Stachuletz Stories: Wel-‘Cone’ to school – a German tradition for elementary kids

by Paula Stachuletz, staff writer

The “school cone” is a German tradition based on a story that children were told back in the 19th century. According to the story, teachers owned a school cone tree; and when the cones had grown big enough, it was time for the six or seven year olds to start school. Every child was handed his or her own cone as a sign that they now were “big kids,” not kindergarten children anymore.

School cones come in various shapes and sizes, but the most common ones are a little smaller than an average first-grade student. In the federal states that belonged to West Germany before the wall fell, the cones are usually round; while in East Germany, they are hexagonal. The big, open end is traditionally closed off with tulle which is tied together with colorful strings and ribbons. Parents usually spend between 50 and 100 Euros (60 – 120$) for a complete school cone.

The cones themselves are on sale a few weeks before the school year starts (depending on the federal state that can be around late July or August). They are made from cardboard or hard plastic and can be plain, uni-colored, or have pictures of animals, movie characters, fantasy creatures and cartoon figures on them. A lot of parents, like mine, actually buy plain cones and decorate them to make them more personalized for their children. In my case, my mom stayed up long nights turning my cardboard cone into a very cool one with a princess and red and pink flowers (I still have this cone and I love it). I wasn’t allowed to see it until the day my school induction ceremony took place, and even then I couldn’t open it until that event was over – I’m telling you, for a six-year-old, that seemed to take forever!

Traditionally, all the children starting school get dressed up very fancy on the day of the induction. For girls that’s usually cute dresses with bows in their hair. The boys wear a shirt, dress pants, and a flie or little tie. Then the ceremony starts with a welcome program prepared by the fourth-graders because in German elementary schools, they’re the oldest and will leave for highschool when they enter fifth grade, so it’s their goodbye and welcome for the new students at the same time. The program varies every year and at every school; it contains songs, dances, little theater performances, and speeches from teachers and the principal.

Then the newcomers line up on stage and get their cones. Because of the myth of the “school cone tree,” all the cones are hanging from a metal construction resembling a tree, and they’re “harvested” by the teachers who hand them to the kids. After that, the children are split up in the classes in which they will remain until they leave elementary school.

And of course, the cones aren’t empty. After the ceremony, children return home with their families, open the tulle, and turn the thing around so everything falls out. The cones are filled with candy, school supplies like pens or erasers, little card games or puzzles, legos, and stuffed animals. Some parents put in practical supplies like lunch boxes, water bottles, or watches, while others give their kids little books and quiz games to motivate them to learn. I remember that my cone had a big plush unicorn on top, and my little brother’s had a rabbit. We both got lots of chocolate and gummy bears, memory cards, plastic animals, CDs, and pencils.

We raided through the contents of our cones, eating way too much candy and covering the whole room in wrapping papers and string. It was so much fun. For me, the cone is one of the most exciting things about starting school in Germany.

(Stachuletz is an exchange student from Germany. She can be reached at pastachuletz@psdmail.org.)

Note on photos above: To the left is Paula’s brother’s cone, in the middle is Paula’s cone, and to the right is her school’s cone tree.

Stachuletz stories: Tell me what you think and I’ll tell you who you are

by  Paula Stachuletz, staff writer

Paula.jpg

Paula Stachuletz

How many of you are familiar with the saying: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do?” Well, this is definitely easier said than done. Sometimes people have a hard time adjusting to cultures and traditions they don’t know – and then they share their personal experiences with others, leading to some very interesting beliefs about the topic at hand.

And of course, Germany and America have developed some of those prejudices against each other as well. May I present: The most popular cliches that Germans hold against Americans!

#1 You always eat stuff from McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC etc.

