School Uniforms:  Germany

German schools have never required school uniforms as in Britain and other European countries. A specific school uniform seems to be more an Anglo-Saxon/Brtitish Empire institution. As a result, there is no traditional school boy dress associated with Britain as is the case of British school boy caps and blazers or Italian and French schoolboy smocks.

School uniforms were not common in Germany which is interesting as turn of the century Germans appear to have had a penchant for uniforms.  This included dress

Figure 1.--A young German boy in the early 1920s prepared for school. The sailor suit was his mother's choice, not required by the school.
styles for boys.  It was quite common to dress German boys, even older boys in sailor suits.  It is unclear to the author why uniforms were not introduced to German schools.

There were military-style uniforms at German and Austrian cadet schools. Several books and films have been set at these schools. One of the most famous books is Young Torless. Films have included Colonel Redl and the book and BBC TV serial A Legacy.

The lack of school uniforms continued after the First World War and were not worn during the Weimar and NAZI period. In the Nazi period there were uniforms for almost everybody and anyone without some kind of be-swastika-ed uniform must have felt left out. So it is curious that uniforms were not instituted for school children. Of course all the Aryan children had their Hitler Youth uniforms.

After the war there was such a general revulsion against the Nazi obsession with uniforms. The disaster of the Second World War had a profound impact on the German people and any consideration of school uniform in post-war Germany would have been impossible because of the perceived military-like enforcement of uniformity.  After the War neither the Communist East  (DDR) or the democratic West (BRD) introduced school uniforms. After the war the idea of putting another generation in any kind of uniform was certainly a deterrent in the DFR. But on the other handside: the model for the DDR was the USSR, and the children there had to wear school uniforms. The absence of required school uniforms continues in today's unified Germany.

One observer from former East Germany reports: I don’t know much about this kind of schools in Western Germany, but I am sure schools there do not have uniforms, otherwise I would have heard a little more about them. Here in Germany there is a strict separation between church and state/government. In Bavaria, a very religous part of Germany, there were recently lawsuits about crucifixes in classrooms. Some parents said that religious symbols like crucifixes violate the the right of their children for freedom of religion. They won the lawsuits, and the schools have had to remove the crucifixes, if only one student in the class demanded it.

German and Austrian choirs had uniforms. Even some schools which were related with the church, like the Thomas-School in Leipzig, home of the world-famous »Thomanerchor« (St.Thomas boys choir), were

Figure 2.--Some of the few German and Austrian schools that required uniforms were the military preparation cadet schools. The Vienna Choir Boys in the Austro-Hungarian Empire wore military uniforms.
included in the normal school-system. The choir has a uniform, but only for performances on stage, not for school. The Vienna Boys' Choir also wore military uniforms orginally both at school as well as for performances.

Modern Germany is confronting many of the same problems faced by schools in the United States and other western countries.  There is now a movement in the United States to introduce school uniforms, at least in elementary and junior high schools. Some German legislators are now suggesting that German schools introduce school uniforms.   A member of the German Parliament's children commission during April 1998 suggested that the country should consider pilot projects to assess school uniforms in Germany. The idea is to avoid the increasing problems based on the differences between kids from poor and rich families. In recent times clothing of popular brands (like Reebok, Adidas and so on) have become increasingly important, but poor families can’t provide their children with it. So an increasing number of robberies and blackmailing are being reported as young

Figure 3.--Children in the old DDR, as children in BRD, did not wear school uniforms, although on special occasions they would wear their Young Pioneer uniforms.

people try to obtain money for the in-clothing. Several incidents have been reported at schools. While not nearly as serious as in the United States, the problem appears to be growing as is of concern to German parents. .  Based on the experiences of other countries some Germans are beginning to reconsider school uniforms.

German views

I have to say that I don’t like the idea of a uniform, but I also can understand the arguments of the pro-fraction. My little brother had last year some unpleasant experiences with two older guys who thought it would be a nice idea to let him pay for the right to pass their street on his way to school. Luckily I was able to end this quite fast, but I know that other kids weren’t so successful. So the question about school-uniforms is a tough decision. I would hate to have to wear the same clothing as anyone else, but to stay objective I have to say that school-uniforms have their advantages. And neither my brother or me had and have to worry about having the money to buy the new Levi’s or not. I think most parents would like the idea, but most kids would hate it. Especially in a country where quite a lot of generations were raised without school-uniforms and a cool »image« has become more and more important especially for the teens.
Peter Conrad, April 11, 1998


Christopher Wagner
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Last updated: April 11, 1998