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How Germany is Able to Produce Such Talented Designer/Builders at Such a Young Age

For those who have seen a lot of student design work in America, the quality of student work coming out of Germany can seem staggeringly high in comparison. At the ICFF in New York you'll see some nice pieces from American design schools, the students standing behind them maybe 20, 21 years old. At Holz-Handwerk in Germany you'll spot something that's practically a masterpiece, and find out that the kid who created it is barely 18.

How is this possible? Well, we first need to understand that the German educational system is radically different from America's. As an example, your average American design student of 18 is a freshman who's taking their first Foundation courses and won't even get to touch a table saw until sophomore year. In Germany, someone who's 18 might already have three years or more of shop experience.

That's because Germany has a system of placing students in different "tracks" from a relatively young age. From age six to roughly age ten, all German students are in the same sort of primary school. But after that, their paths begin to diverge as they enter one of three types of secondary school:


This is for kids who are going to college (er, "university"). It's basically a prep-school for university. The emphasis at a Gymnasium is on academic learning, and kids will spend nine years studying here, meaning they get out one year later than what would be the 12th grade in America, at around 19 years of age. Approximately 30% of German kids attend Gymnasium.


The majority of German kids--some 40%--are tracked into a Realschule. While this is technically below a Gymnasium in terms of academic standards, it still offers education of a higher quality than American high schools. (Well, these days, what doesn't….) Kids in a Realschule get their diploma around 16 or 17 and can then enter the workforce or pursue more specialized schooling.


The next 30% of kids are tracked into a Hauptschule. These provide a general education while preparing students to enter vocational trades, and it is here that they learn Arbeitslehre ("Introduction to the world of work"), which is absent in the two other types of schools. Hauptschule students can finish their education as early as 15, at which time they can enter the workforce, gain an apprenticeship or attend an upper secondary trade school to study a particular specialty. Chances are high that a furniture designer/builder in Germany attended a Hauptschule.

In my opinion, this is a brilliant system. I realize it can sound abhorrent to entitled American parents who like telling their kids that they can all run for President (which is of course ridiculous; not everyone is cut out to tell campaign trail lies while blowing through hundreds of millions of dollars). And the explanation I was given of the German system is that the country pragmatically understands that society needs doctors and garbagemen, lawyers and plumbers, engineers and construction workers. Each of these professions have value and contribute to the greater good in their own way, and it makes good sense to prepare each trade for their work at an early age. I believe that this contributes to the high levels of competence that one witnesses across all levels in Germany.

In a nutshell, that explains how a talented designer in Germany could start gaining shop experience from a very early age, and how his or her skills could be so advanced compared to, say, a same-aged ID sophomore at RISD. It's also possible for a German designer/builder to have attended a Gymnasium, subsequently attended university and majored in proper Industrial Design, which would put him or her at the same skill level at roughly the same age as their American counterparts. But attending a Hauptschule essentially gives them a head start, and lets them avoid studying a lot of topics that might not be needed in their later work.

Lastly I should say, what I've laid out here are the broad strokes of German education, which may quickly become outdated. In recent years there have been experimental hybrid or alternative secondary schools popping up, as in liberal Berlin. Also, these tracks are not final sentences; it's possible, if statistically unlikely, for students in any of the three tracks to transfer or to wind up in fields alongside students from a different track.

Next we'll show you some of the fine work that students who have gone through the Hauptschule system, and subsequently attended an upper secondary trade school, have produced and put on show at Holz-Handwerk. We've also got an upcoming interview from an educator who explains how his school produces master craftspeople. Stay tuned!

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Germany Building Bicycle-Only Highway That Will Link Ten Cities

The ADFC is Germany's bicycle advocacy group, and they've come up with a funny term: MAMIL, which stands for Middle-Aged Man in Lycra. What they're referring to are studies that show it's typically macho dudes in their 30s and 40s who feel most safe riding a bike, particularly in adverse conditions; the number of bike-riding females, elderly, and well-parented children are kept down due to safety concerns.


"With MAMILs only, you cannot build a cycling nation," the ADFC states. "[There must be] younger and older people, fathers with children on their way to school, well-dressed women on their way to work, girlie girls in pink, ministers and doctors, teenagers on their way to sports training, musicians with double basses on their backs, elderly ladies on their way to the library [all riding bikes]."

If you hit the "studies" link above, you'll find another study reporting that "in European cities with separated bicycle infrastructure, women account for 50% of riders." In other words, bike lanes bring equality. And now there's good news for the ADFC, as well as the residents in the Ruhr region of Germany: The country is launching a 100-kilometer (62-mile) fully-paved roadway dedicated entirely to bikes, no cars allowed.

This "bicycle Autobahn," as Phys.org is calling it, will be located in the densest part of Germany. The Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area has a population exceeding 12 million people spread over nearly a dozen cities, and thus this super bike lane will connect ten cities and four universities.

Almost two million people live within two kilometres of the route and will be able to use sections for their daily commutes, said Martin Toennes of regional development group RVR.
Aided by booming demand for electric bikes, which take the sting out of uphill sections, the new track should take 50,000 cars off the roads every day, an RVR study predicts.

For now the bikeway has been kicked off with a 5-kilometer stretch that's 4 meters (13 feet) wide, as the rest of the path is projected to be; in order to complete the remaining 95 kilometers, financing is required. At €180 million (USD $197 million) the bikeway isn't cheap, and the question of whom will pay for it must be negotiated. So far the RVR is off to a good start: While they paid for 20% of the initial run, they got the local state government to pay for 30% and the EU to pick up the rest. With any luck, the ADFC will soon get their wish of seeing MAMILs and non-MAMILs alike all pedaling to work.

It's not really called the "bicycle Autobahn," by the way; the cycleway's official name is the RS1 or Radschnellweg, which I believe translates to something like "Fast cycleway." (Can any of our German-speaking readers clarify?)

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