Berchtesgaden ES History

Opened: 1953
Closed: 1993

Berchtesgaden American Elementary School began in 1953 as a two-room school for grades K-8. One room had grades one through four, and the second room had grades five through eight. High school students attended school in Munich as dorm students. The principal the first year was Gwendolyn Millet and there were sixty-six students enrolled. The school and housing were on Stangass Kaserne which also contained the headquarters building. Many military families and school staff lived in local homes that had formerly been dwellings for high-ranking members of the local Nazi party and Hitler’s staff.

Some students were housed on Strub Kaserne. The Stangass Kaserne was very small. It had only one road that circled inside creating a large grass field in the center. Housing and headquarters were on the outside of the circle. The school was in the center surrounded by the grass field. Students who lived on this Kaserne walked to and from school and home for lunch while students who lived in Strub were bused and stayed at school to eat their lunch brought from home.

Later, the school building had three rooms that included a principal’s office, a secretary’s area, a lobby, two relatively large classrooms, and a library which also doubled as a classroom. One of the large classrooms housed grades six through eight and the other housed grades K-3. Students in grades three/four were taught their “academics” in the morning by the teaching principal and went to the K-3 teacher in the afternoon for art, music, and other specialists. Kindergarten students only attended in the morning. The secretary, a German gentleman, wore many hats- secretary, bus driver and host nation teacher. If a family arrived with high school aged students, they attended an international school outside of Salzburg, Austria.

The school was still a K-8 school with approximately thirty-two students for the 1983-84 school year. There were four students in grades six through eight. The previous year there were two full time teachers and a teaching principal for the thirty-five students.

An annual event at the school was the Christmas Program/Play/Pageant. This was an evening production attended by parents. The program consisted of presentations involving all students in each of the classrooms and a presentation in German that engaged all the students.

There were several unique opportunities for the students at Berchtesgaden Elementary School. On Fridays, during ski season, all students and the two teachers loaded on the school bus driven by the secretary/bus driver/host nation teacher and went up to Skytop, the AFRC ski area to ski – a wonderful natural way to incorporate physical education instruction. The students and teachers arrived at the ski area when hotel guests were at lunch, so the slopes were empty when they stepped off the bus. Several instructors from the AFRC ski school would meet the students, put them in groups by their skiing level and take them on the slopes for ski lessons. Martha Brown, a teacher at the school in 1983-84, reported that it was amazing to see how quickly the students who had never been on skis became quite proficient.

Hinterbrand Lodge, the DoDDS Europe outdoor education facility for high school students, was located in the Berchtesgaden area. Middle-school-age students from Berchtesgaden had the opportunity to visit Hinterbrand to participate in outdoor education activities when other school groups were not there. The students were engaged in team-building activities, orienteering, snowshoeing, and other outdoor challenges.

In the spring of 1984, Mrs. Brown’s middle school students took a week-long study trip to Belgium. This trip was offered by the Deutsches Bundesband and Berchtesgaden was the only American school to participate. The group boarded a special train in Berchtesgaden quite early in the morning and traveled all day to reach their destination. They were housed in rooms at an inn on the North Sea and took guided day trips to Brugge and various other sites. One memory that stood out for Mrs. Brown was the reaction of two of her students to the North Sea. The students, a brother and sister, were very excited when they saw the North Sea. They asked if it was an ocean. When it was explained that it was the North Sea, they said they didn’t care and took off running and jumping into the water. They didn’t seem to mind that it was April, and the water was freezing.

The school enrollment continued to be between thirty and forty students until the school closed in 1993.


Information from Martha Brown, educator; Jerry Popovice, student; and DOD School Information Guides

Share This: