During the first Fulbright Teacher Exchange Year in 1990-91 when I taught English as a Second Language in Neresheim, our son, Thomas, turned seven in February. His younger sister, Emily, turned three at the beginning of the Fulbright year in July of 1990. She attended a German kindergarten which in Germany was for children aged 3-5 and was considered private and not part of the German public schools which formally begin with first grade. The fees for kindergarten were nominal and Emily enjoyed her time there. The photo of the birthday party had the theme of the then-popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles so my husband visited and brought along the tablecloth and napkins using the theme of the Turtles. We celebrated at the restaurant belonging to the Spielberger family in Schweindorf where we also lived during that year. Horst and Hilde became the best German parents for our two children and to this day, we consider them our second family, our beloved German family.
Before attending the Grundschule or elementary school in Koesingen, I was told to purchase Hausschuhe or slippers for our son. I found this to be very different from US school requirements. When I asked why he needed slippers for school, I was told that all the children left their outdoor shoes and boots outside the classroom door and changed into slippers for school and thus learned to keep the school floor clean. The next item, also different from US schools, was the Schultuete or a paper cone used to hold sweets and little presents given to children in Germany on their first day at school. After inquiring about these paper cones, I was told by my German colleagues that I could put inside everything the child needed for school such as paper, notebooks, pencils, pens, etc.
Our son’s first day of school was on a Saturday morning, and parents were expected to be in attendance as well. While the new first graders sat diligently in the front of the room drawing and coloring pictures, the teacher addressed all the parents. Manners were very important lessons to be learned, and all the first graders shook their teacher’s hand at the beginning of the day outside the classroom door when they all said Guten Morgen or Guten Tag. At the end of the morning before lunch time when the students left school for the day, they removed the slippers, donned regular shoes or boots and again they shook their teacher’s hand and said goodbye or Auf Wiedersehen. The class photo was taken at the elementary school with Tom’s combined class of first and second graders. The Schultuete was opened at home after school was over.
Koesingen was a tiny village of 200 at the time and home of a famous person in the US, Oscar Mayer. After leaving Germany, Mayer became rich and famous in the US making hot dogs. His village still honors him with a special street and town square named after him. It is from this village that Mike, the guinea pig, originated. He was given our son for his 7th birthday and eventually traveled with us back to the US after our Fulbright year was completed.