starting school is the most important step.”
Today, his company is heading for a new trend: Uniqueness. Parents can order custom cones printed with their child’s name or request a unique model based on individual design.
That’s what folklorist Kontaw explains The design of the cones reflects the economic fortunes of Germany More German ideas about good parenting.
In the 1950s, when the economy was recovering from the bitter post-war years, “The thing to show is that you can buy a good cone, Glossy paper, etc. “, says Kontav.
But now, for parents with a relatively prosperous and successful life in the 1980s, “Gift Time.” In particular, the time spent making a school cone: “Parents show the child that they are investing time,” he says.
In 2016, Glass, A German news magazine condemned “madness on the first day of school” and argued that parents were under the “new kind”. Performance pressure “ To create the perfect cone, this It was considered the “barometer of love”.
However, in times of crisis, making homemade cones like this can become a superpower.
Manuela Schmidt, a therapist from Wachtberg, lives near the area of West Germany that was hit by floods this summer. After hearing that Some children have lost school cones in the floods. Volunteered to produce alternatives with a team of volunteers. Dozens of families contacted her.
Hand-made cones adorned with unicorns, firefighters and planets gave a sense of hope. “It showed the children and their families that even after this catastrophe, there is going to be a day, and life is going to continue,” says Schmidt.
Schmidt’s daughter – in – law, Lillian, aged eight, proudly shows her in a video call: sky blue, a rainbow, a tree, a moon and stars. He keeps it as a souvenir. “It was a memory of my first day of school, and it was very special,” he says.
According to Zara, a London schoolgirl, the cone sent from Germany was exactly what she expected. It was just as big as Zara.
“I was so happy. I took him to sleep with me.”Said the little girl.