The World is Round, so Brothers Let us Travel

sanjosegermans

This is the motto of the guild of two young tradesmen we met today in San Jose. It is a very quiet town in winter but fate seems to put new and fascinating things in our path all the time.

img_7532Have you ever heard of the German tradition of craftsmen walking around the world for two years and a day after their apprenticeship? Well, today we met two young men embarked on just such a practice right here in this little town during the “dead” season.

As we were settling down for an afternoon coffee after a bracing walk along the promenade in gale force wind, two odd-looking fellows wandered across the square. Everyone in the café was wondering who on earth these young men dressed like old-fashioned chimney sweeps could be. Everyone wondered…but only Joe jumped up and went over to strike up a conversation with them.

In a few moments they were sitting down at our table “invited” for whatever they would like to drink. What a wonderful thing it is to learn something completely new – to talk to people living an experience totally novel and intriguing to me.

I had never heard of this practice which started in the Middle Ages requiring newly qualified tradespeople (ours were carpenters) to travel around for two or three years – – and a day— just like in the fairy tales. In the old days young tradesmen would go from town to town helping to build great cathedrals and learning new skills from other masters. The custom was banned by the Nazis – fascists always have to spoil things! – and it has only come back into favour since the 1980’s. Now it is a voluntary exercise but it is growing in popularity. As it is, there are only about 600 to 800 people doing this so really what were the chances we would meet these two?

The practice is called the “walz” and there is some evidence that the Australian song “Waltzing Matilda” is based on this practice. The “Matilda” is, in fact, the cloth-wrapped bundle the craftsmen carry.

The young men, who spoke pretty good English, soon made it clear that there were quite strict rules about “the walk”. They must register with the town authorities where they visit. They had little hard-cover books with stamps and comments from town halls in England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Spain. They must wear their distinctive dress so as not to be mistaken for hobos or tramps. They leave home with very little money and must return with the same amount. Our new friends, Simon and Paul, told us they avoid topics like religion and politics and that their behavior must always reflect well on their guild. They did not give me permission to put their pictures in my blog. I always ask! However, these pictures were stock photos in the public domain and I wanted you to see what they were wearing. They did give me permission to publish a picture of  one of their hand-carved staffs!

They told us tales of sleeping in the open, in empty castles and the homes of kind strangers. The principle of the walk is that craftsmen must pay for food and accommodation with their skilled work. They hitch-hike from place to place and only take busses or trains when they are really stuck. These days women journeymen (get it!) also go on the “Walz”. I was absolutely fascinated by this custom and so grateful to these youngsters who patiently answered our questions. Just when you think you’ve heard it all…… If you want to learn more, Buzzfeed has a great article as does wikipedia.

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