The German school bag: Schulranzen

30 Aug 2020

The German school bag: Schulranzen is a real rite of passage in every German child's journey to school. As a foreigner, I was shocked by their price and their almost mandatory nature. Here is a little more about the Schulranzen, their history, design and current status in schools around Germany. 

Schulranzen: The German school bag

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Der Schulranzen is the name for the German-style school bag. There are a few other names for it in different parts of the German-speaking world: Schulmappe, Schulsack or Schultasche. All of these words more or less mean school bag. Schul(e) = school Ranzen = satchel.


Historically, the school bag has developed from the backpack, of course. It was not until the end of the 19th century that the school satchel became widespread. The current ergonomic lightweight satchel made of nylon is based on an invention from the Austrian Georg Essl III in the 1960s. 

Schulranzen: the German school bag


Until the mid-1970s, school satchels were made almost exclusively of leather and linen, sometimes also laminated with fur (mostly calf and cow skin). Since the mid-1970s, school bags have mainly been made from textile fabrics and plastics. 
The new school bag is made of a tear-resistant, waterproof nylon fabric and remains consistently light. In addition, the weight is lower. The bag is also easier to carry due to its portrait format instead of the usual landscape format (like the one we still use in France) and thus contributes to avoiding postural damage for students, allegedly. The back plate is padded, the shoulder straps wide and also padded. The inside of the bag is stiffened. This is one of the main differences with traditional backpacks. This way, the books are protected and their weight can be distributed appropriately. Bottom protection corners help to protect the bag from the outside. Fluorescent reflectors also increase the child's road safety as most German school kids travel to school on foot (often on their own). 

Traditionally, the school bags for girls and boys were different. With traditional leather or linen satchels, boys 'satchels had a long flap, while girls' satchels had a short flap. Sadly, the traditionally gender-specific design of school satchels has largely been preserved (but that is a debate for another day and definitely not German-specific). 

The German school bag: Schulranzen


Prices are, to me, a French citizen living in Germany at the time, crazy expensive. A good quality Schulranzen can reach prices around €250. Common mainstream manufacturers include Scout, Ergobag, Herlitz or McNeill. Here are a few examples of typical Schulranzen on the market today. 


There are, however, great deals to be had if you look early or late enough. Most German families buy their Schulranzen very very early on the year before their child starts school (February is when stores have their promotions around here). But previous years models sell for much cheaper and the second-hand market is also a great place to look. 

Personal opinion

The justification for those bags is that they are not just simple backpacks but reinforced from all sides and sturdy and safe. In addition, they will last a really long time. Personally, I find this does not justify the cost. To me, this is all just a big marketing trick. You can find really good backpacks also reinforced for half the price. French school kids carry 'cartables' that are also sturdy and last just as long for around €50-€70 (for a very nice one). My daughter had one of those French-style bag that lasted 3 years and was still perfectly usable when we changed. She wanted something more grown-up for her 4th year of school. Most German kids will also change bag after a few years, so yes it may last a while but your child won't want it forever anyway. I have heard of so many families who change after two years. Not buying one will definitely make your child stand out though and I realise this is entirely personal. You know your child best. 

If you want to learn more about the very important phase in a child's life that is the Einschulung. Take a look at this article.

Einschulung: starting school in Germany

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