Kindergarten in the bunker

Germany’s education minister Stark-Watzinger wants to involve schools in war preparations (“civil defence”) and urges close cooperation between universities and the Bundeswehr and arms industry.

BERLIN (own report) – Germany’s Federal Education Minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger, is calling for schools to be involved in preparing German society for a possible major war. “Civil defence” was, she said at the weekend, “immensely important” and “belongs in schools”. The buzzword “civil defence” refers to measures designed to increase the civilian population’s chances of survival in the event of war. The minister demanded that schools develop a “relaxed relationship with the German army”. She said she could not understand why schools should have “reservations” about allowing Bundeswehr outreach officers into classrooms to tell children about defence issues. Leaders of the German Teachers’ Association and the Association of Towns and Municipalities have already called for school curricula to be “sharpened” to improve “defence readiness”. Even facilities for the youngest are to be included: kindergarten could be integrated in “civil defence” measures in a “child-friendly” way. Stark-Watzinger also wants to make greater use of universities for military research. And the Bavarian state government is now drafting a law designed to abolish the alleged “constraints on research” due to “civil clauses” (Zivilklauseln), which have long committed institutions to pursue only non-military research. Indeed, the new law will make it a “requirement” that universities cooperate with the Bundeswehr.

Installing sirens, stockpiling candles

Stark-Watzinger’s initiative reinforces previous calls for schools and even child day-care centres to be involved in preparations for a possible war. This view has, for example, been advanced by André Berghegger, a former CDU member of the Bundestag (2013 to 2023) who now heads up the German Association of Towns and Municipalities (DStGB, representing the interests of some 14,000 local authorities). In an interview published on 9 March, Berghegger called a general expansion of “civil defence measures” to reduce the number of civilian casualties in the event of war. He said it was a matter of “urgent necessity to put decommissioned bunkers back into operation”, noting that of the 2,000-plus public-access bunkers from the Cold War era, only 600 still exist.[1] His ideas include the installation of LED display boards and sirens as part of a comprehensive programmes to provide fast air raid alerts. There is already a government warning app (NINA) installed on Germans’ mobile phones, but Berghegger considers this insufficient. He also wants private individuals to keep stocks of “water, food, medicine” and other items such as candles so that they can, as he puts it, “conceivably survive a few days through their own efforts” if war breaks out.

“Child-friendly” preparations for war

In terms of resources, the DStGB Chief Executive believes that “at least one billion euros” from the federal budget is urgently needed each year for the next ten years to “kick-start” these preparations. It has, he argues, become essential for young people, and indeed children, to be exposed to defence imperatives. “We should be raising awareness of this in nurseries and schools,” Berghegger demands. "Civil defence exercises can be held there, too.”[2] It is not necessary, apparently, to introduce a “separate school subject for defence or resilience” since there is enough scope to modify compulsory subjects to prepare children. “We can also raise awareness of the new threat situation on project days or in study groups – and show how you should behave in the event of a defence emergency.” Berghegger adds, “There’s no reason why you can’t practise in kindergarten and schools what to do when disaster strikes.” Anticipating objections that a child’s direct confrontation with war and the likelihood of losing one’s own life could have a negative impact on child development, this national representative of local authorities says he’s confident that war preparations “can be addressed in a child-friendly way”.

“Defence readiness” as a learning objective

After Stark-Watzinger strongly backed the call to include schools in “civil defence” measures, those who came out in support of this line include the President of the German Teachers' Association, Stefan Düll. Düll declared, “I expect her to now engage in dialogue with the education ministers in the states.” Education in Germany is run by the state governments but federally coordinated. “An expression of intent is not enough; the Ukraine war and the pan-European, indeed global, threat scenario must now be taught in politics lessons.”[3] The deployment of outreach officers from the Bundeswehr, trained in addressing young people,[4] would, he concludes, be a “sensible support measure” for the preparedness programme. Düll said that an atmosphere of “love, peace and harmony” had prevailed for far too long in Germany. It was now time to gain “a new awareness of military threats”, an awareness that had to be brought into the classrooms of the future. In addition to calling for Bundeswehr outreach officers to come into schools, Düll envisaged an overhaul of school curricula. They “must be sharpened with regard to threats, geostrategy and defence readiness,” he argues.[5]

Modelled on DARPA

When it comes to putting the education system at the service of war preparations and other indirect or direct military interests, Stark-Watzinger has long been looking beyond schools at the higher education sector and especially research. The minister is quoted as saying last week that the separation between civilian and military research in Germany should be “reassessed”.[6] An internal paper shows that the Education Ministry wants specifically to intensify cooperation between civilian and military research institutions. The US government agency DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), which targets funding at US research with defence aspects, is taken as a model in this context. There is now talk in Berlin of “funding incentives” for civil-military research cooperation.[7] In order to clear the way for this partnership, Germany’s federal government wants to discuss with state governments and the German Rectors' Conference (an association of universities representing around 270 institutions) how to deal with the problem of the “civil clause”, a longstanding commitment to non-military research that continue to apply in the states of Bremen and Thuringia and many individual universities. The task, apparently, is to determine whether such ethical restraints are still “appropriate” in view of the “changed geopolitical framework”.

From separation to cooperation

At the end of January, the state government of Bavaria took the lead here, approving the draft of a “Law on the Promotion of the Bundeswehr” within the south German state.[8] This piece of legislation will contain a clear “abolition of the civil clauses”. As the head of the Bavarian State Chancellery, Florian Herrmann, put it, any “constraints on research” by ruling out military uses is “not sensible” and indeed “not possible”. The Bavarian government is replacing the principle of a civil/military separation implicit in the longstanding civil clauses with a “cooperation requirement”. Universities should henceforth be working together with the Bundeswehr. The “requirement” might even become a “duty”, if dictated by “reasons of national security”, it says. The measure is also intended to make the state of Bavaria more attractive as a location for the Bundeswehr and, above all, for the defence industry.[9] The draft law envisages, not least, that state schools cooperate with Bundeswehr outreach officers trained in talking with school students as part of their “political education”. The armed forces are also to be given the right to advertise prospects in the military at career events for school leavers.


[1], [2] Jan Dörner, Jochen Gaugele: Gemeindebund: „Stillgelegte Bunker wieder in Betrieb nehmen“. 09.03.2024.

[3] Josef Forster, Elias Sedlmayr, Luisa Volkhausen: Lehrer-Chef für Unterricht über Krieg an Schulen. 16.03.2024.

[4] See also: Pädagogen im Visier.

[5] Luca-Marie Gmorczynski, Florian Kain, Julian Röpcke, Peter Tiede, Burkhard Uhlenbroich: So muss Deutschland aufrüsten. 23.12.2023.

[6], [7] Heike Schmoll: Forschung im Lichte neuer Zeiten. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 11.03.2024.

[8], [9] Bayern will Hochschulen Zusammenarbeit mit Militär vorschreiben. 23.01.2024.