Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

My School Days

Every country as  its own particular educational system. The German system in my youth was very different the American one at that time. School started at the age of 6. There may have been some private kindergartens but no public ones. From six to fourteen a child attended  public school. When public school was completed, the alternatives were to enter a trade school or learn a trade in a private concern. Whoever could afford it went on to a private school, which were not very expensive. They also admitted children on  scholarship it the child  showed scholarly aptitude. I started school in 1916 in the middle of  World War I. There were about fifty children in my class. In all schools, boys and girls were separated according to sex. My school was about fifteen minutes from home there was neither public transportation available or school buses. (School buses were unknown.)  I attended that school for only six months; that winter my serious life-threatening illness put an end to my school studies. I did not return to school for six months, until spring 1917. I was enrolled in a lyceum close to our apartment building. A lyceum was a school for girls and can be compared to a combination of elementary and high school in America. Graduation occurred at sixteen. Many of the girls went on to business schools or teachers’ colleges. This school was  situated in an old building in back of an apartment house. The wood staircases were narrow and the corridors dark and winding. It certainly was a fire trap, but the building code must have been very lax. Often there was no coal available, and we sat in our coats and gloves and shivered, until we would be sent home to our enjoyment because this was the last year of the war. We went to school from either eight or nine in the morning to one or two in the afternoon. Around noon a meal was served for undernourished children until long after peace was declared. The Quakers supported the food program. For many children it was the only warm notorious meal they received.         

We were fifty students in the class and strictly disciplined. My favorite teacher was Emmy Kraft, a history teacher. How could I ever forget her name. Her initials were scratched onto every surface of my room. I had a real crush or in more scientific terms she became my role model. In my eyes she was beautiful, tall blond, and blue eyed. History remained forever my favorite subject. There was another teacher whose name I have forgotten She taught English and French and I was so afraid of her that I would forget everything I studied the previous day as soon as she entered the classroom. It was a nightmarish year; later  learned that she had the same influence on other students. I  never told my parents about her: I my time one did not complain about teachers.      

When I was twelve years old I changed schools. That was an important break in the school system; either one remained in the lyceum until sixteen or transferred at sixteen to a gymnasium. Few female students went to the gymnasium, and there were only four or five in Berlin for female students. If one wanted to attend university gymnasium was obligatory; graduation occurred at nineteen. I not only learned French and English but also had six years of Latin. At that time German medical schools required Latin. There was only one gymnasium that was co-educational. It was called  “The Cloister,”  after the old building it which it was housed. Emphasis was not only on Greek and Latin, but also on the sciences and mathematics. The Cloister accepted only two or three female students. Great men in science and politics, such as Otto von Bismarck had graduated from The Cloister.  But I absolutely refused to attend, preferring a more relaxed atmosphere of the 2. [Zweite?] Staetische Studienanstalt. In the last two years of Gymnasium there were only eight students in the class which meant that I had to do careful preparation each day. The school had some outstanding teachers, but I was never lucky enough to study under them. The curriculum was uniform for all students; there was no choice. To graduate the dreaded abiturium, a written as well as oral examination, was required. No celebrations or proms were held to mark graduation. Undergraduate education just ceased and with it came a sense of emptiness, a let down. That ended when Ibegan my  university education in the field I had chosen, medicine. Here one was completely free to attend any lectures one wished in addition to  required courses. College as we know it in the United States did not exist in Germany. We were considered adults and there was no supervision except by one's parents, if one lived at home; most students did remain with their parents. I believe it had a negative impact on our education, also our personality development, and it interfered with the formation of friendships.         

On the I whole, however, I feel that we got a more rounded  education in languages, history, geography, mathematics, sciences, and the liberal arts,  including music and the visual arts. They were taught in a continuous curriculum, and became more complicated and detailed as we became older. Politics were discussed with great passion, since the 1920's were very difficult times in Germany. I personally was greatly relieved when my (undergraduate) school life was finished. To this day, I even have occasional nightmares about school.


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