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My Great-grandfather, the Journeyman

Geselle, Journeyman in Cologne

The story is, as I was told, that my great-grandfather was a Journeyman in Leather ware, also called “Gerber” guild in the late 1800’s. He walked (Waltz) in his “Kluft” from North of Trier, and stopped at Master- shoemakers to learn his trade. He arrived and settled in Franconia, the town of Dettelbach, and opened his own shoe store.

The Journeyman years (Wanderjahre or Walz) are a time of travel for several years after completing an apprenticeship as a craftsman. The guild has died in the 1920’s, but made a comeback after the 1980’s. The journeyman is required to wear distinctive clothing named “Kluft

The hiking time or “Wanderjahre” is three years and one day. In the first year of his wandering the journeyman is only allowed to stay in Germany, after which he is free to travel all over the world. He should travel on foot or by hitchhiking if possible, rail travel is frowned upon, but planes and ships are allowed for long distances (overseas). The so-called “ban mile” applies to all journeymen on the Walz. This states that they are not allowed to get closer than 50 km to their home town for the duration of their wandering. Exceptions are only permitted in the event of death in the immediate family.

The Clothing (Kluft)

In addition, a traveling journeyman needs a “gap”, the clothing, through which he is immediately recognized as a traveling journeyman by outsiders. This gap consists of a hat (coke, slouch hat or top hat), the symbol of the free man, a “perennial”, which is a collarless, white shirt, a vest, guild trousers, the “honesty” (a kind of tie) and one Guild jacket. The waistcoat, trousers and jacket are usually made of velvet or Manchester fabric. Their color is black, but some carpenters have also switched to a dark brown. The vest must have eight mother-of-pearl buttons, they represent the 8-hour day. The jacket, on the other hand, must have six mother-of-pearl buttons for the 6-day week. The trousers usually have a “flare” of at least 65 cm. The “respectability” is a distinguishing feature of the journeymen among each other.

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Guild membership can be recognized by their color and texture of clothing. The journeyman also needs a peculiar curled hiking stick called “Stenz”.

The journeyman also wears a gold pendant in his left ear. This custom stems from the time when traveling journeyman took all of your wealth with you on the Walz. That was usually not a lot at the time and so the journeymen had their cash processed into a gold earring, which, well protected from the ear, could not be stolen. This earring was also used as payment for a funeral in case the journeyman should die on the way

Journeyman or Geselle, Wanderjahre

The Carpenter rite has a black hat with a broad brim, some professions use a black stovepipe hat (cocked hat). Their clothing is black bell bottoms and a waist coat with the “Stenz” curled walking stick

In order to learn the rites and customs of the journeymen among each other, every journeyman is accompanied for the first few months by a so-called export journeyman, who instructs him in all the rules and secrets.

The Rule book

The Journeyman or “Geselle” demeanor should be friendly in public, and this will help them find shelter for the night and hitch a ride to the next destination. As a Geselle you are required to be unmarried, childless and debt-free—so you cannot run away from debt and social obligations.

Journeyman’s “Rules, which the journeyman has to observe to avoid proper punishment (Wikimedia)

The tradition dates back to medieval times, the brotherhood (Schächte) is still alive in German speaking countries. They travel mainly by foot and take rides for three years and one day, this is the minimum period of journeyman or woman.

At that time, guilds in many areas stipulated that they should go hiking after their apprenticeship years. Nowadays wandering is no longer a requirement, but anyone who decides to go on “Wanderschaft” has to adhere to certain rules. First of all, a few prerequisites must be met: The journeyman must have properly learned his trade, he must be single and independent, must not have any debts and should not be older than 30 years.

Guild chest of the potters in Senftenberg (1750) by Wikipedia

The Journeyman’s book

An important tool of the journeyman is his Wanderbuch or the hiking book. In this book his various work assignments are recorded by the masters or clients. It is also noted here if the journeyman has asked for a little help in a town. This hiking book is now published by the Association of European Journeyman’s Guilds and is written in four languages.

Traveling book of a German furrier named Albert Strauß 1816 by Wikipedia

In modern times the brotherhoods often require a clearance by the police. They carry a Journey book (Wanderbuch) to record their stay and time on the Walz, and a small fixed amount of money. The Geselle is not supposed to squander money nor to store up any riches during the journey, it is only meant for getting experience.

The Middle Ages

The Journey years or Wanderjahre in the Middle ages was taken by painters, mason-architects and goldsmiths, and was highly important for the developing the artistic style around Europe. These days the crafts these days include roofing, metalworking, woodcarving, carpentry, even millinery and musical instrument making/organ building

Nowadays one sees more and more journeyman journeys in their traditional “Kluft” at petrol stations or motorway driveways waiting for a lift. Actually, the tradition of going “on the roll” was almost extinct, but it has been experiencing a renaissance for several years. It is not only carpenters who cultivate this custom; in the carpentry trade, too, more and more journeymen are on their way to travel three years and one day through the wide world.

Journeyman meeting in Bad Kissingen (per Wikimedia)

The journeyman brotherhoods have established a standard to ensure that wandering journeymen are not mistaken for tramps and vagabonds.

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