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  1. (Not written by me - but it is written by my aunt, so naturally I'm biased ) AUF DER WALZ OR ON THE ROAD 1. FEBRUARY 2019 A man in black walks at a steady pace along a country lane. He has a small bundle, hooked onto one shoulder and a long, curled walking stick in his right hand. He is wearing black, wide-bottomed trousers, a white shirt, black waistcoat, black jacket and a black, wide-brimmed hat – so not the clothing of a tramp. In his bundle, he has a change of clothing and not much else; no mobile phone and only very little loose change. If I add that he does not yet know where he is going to spend the night, that he is hoping to find work (and lodging) in the next village as a carpenter for a few weeks before setting off, again on foot, in search of further work experience, in what age would you place this scene? Several hundred years ago? As far back as the 12th century perhaps? Or maybe on a spring day in May 2018, while approaching the village of Bubikon in Switzerland? Last June, our roof badly needed clearing of moss and twigs etc, which had blocked the drainpipes. We called a local roofer, who came accompanied by an assistant, a young man with a pony tail from Germany. He was dressed in black, wide-bottomed trousers with a black waistcoat and a white shirt but was perfectly nimble getting on and off the roof. “I think he’s a Wandergeselle and is auf der Walz,” L said. When we were inside, I asked for an explanation.. A Wandergeselle, translated as a journeyman in English, is a kind of travelling craftsman who has completed his apprenticeship and takes to the road (literally) for a number of years to gain experience of his trade in order to become a master craftsman. He (there are very few women who do this) offers his skills in exchange for board and lodging (which can be as simple as a barn) and maybe a small wage. After a few weeks, he moves on to find work elsewhere. This custom, nowadays almost only practised in German-speaking countries, can be traced back hundreds of years to the Middle Ages when skilled stonemasons, particularly in England, travelled vast distances on foot to work on the construction of the great medieval cathedrals and churches. The powerful guilds would not allow craftsman to become masters until they had completed these post-apprenticeship travelling years. At that time, the guilds also controlled professions in the visual arts so the “wandering years” were undertaken by painters, mason-architects and goldsmiths as well. This was important for the transmission of artistic style around Europe. The brotherhoods of journeymen later united to defend their interests against the masters’ craft guilds and can be seen as the pre-runners of trade unions. Nowadays carpenters, roofers, slaters and blacksmiths, along with stonemasons, are some of the journeymen that can be sometimes found on the road (auf der Walz). Our local television recently followed the fortunes or two such journeymen, both carpenters and both members of a Swiss branch of the Association of Righteous Journeymen Carpenters and Slaters, which has its headquarters in Germany. One of them, Michael, was at the start of his journey. The other, Cyrill, was returning after 4 years. The Wanderjahren (wandering years) for carpenters last for 3 years and a day (the minimum) and have clear rules. You must be aged between 20 and 30, unattached with no children and no debts. Once on the road (auf der Walz), you mustn’t return to within a radius of 50 kilometres of your home (except under exceptional circumstances, such as a death in the family) until your wandering years are over. A journeyman is not supposed to go more than a week without work or spend more than six months in one place. He should only take about 5 francs (or Euro) with him and return with approximately the same amount. Computers and mobile phones must be left behind, which explains why a lot of carpenters, masons, roofers etc are taken by surprise by the arrival of a journeyman on their doorstep asking for work and lodging, with no prior warning. Getting ready inside his parental home, the 21-year old Michael seemed a little apprehensive as he packed the bare essentials into a small bundle. He wasn’t taking much more than a change of clothing, something to read and a list of journeyman contacts. He admitted that, apart from a visit with his family to Prague and the odd holiday with friends in Croatia, he had never been abroad. He was looking forward to the experience of living and working with the locals, something you do not do when on holiday in a country. He said he was planning first to head for Germany and then maybe go to Scandinavia and Ireland before venturing overseas. In theory, you are supposed to avoid public transport and just walk or hitch-hike. However, as many journeymen travel much further afield, taking planes (if they can be afforded) is accepted nowadays. The society is a kind of brotherhood and former journeymen and members of the guilds along with friendly inns willing to provide accommodation can be found all over the world. Michael was planning, in about a year, to travel to Canada, New Zealand and Namibia (a former German colony, where there are very good contacts for journeymen). The start of the “wandering years” has a number of traditional customs. On the day of departure, around 20 journeymen arrived, on foot, to give Michael a good send-off. All were dressed, like Michael, in the traditional costume of a journeyman carpenter. There are eight, mother-of-pearl buttons on the waistcoat to represent the hours they work in a day, six buttons on the jacket for the six working days in a week and three on each sleeve to represent the duration of three years. Nowadays, many journeymen from other trades have converted to the clothing of the carpenter, which is the most widely recognised so that it is easier for them to be identified as respectable journeymen. However, the uniform of other trades can differ; the hat might be a different shape or the trousers or jacket might be another colour. The uniform is completed with a gold earring and gold bracelets. In the Middle Ages, these could be sold in hard times or used to pay the gravedigger if a wanderer should die on his journey! Michael walked with the journeymen, singing and drinking, to the end of the village. His family and some villagers followed and stood in a group nearby. There was much toasting before they finally bade farewell and by then, Michael was distinctly unsteady on his feet. “He is relaxed and free,” said the journeymen surrounding him, “Excellent. He can go!” Luckily two fellow journeymen, who were in the middle of their wandering years, decided to accompany him for the first few days. So, Michael finally staggered off, arm in arm with his two companions and – most important – didn’t look back. They were heading for the nearest motorway so they could hitch-hike to Germany. The English word “journeyman” is still used by some British companies to describe the stage between apprentice and master, but the journeymen are not required to travel anymore. There have been times, since their founding hundreds of years ago, when the German-speaking associations had no travelling journeymen. They were banned by Napoleon, then in Germany during the Nazi years, for example, and not accepted by the communist regime in East Germany. However, there has been a strong revival since the 1980’s and at any one time, there can be around 600 journeymen, mainly from Germany, with about 10% from Switzerland, on the road throughout the world. The tradition of the wandering craftsman has also been celebrated in the arts. Gustav Mahler composed “Songs of a Wandering Apprentice”. Goethe wrote a novel entitled “Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years”. And the Australian song, “Waltzing Matilda” is about an itinerant worker (swagman) wanting his late wife to walk (not dance) with him while he searched for work. In our current stressful, hectic working world, the idea of setting off in the morning with almost nothing, free of responsibilities, not necessarily knowing where one is going to spend the night, but with a list of possible contacts in one’s pocket, is exciting and attractive. Money becomes unimportant. “The idea is to become rich in experience, not rich in money terms” said one German journeyman. “You could say the others have the clock, but we have the time”, he added. Of course, it can be hard sometimes, standing by the side of the road in winter in Norway (as one journeyman said) when no car stops and a cold wind is blowing. But then the wind drops, a car stops, you move on, you find work again and spring comes and every day brings new experiences you would never have had if you had stayed at home, so you learn more and more. It can be a defining experience, which the journeymen will keep referring to in later life. So, if you drive past a hitch hiker dressed in the dark clothing of the journeyman with his wide-brimmed black hat, do consider stopping to give him a lift to help him along on his journey of three years and a day. Source: gbchblog (Switzerland)
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