There is always something fascinating about historical legacies. To peek behind years and observe all kinds of developments that have progressed till date. To take account of the environment, people, values, challenges, jobs, education of that time, and compare it to the present one. A sort of graph for us humans and the way we have evolved over the course of time.
With such a thought, we begin our quest “The 10 Best Schools in Russia 2020” with the German School Moscow, an institute built amidst the reunification of Germany as the school of the German Embassy in Moscow. Since the mid-1990s, it has been named after the German-Russian physician, humanist and benefactor Friedrich Joseph Haass, the ‘holy doctor of Moscow.’
After the end of the Second World War and with the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union the Federal Republic of Germany (West) and the German Democratic Republic (East) established together with their Embassies in Moscow two German schools as part of the respective embassy.
Picture 2: The German School West in the early 60’s
Up to the reunification of Germany, one of them was a small “West German” school in the city center, with approximately hundred children. The other, a five times larger, “East German” embassy school, was located on a vast campus in the Southwest of Moscow, right next to the Diplomatic Residential Compound of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The residential complex, called “the German village”, has a capacity for more than 400 families and accommodated not only embassy staff, but also trade envoys, scientists, military specialists as well as teachers and kindergarten nurses from East Germany.
Picture 3: GDR school and residential complex in the mid 60s
With the German unification, the GDR ceased to exist and so did the East German embassy alongside its y school. Consequently, multiple organizational, pedagogical, and financial questions arose – and were solved by merging the two schools. Not an easy task, though. Two separate faculties had to be formed into a single working team and the West German curricula and graduation ‘Deutsche Abiturprüfung’ had to be implemented by the new German School Moscow within a few months.
Picture 4: to be defined
After years of highly politicized school ceremonies, communist youth organizations, and a rather authoritarian pedagogic philosophy, the former East German students had to get accustomed to the approach of new West German teachers, fostering skills like self-determination, democratic participation, critical analysis and open debates on eye level. In November 2019 former headmasters, teachers and students reported about these fascinating transition times during a “30 years Wall Fall” alumni weekend, which included several workshops, panel discussions, sightseeing tours as well as a “Fall of the Wall Party”.
Picture 5: Alumni meeting with former DSM headmaster Mr. Zeller (front in centre)
Today, an original piece of Berlin Wall stands at the entrance of the school, reminding us of those historical events 30 years ago. Within this legacy, over the years, visiting alumni testify the pedagogical and infrastructural changes.
Picture 6: Piece of Berlin Wall at the schools main entrance
Still today, the school comprises a rather unique set-up with a kindergarten, an elementary school with an attached day care center, and a secondary school with a large youth club. The diverse school community strives to provide a safe and welcoming place for individual learning and development of children of German Embassy employees and international companies, as well as entrepreneurs and small business owners of German, Russian, or other origins. The German embassy school’s vast and green territory falls under the Vienna convention for diplomatic relations of 1961 and so does the adjacent residential complex. This proximity and safety make it possible that even first graders can go to school on their own, a rare privilege in many German cities and not surely not to be expected in Europe’s largest metropolis.
Picture 7: Kindergarten
The main language throughout all departments is German and its age adequate mastery is the main prerequisite for admission. Hence it is no surprise that many children with a Russian background enter the kindergarten at a very young age and stay in the school up to the high school leaving diploma, the general entry credentials for German Universities. Many of them actively contribute to the school’s musical or sportive activities for more 15 years.
Picture 8: Picture with Mrs. Warlich and Goethe in the background
A Robust Management
In 1961 the West German Embassy handed over the daily operational and financial management of its embassy school to a non-profit organisation, the German School and Kindergarten Association Moscow, whilst providing the legal framework for its operation.
Picture 9: Vote General Assembly December 2019
Since 2017 Stephan Fittkau, a long-serving German expat in Russia, serves as the chairman of the board and contributes the necessary level of leadership, stability and control during challenging times. The daily operations of all pedagogic and processes are overseen by the headmaster Uwe Beck (OStD) while all non-pedagogic support departments are headed by Markus Mayer (MBA) in his function as managing director.
Picture 10: Uwe Beck, Stephan Fittkau, Markus Mayer
Both Mr. Beck and Mr. Mayer started in summer 2015. Due to a combination of lower economic growth numbers, a wide range of economic sanctions, and a ruble devaluation, the total number of students and kindergarten children had dropped from 600 to an all-time low of 470. Five years later the numbers have recovered to a total of over 535. It was the combined efforts of the school’s board, the pedagocical staff and the operational management team, which resulted in significant progress over the past five years.
Priorities in the pedagogical area
In the pedagogical area early childhood language acquisition was actively fostered in the kindergarten by increasing the number of educators to 30, resulting in 4,5 children per educator. Furthermore individual tutoring programs and team teaching was implemented in the elementary school. Both initiatives facilitate the smooth integration of the rising numbers of children with Russian language background and make the school less dependent on the shrinking numbers of the German expatriates in Moscow.
Picture 23 Elementary school class with ipads
In the secondary school the focus was placed on internal differentiation and individualized support in key subjects as German, English and Mathematics, as well as quality management and digitalization. Besides the daily management of a team of 55 teachers from Germany, the number one priority of Mr. Beck is the annual recruitment of qualified and motivated replacements of departing teachers. The combination of excellent working conditions, an exciting metropolis and attractive conditions result in a low turnover. German School Moscow has repeatedly won numerous awards for its excellence and it enjoys a great reputation within the international network of German embassies and schools abroad.
