Final exams

In Friedberg Castle there is a secondary school of the type known in Germany as a “Gymnasium” — not the same as the English word! This type of school is supposed to cater to roughly the upper third of German pupils, and at the end they have final exams to determine if they are awarded a certificate called Abitur (or Abi for short), which entitles them to go on to university.

You always know when it’s exam time at one of these schools, because the walls are covered with big signs, often written on old bed sheets, giving words of encouragement to the pupils as they go in for their exams.

I found this first one interesting because it is written in three languages:

  • “Allez allez Eva” in French;
  • “Hajde svojim putem, idi dalje uz naše zagrljaje pa da kažeš: “Maturu sam dobio” – nije to sala, nije to sala” in what I believe is Bosnian or Croatian or Serbian. It means more or less: “Go on your way, go further from our embrace and say that you graduated, it is not a trifle, not a trifle.” (Perhaps someone can improve on this machine translation?)
  • and then three lines of good wishes in German.

Some arch-conservative Germans were no doubt unhappy about this, because they still can’t admit that Germany is a country full of immigrants, most of whom are here to stay. And some of the children of immigrants even attend good schools and get their Abitur, just like the children of well-to-do Germans.

Stay cool. We believe in you.

Now who do you suppose “M.v.E.-E.” might be? If you knew right away that these are the initials of an Austrian writer named Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916), then you knew a lot more than I did — I had to click around a bit before finding her. Her aphorism Gelassenheit ist eine anmutige Form des Selbstbewusstseins means roughly “Calmness is a graceful form of self-confidence.” In other words (paraphrased probably by this pupil’s parents): “Stay cool. We believe in you.”

“Go Tolga! Today Abi, tomorrow the world.”

To us older folks, this one has unpleasant connotations, but I doubt if the people who made this banner had any bad intentions. The banner reminded me of the chorus of an old Nazi marching song from the 1930s: Denn heute gehört uns Deutschland / Und morgen die ganze Welt. This means: “For today Germany belongs to us / And tomorrow the whole world.”

On my first visit to Germany, in the 1960s, I met a repentant ex-Nazi who assured me that as a member of the Hitler Youth thirty years earlier he had believed this quite literally. “If we had really conquered the whole world, we would have spent the rest of our lives in Brazil or someplace, running other people’s countries. We would never have been able to settle down at home.”

“Full speed to your Abi! We believe in you, Larissa!”

My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2021.

See more posts on Friedberg, Germany.

8 thoughts on “Final exams”

  1. Funny, the picture of the typical German character doesn’t embrace public shows of emotion written on old bed sheets! I hope it doesn’t catch on over here, it’s bad enough seeing “Alan/John/Sue is 40 today” draped from road bridges!

  2. I’d love to memorize the lovely aphorism by M. v. E.-E! The only sentence in German I know by heart is “ich hätte gerne einen Kaffee.” It’s helpful, though!

    1. Traditionally you would have been put in a “Realschule” or a “Hauptschule”, but these are rapidly going out of fashion. Currently, more and more integrated secondary schools are being established, as these allow pupils to defer the decision about their academic future.

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