GESS is a not-for-profit community school founded in 1971 by dedicated parents. It still owes its success and growth to the many parents who volunteer their time to school life. For over 5 decades, the volunteers of the School Association Board have made and continue to make strategic decisions for the benefit of the students. GESS is proud to have the support of such a supportive parent community and in this article, would like to summarise the history of the school and the changes and developments that have occurred over the years. Several members of the School Association Board and staff members of the school have received the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon from the German Federal Government because of their tireless contributions to the school during these five decades. Among them are Dieter Gumpert (President of the BOG, among other roles), Dr. Ines von Uexküll (Deputy Headmistress), Jürgen Seitz (Vice-President of the BOG) and Thomas Hufnagel (President of the BOG).
The Beginnings in the 70s
Many German companies, including Rollei from Braunschweig, Deutz, MWM, Siemens and many banks established branches and production plants in Singapore in the early 1970s. Employees and their families were sent to Singapore, bringing with them an increased demand for German schooling options. In 1971, there were a total of 84 German students in the existing Swiss school. In January 1971, however, the school introduced a limitation on the number of German students – not all applications could be accepted and only siblings could still get a place, if one was available.
Foundation of “German School Singapore Working Group“
Because of this predicament, that meant their children could no longer attend classes at the Swiss school, due to exceeding demand, a number of German parents founded the “Arbeitskreis Deutsche Schule” (German School Working Group) on 13 March 1971. Finally, on 27 July 1971, the Deutsche Schule Singapur (DSS) was founded. On 30 May 1972, the association was officially registered with the Registry of Societies and the German School Singapore (Deutsche Schule Singapur) was officially born.
Before the school was registered, an American company, Weatherford, set up a branch in Singapore. The company, which also had a branch in Germany, sent three German employees to Singapore together with their five children:
- Family Schünemann with two children
- Family Voigtländer with two children
- Family Gründel with one child
Naturally, the children needed a school to attend. Weatherford took an extremely pragmatic approach and sent an American teacher to Singapore, Ramona Margaret Smith, who spoke fluent German and had even studied in Germany. Ms. Smith was the first teacher at the German School Singapore and was very popular with the children. One of our former students shared that many children could not yet pronounce the “th” in her name and therefore called their teacher “Miss Miss”.
In the Voigtländer family’s private home at 36 Maryland Drive, near Sixth Avenue, two rooms on the upper floor were converted into classrooms. Another child joined in, and so on the first day of classes on 25 August 1971, six school children were seated in this classroom at their new “school”.
On 7 September 1971, just a few weeks later, “the school” moved to the Schünemann family home at 162 Watten Estate Road because it was larger and therefore more ideal.
Just 2 months later, on 1 November 1971, another move was in store – this time to a Black and White House at 126 Watten Estate Road on the same street.
As this school building also became too small eventually, the young school moved again on 10 January 1972 – this time to 3 Jalan Kampong Chantek, into a bungalow. On 1 February 1972, Mrs. Barbara Beckhaus started teaching here as the school’s 2nd teacher.
In February 1973, Mrs. Beckhaus was appointed the first Headmistress of the German School Singapore and taught there together with Ms. Ramona Smith.
On 24 March 1973, with the help of the parents, the school moved into a large colonial house at 42 Chatsworth Road. However, the building had to be extensively renovated beforehand.
School Life in the Beginning of the 70s
The canteen of the school was unusual, because the food had to be brought in by a motorcyclist. He had ice cream and other food with him – a mobile hawker stall, so to speak. There was also the “Bobby Bus” before the move to Chatsworth Road. The driver’s name was Bobby. He picked up the kids, took them to school, and then back home after school.
Later, NTUC, the union with the blue buses, was engaged to transport the children to school, and a few mothers supervised to ensure that all the children boarded the bus in an orderly fashion.
At that time, there were already a relatively larger number of teachers at the school – some of them taught part-time. Most of the teachers were expatriate wives.
There was a lot of interest in the German school, both from parents and companies. Without the school, there was lesser incentive for these companies’ workers to come to Singapore, but when it was finally established, more German companies settled in Singapore.
Recognition as a German School Abroad in 1975
In 1975, it was evaluated whether the school could be officially recognised as a German School Abroad. Thanks to the good preparation work from Mrs. Beckhaus and her team, the Deutsche Schule Singapur was recognised as a German School Abroad in the same year and also received financial support from Germany for the first time – approximately 40,000 D-Mark. This continuous financial support also funded part of the teachers’ salaries.
Ines von Uexküll came to Singapore with her husband in 1974 to work for Kali und Salz AG (now K+S AG) and ran the school on a transitional basis in 1975 after Mrs. Beckhaus had left the school and Singapore. As Mrs. von Uexküll was a secondary school teacher, it was now possible to offer secondary school education.
In total, Mrs. von Uexküll spent 15 years at the German School Singapore and will be remembered especially for the staging of various plays and song recitals. These events often took place in the von Uexküll family home at 126 Watten Estate Road, which had been used as the school building for the German School Singapore a few years earlier.
In 1975, the school offered grades 1 through 6 but each year a new grade was added. In that year, Friedhelm Laumann came to the German School Singapore as the first official principal. He was a Realschule (middle level secondary education) teacher, but the parents placed great importance on the fact that the new Grade 6 and 7 classes ran at the Gymnasium level (highest level secondary education) after primary school. In the course of this, Ines von Uexküll was appointed deputy principal and was thus responsible for the new secondary school level. At that time, the secondary school already had about 20 students. One of the great challenges for Mr. Laumann and Mrs. von Uexküll was the rapid growth in the number of students and the development of curricula for the ever new classes.
In 1977, there were already 110 students in total. A few years later, a “Schlussprüfung” (final examination) was held for the first time in the Grade 10. This was the name of the intermediate school-leaving examination at that time, when no Abitur could be offered. With this degree, the children could attend Grade 11 if they went back to Germany. Because of the increasing number of students, the school had to build more and more new classrooms, which was paid for out of its own resources. The first plans for a new building were therefore soon discussed and a suitable plot of land was sought.
Read more about the school’s history in the next issue of our GESS magazine.