German High School Primer #3 – Getting School Supplies

by Kat Nickola

“You got a letter from the school!” I yell.

“Wow, mom.” Eyes rolling. My fourteen-year old daughter is less excited than I am.

I open it. “Cool. It’s a code to log in to the Rheinland-Pfalz website and see your school book list.”

“That’s fancy.”

“Looks like we could just rent them.”

My children are attending a German Secondary School for the first time this year. This is the third article in my German High School Primer series about our experience.

Parents Buy or Rent School Books

It’s parent responsibility to get the school books in most public schools in Germany. So, I used the code in that letter to login to the Rheinland-Pfalz (our state) book lending website; it specified the books needed for each class.

The site also had the option of renting our textbooks quite cheaply. All workbooks need to be purchased, though. The state also has a free program for those financially unable to get their books.

In the end, I decided to buy all our kids’ books from Amazon – used. That way, they can mark up the books with whatever translations and notes they may find useful. Some of the science and social studies books are used for multiple grades, too, so it seemed like a good investment.

| Military in Germany

“What about supplies?” My daughter asks.

“Well, your advisor said to wait until you went to class. I guess each teacher will have a supply list.”

I was wrong. There were no lists. Her 9th-grade teachers didn’t much care what sort of supplies the students used, as long as they had a method for note-taking.

We got spiral A4 notebooks for each of her classes – grid paper for maths and sciences. But after a couple of months, she switched to a single multi-subject spiral notebook for all subjects together. Other kids in her class have similar notebooks, ring binders, or even ipads for their work.

| Military in Germany

She was able to choose her elective (Wahlpflichtfächer): Fitness (Sport und Gesundheit). The other classes are set by the school, though there are different levels within each subject.

I got an email in mid-July with her list of classes: German (Deutsch), Art (Kunst), Math (Mathematik), English (Englisch), Social Studies (Gesellschaftslehre), Ethics (Ethik), PE (Sport), Chemistry(Chemie), Biology (Biologie), and Physics (Physik). Yep, three sciences!

The Massive Supply List

My son is in the 6th grade, and he did receive a massive supply list in addition to his book list. There were art supplies, clothes for sport class, pencils and pens, cases, and lots of specific notebook information.

| Military in Germany

His 6th grade classes are also set by the school, but there are not differentiated levels for each subject. He got to choose an elective, and we opted for German as a Second Language (DaZ – Deutsch als Zweitsprache) since he is starting with no German language knowledge. He attends DaZ as a replacement for Deutsch.

The other classes on his list were: Natural Science (Naturwissenschaften -Nawi), Social Studies (Gesellschaftslehre), Music (Musik), English (Englisch), Math (Mathematik), Art (Kunst), Ethics (Ethik), PE (Sport), and his elective: Woodshop (Technischeswerk).

The lower levels of the secondary school – 5th and 6th grade – are called the Orientierungsstufe. This literally translates as the Orientation level, so they focus on teaching organizational skills. There is a strict color-coded system to the supplies: Math class is light blue, Social studies is orange, Science is dark green, etc.

But, dark green what?

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Armed with our google-translated list, my son and I went shopping downtown. We slowly checked things off the list. But the color-coded notebooks were proving difficult to find.

For math he needed: “DIN A4 kariert / Rand, umschläge: rot”

Translated, that reads: “size A4 grid / border, envelope: red”

DIN means Deutsches Institut für Normung, or German Institute for Standardization. They are the folks who define specifications for stuff that needs to be exact in Germany. This runs the gamut from hose clamp sizes for your washing machine, to the functional areas in a hospital, to paper size.

We wandered around the top floor of a bookstore called Thalia looking for a red notebook with grid paper and a border. We simply had no luck with that combination, so we finally had to ask.

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“Hallo, sprechen sie English?” I ask a female employee. I’m learning German, but not quickly enough.

“Yes, of course,” she answers.

“We need help finding these supplies.” I point to the list.

“Ah, yes, they are here.”  She leads us around the same display of notebooks that we have scoured for the last twenty minutes. All the grid paper notebooks are either maroon or blue.

“Yes, but fore Math it must be red?”

Here, she gives a little chuckle. “Aha, yes. For that you must buy a notebook cover.”

She leads us around the edge of the display where there are hanging files of flimsy plastic sheets in all the colors of the rainbow. “These go over the notebook.”

| Military in Germany

So, we bought a specific type of heft (notebook) for each subject and a specifically-colored plastic cover for each of them. At home, we labeled them for each class.

Once school started, we discovered that he also needed a matching ‘folder’ for each class which wasn’t listed, but apparently obvious and implied to a German parent. We returned to Thalia and found that the same flimsy plastic material comes as a two-hole punch binder (in matching colors, of course). That’s what we needed.

At the beginning of the school year in September many German stores are stocked with supplies. We saw big displays of school supplies in grocery stores like Lidl and Aldi, ‘stuff’ stores like Tedi and Picksraus, and large department stores like Globus and Marktkauf.

There are also specialty stores that carry school supplies all year. We visited Thalia downtown Kaiserslautern. Other good year-round options are Müller, Bunte Hunde, and McPaper.

When it comes to book buying, Thalia, Müller, and Globus will fulfill orders via an email service. You can also order on; we did this to find them cheap and used.


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