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The Secret of German Education: Giant Cones of Treats

Schultute

Schultüten ready for the first day of school. (Photo: ariesa66/Pixabay)

For the last few days, your Facebook feed has probably been swamped with photos of your friends’ kids looking excited (or sullen) about going back to school. They’ve got their new outfits, they’ve got their backpacks, and they’ve got their pristine new school supplies.

But unless they live in Germany or Austria, or in nearby parts of Poland and the Czech Republic, they’re probably missing a key element: the Schultüte, a giant cone full of candy and presents.

Kids in German-speaking countries get Schultüten (the name literally means “school bags” but is now more likely to refer to “paper candy cones”) on their first ever day of school. First-graders are on the small side, so in many cases the Schultüte is nearly as tall as they are. It’s like your back-to-school outfit came with a loaded Christmas stocking.

Class with Schultuten, 1942

Class in Haynrode, Germany with Schultüten, 1942. (Photo: Gerhard Haubold/WikiCommons)

The Schultüte tradition isn’t as old as Christmas stockings, but it’s old– nearly 200 years old. The first recorded cone-shaped Schultüten came from Jena, in the German state of Thuringia, in 1817. Dresden and Leipzig also had Schultüte traditions in the early 1800s, and the practice gradually spread through the country. During Germany’s divided period, East German Schultüte tended to be hexagonal, while Western ones were round.

Here’s a few decades’ worth of children overbalanced by their giant cones of treats.

1917:

Girl with Schultute, 1917

Girl with Schultüte, 1917. (Photo: Agentursgebert/Pixabay)

1936:Boy with Schultute, 1936

A 7-year-old schoolboy named Heinrich Bruno Wittig with his Schultüte, 1936. (Photo: Lx 121/WikiCommons)

1940:Class with Schultuten, 1940

A class at Volksschule Haynrode with their Schultüten, 1940. (Photo: Gerhard Haubold/WikiCommons)

1951:

Boy with Schultute, 1950

A small boy with a large Schultüte, 1951. (Photo: Deutsche Fotothek/WikiCommons)

These days, kids usually get their Schultüten at home, but originally they might have picked them from a tree in the schoolyard. A tree full of ripe Schultüten, they were told, meant it was time for the school year to start. (There’s no better way to get children excited about going to school than fooling them into thinking the school trees produce candy and presents. They must have been so disappointed the rest of the year.)

Schultuten in a tree

Wow, school is great! (Photo: Pixabay/Public Domain)

If you want to import this tradition, good news—it’s not hard to DIY a Schultüte for your kid, or someone else’s kid, or just to hang on trees around your neighborhood like some kind of benevolent Blair Witch. There are plenty of tutorials online, including a Star Wars-themed Schultüte and one shaped like an ice cream cone.

If you want the joy without going to all that trouble, though, you can just watch this adorable German child open hers: