Journeyman Traditions

Journeymen © picture-alliance/ ZB Enlarge image Journeymen, seen in traditional clothing with their walking sticks and bundles, pose for a picture in front of the Potsdam Chamber of Crafts. (© picture-alliance/ ZB) The journeyman travels of the craftsmen have a storied tradition in Germany that has survived until today with a few modern adjustments. Starting in the late Middle Ages, in the 15th century, going "on the road" – also known as "auf der Walz" or Tippelei – was a training requirement in many towns and trades for journeymen preparing to become master craftsmen.  Only as a master was it possible in those days to become registered as a citizen of a town. With ensuing industrialization in the 18th century, the tradition of traveling to different towns and cities to gain experience in a trade became less important; yet, even into the 1920s, it was still widespread in Germany.

Today, between 600 and 800 journeymen are on the road in Germany and abroad and approximately 10 percent of them are now women. However, travel is no longer a mandatory requirement to practice a trade or craft.  Craftsmen who do spend the traditional journeyman years on the road commit to travel for three years and one day and not to come within a radius of 50 km of their hometown during this time. Because the overwhelming majority of traveling journeymen – known as Fremder or “strangers” – are skilled construction workers, many people are not aware that other crafts- and tradesmen, such as carpenters, boat builders, pottery makers, blacksmiths, tailors and instrument makers, may also go on the road to develop their skills.

The aim of their travels is primarily to learn new trade practices as well as to get to know foreign places and countries. In addition to expanding and passing on their occupational knowledge and expertise, they also view their travels as a means of promoting mutual understanding and international relations.

Customs with long tradition

Rolandschacht Brothers © picture-alliance/ dpa Enlarge image Two journeymen enjoy a beer in front of a banner for the Rolandschacht brotherhood. (© picture-alliance/ dpa) Craftsmen who are on the road traditionally belong to craftsmen associations or brotherhoods, known as Schächte, with colorful names such as the Rechtschaffene Fremde, the Rolandsbrüder, or the Fremde Freiheitsschacht.

Some of these brotherhoods have been in existence for several centuries and have a status similar to student organizations. Some of their symbols, including flags and ceremonial chalices, have been preserved since the 17th century, and many of their customs and rituals have remained virtually unaltered since the Middle Ages. The brotherhoods historically originate from the medieval journeymen associations, which once functioned as a counterweight to the guilds and in some places formed the early organizations of the labor movement.

Given these roots, the brotherhoods have often also played a political, mostly liberal and social-democratic, role in the past. Particularly in the modern age, many brotherhoods represented and embodied the revolutionary principles of liberty, equality, and brotherhood. Brotherhoods, whose members often address each other with “dear brother,” have long accepted members of all political convictions, of every religion, and of every nationality.

Herbergsmuseum in Blankenburg © picture-alliance/ ZB Enlarge image A museum employee prepares an exhibition for the Herbergsmuseum in Blankenburg, which is located in a historic journeymen’s guest house. (© picture-alliance/ ZB) The last remaining vestige of the past was that women remained barred from joining the brotherhoods for a very long time. In the 1980s, some brotherhoods began also accepting women.  Moreover, a growing number of journeymen are now going on the road as free agents – Freireisende or Wilde – who do not join a brotherhood but who, nevertheless, continue to observe the traditional rules of the craftsman’s journey.

Meeting the requirements

Regardless of whether a traveling journeyman joins a brotherhood or not, he must meet a string of conditions: Only those who have passed the journeyman’s exam, are single, and have no children or debts, may go on the road. They are allowed to travel only on foot or by hitch-hiking; public transportation may be used but is frowned upon. A journeyman may interrupt his travels only for urgent reasons, such as a serious illness, otherwise the interruption is considered disreputable and his journeyman’s book or Wanderbuch is taken away and he must “hang up” his Kluft, the traditional clothing worn by traveling journeymen.

Every traveling journeyman is required to wear the Kluft in public at all times, which simultaneously serves to identify the traveling journeyman as such. It generally consists of a wide-brimmed, black, floppy hat or cylinder, a collarless white shirt – called a Staude – a vest and jacket with pearl buttons, bell-bottomed trousers, and durable shoes.  The color of the Kluft varies according to the journeyman’s occupation. For example, in the case of masons and stone cutters, it is beige or gray; in the case of woodworkers, it is black. If the journeyman belongs to a brotherhood, he also wears a tie in the brotherhood’s color – referred to as the Ehrbarkeit – and often other guild jewelry, such as an earring with the coat of arms of the trade or a pocket watch chain with the coat of arms of the cities in which the journeyman has worked.

Journeyman Bricklayer © picture-alliance/ ZB Enlarge image This 23-year-old journeyman bricklayer has traveled through Germany, Denmark, Italy, and Switzerland. (© picture-alliance/ ZB) In the journeyman’s book, journeymen collect the city seals of the places they’ve visited after calling on the city’s mayor to present themselves as craftsmen. When they travel abroad, they often call on embassies and consulates to have the seals stamped in their journeyman’s books. Other notable tools which almost all traveling journeymen carry with them include a crooked walking stick, called a Stenz, and, above all, the Charlottenburger, an ornately decorated cloth bundle in which the journeyman stows his entire belongings during his travels.

Traveling far and wide

While on the road, journeymen may travel wherever they wish, even to distant lands, for example, by working for a berth on a ship to America or Australia. Favored destinations reached by sea include Australia, New Zealand, Namibia, Canada, Chile, Brazil, and the United States. In many cities, including those abroad, the brotherhoods maintain hostels for their members.  These hostels are obligated to admit all traveling journeymen and to feed them for at least one night and one day.

Usually, the traveling journeyman is on the road for three months and then takes on work for roughly the same amount of time. Journeymen do not apply in writing to obtain work, housing, and other forms of support, rather they call on people locally – be they innkeepers, master craftsmen, chambers of crafts and trade, bakers, or breweries – and abroad, they also pay visits to the German embassies. There, they recite their traditional sayings, ask to have the seal stamped in their journeymen’s books and request some traveling money before they head out to new destinations. Depending on their luck and fate, the journeymen frequent both humble and luxurious places while on their travels; some nights they may even have to spend under the stars. When they finally return to their hometowns after three years and one day, they can look back on an often austere, yet eventful, period of unattached freedom.

© Federal Foreign Office

Journeyman Traditions

Journeymen carpenters on a field path near Aiterhofen in Bavaria. © picture-alliance/ dpa/ dpaweb