The Wanderjahre, Vocabulary for a German Apprenticeship Tradition from the Middle Ages

The Wanderjahre, Vocabulary for a German Apprenticeship Tradition from the Middle Ages
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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.

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

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.