Before you get confused: We have those things too, and we eat there as well. But people usually only do that once a month maximum, because it’s kind of expensive (depending on where exactly you are in Germany, a cheeseburger can be three times more expensive than in the US). Also, there’s a strong tendency to “Slow Food” coming up in Germany. Lots of people buy local fruits and vegetables and try to cook healthy meals – and our health insurances provide several programs to help us with our diet. When people here hear about American food, it almost immediately comes down to hamburgers, pizza and chicken wings. I have to admit that I really ate more of that stuff here than I ever have in my life – it is indeed very cheap and your portions are much bigger, so it’s easy to satisfy hunger. But not every American eats Fast Food on a regular basis. Sometimes, we non-Americans tend to forget that – leading straight to cliche number two:

#2 All Americans are obese

Wow, rude. I honestly can’t say much about that, but most Americans I have met aren’t fat at all. Besides, there are different body types everywhere and America is no exception, so it’s kind of mean to assume that all people are obese. I’ll definitely take that back to Germany – maybe it will change some people’s view on your society…

#3 Americans are obsessed with football

That’s also a very common cliche. If you ask a German about American sports, you will hear football as an answer in 98 percent of all cases. From what I could grasp, football is the American equivalent to soccer. There are a lot of people, especially male, who really like that sport and cheer on their team. And there are people who don’t have an affinity for it. But it’s the most famous national sport, and I really can’t deny that!

#4 Cheerleaders and football players are always the most famous kids in high school

You can thank the movie industry for that cliche. Because in most movies that include a high school, the cheerleaders are white, blond supermodels who have a bunch of male fans following them around. Football players look smoking hot, have brown hair and their fans are exclusively female. Both parties are very rude to unpopular kids and are basically the kings and queens of the school. A lot of my friends in Germany were really surprised when I told them that this is, in fact, not true. It’s a cliche that has been planted into our heads and is not willing to leave.

#5 Americans drive big cars

Well, compared to our small German cars, yes, that’s true! If you stand next to a road in Germany and look at all the different kinds of cars coming by, you rarely see a truck; mostly because we don’t really consider it necessary. We like to leave the car at home and just use public transportation or bicycles to get somewhere. Everything is much more in the same place than here in the US, so you can reach most locations without using a car.

And there are several more prejudices: You put cheese on every meal, you never serve drinks without ice, you excessively use air conditioning, you watch TV all the time, you waste a lot of resources. Most cliches aren’t friendly, and I think that’s something both Germans and Americans should take some time to consider. Of course, not every statement is true. But some of them probably don’t exist without a reason.

(Paula Stachuletz is an exchange student from Germany who is spending the year at Saegertown. You can contact her pastachuletz@psdmail.org.)

Birds with the Brooks: Anything Toucan do, I can do better!

By Payton Brooks and Tyler Brooks, social media editor and senior ornithologist

From cereal boxes to the rainforests in Central and South America, toucans can be easily identified. However, beyond the beak lies diversity among the birds themselves.

The most commonly known species is the Toco toucan (Ramphastos toco). Tocos have sleek black feathers covering their bodies and bright orange bills. They are the largest of the toucans, with males weighing in at an average of 1.594 pounds and females 1.270 pounds. They can be as long as 26 inches, which puts a massive difference between themselves and their smaller relatives, toucanets and aracaris, at almost half the size.

The beaks of toucans are made of the substance in human hair and nails: keratin. It attaches to the skull in an upper and a lower mandible and works much like one on a human. The lower jaw unhinges at the base while the upper portion cannot move, making it useful to grab food and chew.

A question bouncing around the brains of researchers, ornithologists, and common folk alike is, “Why do they have beaks like that anyway?”. There is no definite answer, but many theories exist.

One explanation may be that it is to gather fruit and other foods from trees, but that still does not explain the vibrant colors that are clearly not for suitable camouflage. It has been ruled out, however, that it is for courtship rituals as it does not differentiate between sexes. Their Old World counterparts, hornbills, also possess gaudy bills, so clearly it serves some unknown purpose.

The toucans with green bills are keel-billed toucans (Ramphastos sulfuratus), are the other well-known species of toucan, possessing a green and orange beak with a large red apex. Both Tocos and keel-bills, as well as smaller variants such as aracaris, can be owned as a pet; however, they are some of the messiest and most expensive pets out there, with most investments for a good owner being near $10,000 per toucan. These pets are still wild animals, can’t be trained easily, and have serrated bills, so it’s my highest recommendation you don’t even consider one.

While toucans are one of the most recognizable bird, they are poorly understood birds. They have a beauty and mystery smack-dab on their face, and are just overall beautiful and elegant creatures. Think about that next time you’re eating your Fruit Loops, Sam.