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Wanderjahre, a German Tradition for Carpenters, Brick Layers and Many More

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 4/5/2012

Learn the very particular vocabulary for the German tradition of the Wanderjahre, its history and today's practice and significance.

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    History and tradition

    The custom of Wanderjahre evolved in the late Middle Ages and lasted until industrialization. Completing one's Wanderjahre, which means three years and one day, was a prerequisite for qualifying as a fully fledged craftsman, allowed to run his own business and to take on apprentices of his own.

    Only male apprentices went hiking and they belonged to many crafts, although carpenters are the most famous among them because of their distinctive costume. Rules and conditions, which had to be adhered to, were very strict and the journeyman had to carry his Wanderbuch to document where he had been. Nobody who was married, in debt or had a criminal record was allowed to go on Wanderschaft.

    The purpose was to teach the future Meister responsibility and to give him the opportunity to see the world and hone his skills in foreign surroundings.He was not allowed to accept pay and could work only for food and shelter. A silver earring and ornaments on the waistcoat served as emergency funds should he run out of money or could be sold to pay for his funeral should he die during his Wanderjahre. The apprentice had to wear his distinctive Kluft at all times.

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    Vocabulary for Wanderjahre

    Die Wanderjahre - years on the road

    wandern - to hike

    tippeln - to hike

    Das Jahr - year

    Der Geselle - journeyman (approx. meaning of the German term)

    Der Meister - craftsman (after qualification and exam)

    zu Fuss - on foot

    Das Wanderbuch - hiking passport

    Der Zylinder - top hat

    Die Weste - waistcoat

    Die Lehrzeit - apprenticeship

    Der Lehrling (modern word: der Auszubildende) - apprentice

    Die Innung - guild

    Die Zunft - guild

    Die Schaechte - unions of apprentices

    Der Freireisende - independant journeyman, not belonging to a Schacht

    Die Logis - lodgings

    Der Anhalter - hitch hiker

    Die Schlaghose - flared pants

    Der Knopf - button

    Die Schlafrolle - sleeping roll

    Die Kluft - traditional clothing

    etwas hochmachen - to make a good impression

    Das Schlitzohr - literally: slit ear, meaning a journeyman who had behaved badly and whose earring had been torn out as punishment

    auf der Rolle - on the roll (hiking)

    Das Silbergehaenge - silver ornaments worn on waistcoat

    Das Mittelalter - Middle Ages

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    Modern times

    During industrialization the tradition of Wanderjahre had declined, but recent times have seen a revival. The most important change is that nowadays, female apprentices are also allowed to go on Wanderschaft. The journeymen are still organized in guilds, but there are many who don't belong to any, known as Freiheitsbrueder.

    Reunification in Germany and growing unemployment have played a mayor role in the resurrection of the trend, as many young people from the former DDR made their way to West Germany as Handwerksgesellen auf Wanderschaft.