Picture 12: DSM teachers / summer 2019
Modernization of infrastructure
In order to further modernize the school, a state-of-the-art natural science cluster, a brand new school cafeteria and kitchen were built during the summer holidays 2017 and 2018. Furthermore between 2017 and 2019 a formerly unused “technical basement” was transformed into more than 2.000 square meters of multifunctional space underneath the school and kindergarten buildings. By doing so an entire floor was added, providing space for a youth club, band rehearsal room, multifunctional workshops and playrooms as well as storage and social space.
Picture 13: to be defined
German School Sankt Petersburg
Under the leadership of the board’s chairman Mr. Stephan Fittkau and thanks to a team of highly dedicated embassy, consulate and legal specialists, the School Associations General Assembly changed its statutes in December 2019 to enable the integration of the German School and Kindergarten in Sankt Petersburg into one Board for Russia, as a second, independent department. The school of the German Consulate-General in Sankt Petersburg was founded in 2009 from scratch and is another example for Russian-German cooperation. The branch currently has a total of 100 students and 40 children and offers the “Gemischtsprachige International Baccalaureate” (GIB) as highest degree.
Picture 14: Signing Ceremony of new statutes Stephan Fittkau and the German Ambassador Dr. Géza Andreas von Geyr
A Comprehensive Curriculum
Based on the curriculum of the Federal state of Thuringia, the dual-track German School Moscow with 12 to 22 children per class, offers three distinct levels of graduations:
- Gymnasial-Reife: The possibility to move from the elementary school into secondary modern school or high school after year 4
- Mittlerer Schulabschluss: The intermediate school leaving certificate (O grade) upon completion of year 10
- Deutsches Internationales Abitur: High school graduation upon completion of year 12
Additionally, it offers multiple programs such as after-school workshops as well as sports competitions and charity and cultural activities, providing an appropriate environment according to its slogan to be “more than just a school”.
Picture 15: Traditional Ice hockey group
And most importantly, after successful course completion, graduates enjoy Deutsche International Abitur Prüfung (DIAP), an internationally accepted and renowned school leaving qualification (certificate). They get opportunities to study in Germany, Europe or many other countries, including Russia.
Picture 16: AbiturientInnen 2019
“Hurry, to do good”
Through the above curriculum, German School Moscow plays a vital role in the intellectual life of the German-speaking community as well as in other ventures in German-Russian culture. The school community takes pride in keeping alive the legacy of its namesake “Dr. Friedrich Joseph Haass” via numerous charity projects and events.
Picture 17: Street sign revelation with former German Ambassador Rüdiger von Fritsch
Born 240 years ago in Münstereifel, Germany, Haass dedicated his life to humanize Russia’s penal system and spent all his funds to run a hospital for homeless people. Twenty thousand people attended his funeral. During the past few years the street and a bus stop at the school have been renamed after the “Holy Doctor” and the Catholic Church has launched a beatification process. A vast amount of money is always donated to a good cause. One can really feel, that generations of students, teachers and parents live up to Dr. Haass slogan: “Hurry, to do good”.
The school’s board also cares for students at a financial disadvantage, for example with:
- Lower fees, due to generous personal and financial support of the German schools abroad by the German government as well as a lease free property
- Substantial reduction for families with several children
- Individual solutions for families facing temporary financial challenges.
Picture 18: Bust of Dr. Haass at the annual DSM-winterball
German School Moscow is aware of being a guest in Russia and understands that the shared history of the two countries is always a subject of study at the school. Be it Catherine the great, the famous tsarina of German origin, the joint fight against Napoleon, the second world war or the German division, during the cold war, the history of Russia and Germany is closely related.
One of school’s landmark projects is called “Memory, Commemoration and Reconciliation” and is centered around the battle of Rshew, with more than 1 million dead and wounded on the Soviet and the German side. It brings students from Russia, Germany and the German school together. In 2016 the project even received international attention when the Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose daughters are alumni of the German School Moscow, paid a visit to the students.
Picture 19: Russian President Putin at the German school in summer 2016
Recognizing student’s development towards social and responsible action as a central task, the school instills responsibilities and abilities to resolve conflicts between students. A specialty of the school is the availability of two social workers and a third social worker as youth club manager. They provide essential support for pupils and teachers.
Furthermore, welcoming of and fare-well to nearly 70 students each year is part of the annual school routine, as the embassy and expatriate parents change periodically. A very distinctive ‘welcoming and farewell’ ethos guarantees quick absorption, helped by the three social workers and engaged parents. The culture of reverence and consideration for others, and for the services at the school, shows profound regard for children and students in general, not just on an academic level.
Picture 20: Traditional farewell ceremony to outgoing students and teachers
Democratic values and participation
In fact, the German pedagogical method, from kindergarten to final examinations and graduate education, focuses strongly on self-reliance, community effort, and democratic participation. In German schools the relationship between teachers and students or kindergarten nurses and children is rather dominated by mutual respect and a partnership on eye-level. Students, parents and teachers are organized in representation bodies and elections and debates are vital part of the annual life.
Picture 21: Election of student representation body
More than Just a School
As result of the interwoven history of both countries, a German school in Russia will always be more than “just a school”. Instead, it is a closely related community and a cultural center for students, teachers, employees, as well as parents with German, Russian and other backgrounds. To find the unique combination of excellent education and intimacy within a metropolis like Moscow comes as an unexpected surprise to many parents and teachers from Germany and from other international locations.
Picture 22: to be defined
It is a privilege for us, at The Knowledge Review, to bring forth a historical legacy that is steadily sailing towards its vision of providing an excellent level of German Education in Moscow.
Visit https://www.deutscheschulemoskau.de/ or the schools social media channels to know more.