Decrepit Schools

Year of Learning Dangerously

School director or construction site manager? Source: Tagesspiegel/Kitty Kleist-Heinrich
School director or construction site manager?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany’s cash-strapped capital doesn’t have the money to renovate public buildings so ruinous that neither the safety nor the education of children can be taken for granted.

  • Facts


    • Responsibility for education falls to Germany’s 16 federal states, but the city-state of Berlin is some €70 billion ($81 billion) in debt.
    • Parents are refusing to send their children to the Fichtenberg school, located in Berlin’s wealthy Zehlendorf district.
    • The public university-track secondary school, built in 1912, is in a sorry state of disrepair.
  • Audio


  • Pdf

Despite a 37-year teaching career, Rainer Lepping sounds more like a building site manager than a school principal.

“I’m going to hand over a ruin,” said the soon-to-retire Mr. Lepping. “That really pains me.”

Fortunately, his pain is of the spiritual rather than physical variety. But the Fichtenberg Gymnasium, a university-track public high school in Berlin’s wealthy Zehlendorf district, has become an increasingly dangerous place to teach and learn over the years.

Some €70 billion in debt, Berlin has some of the most poorly kept schools in Germany. It is not uncommon for windows to fall out of their sills or ceilings to cave in while students are in class. Necessary repairs to all city schools would cost an estimated €2 billion.

The “Fichte,” as Mr. Lepping’s school is known, has become symbolic of the German capital’s failure to take care of its public schools. Last fall, the entire outside of the building was surrounded in metal fencing to ensure no one was hit by the façade’s crumbling plaster.

Built in 1912, the school is on the list of historically protected buildings. Renovating it would eat up the entire school maintenance budget for the Steglitz-Zehlendorf district.

A small man with white hair and blue eyes, Mr. Leppin has been forced to take matters into his own hands while serving as director, the German term used for school principal, over eight years. When he started his job, his wife was shocked when she saw his office. The carpet was ripped and the furniture unusable. The city replaced the carpet, but he had to invest €1,000 of his own money for the rest.

Want to keep reading?

Subscribe now or log in to read our coverage of Europe’s leading economy.