I’m back now from a truly delightful visit to Marienau. Even the weather was unusually good for this time of year, with mostly dry, sunny days – which came to an end when I departed, just sayin’. Seeing the school that Annemarie talked so much about was deeply satisfying, and it was a genuine pleasure to get to know today’s stewards of the school. While many students may not think of Max and Gertrud Bondy, since they have been physically gone from the school much longer than George and Annemarie have been gone from Roeper, the Bondy spirit feels very much alive.
Marienau is different in some ways – it’s not a school for the gifted, and the curriculum strictly conforms to state standards, down to the books chosen and the number of instructional hours per subject. And yet it still felt very familiar, because the underlying culture is a school in which every student is seen as an individual. They may be teaching a uniform curriculum but they appreciate and encourage the differences among all their students. Consequently, the students felt like Roeper students – friendly, comfortable with adults, goofy yet self-confident, and natural. Here I’m with a class of 8th graders.
In addition to its humanistic philosophy, Marienau also strives for global diversity. Private schools are much less common in Germany, because publicly funded gymnasiums (the term for a college-prep upper school) are excellent and, well, free. To persuade parents to pay Roeper-level fees to attend Marienau, the school enrolls students from other countries and organizes regular travel to broaden their students’ perspectives. There are a number of Chinese students, and a regular contingent from a German-language international school in Mexico City. My host, Jörg Blume, has dual US-German citizenship and taught in the US for almost a decade. He brings a brash US sensibility to his teaching. (Jorg and Marcia 1)
The physical beauty of the school is quite striking. There are about 20 of these state-accredited rural boarding schools in Germany, mostly founded in the early 20th century by reform educators like Max Bondy, to provide a humanistic education with close ties between students and adults and to cultivate an open-hearted appreciation for nature. Many of the other schools are housed in the grand houses of former aristocrats, but Max chose a farm. As a result, the campus consists of approachable, human-scale buildings scattered throughout the woods and fields. The sandy soil means very little of the campus is even paved. Original buildings like the Main Building, a mill and a converted barn still exist, while new buildings have expansive windows to bring nature in.
In fact, the aesthetic of the new buildings reminds me of buildings George and Annemarie built, like the Middle and Quad buildings. They definitely brought their northern German aesthetic with them — brick buildings with timbered ceilings – with a modern love for big windows.
It was a marvelous visit. While many students and teachers weren’t aware of their kindred school in the US, they were delighted to hear about it and expressed hopes for greater connections between our schools. If you’d like to read more about Annemarie’s life at Marienau, copies of her final book, Marienau: A Daughter’s Reflections, are available in each library and can be purchased here.