The ‘journeyman years’ (Wanderjahre) refer to the tradition of setting out on travel for several years after completing apprenticeship as a craftsman. The tradition dates back to medieval times and is still alive in Germany, France, Norway, and Switzerland. As of today, there are only about 500 craftsmen still following this tradition.
During this apprenticeship under a master, they only earn food and lodging for three years.
After this duration, they are bound to take on a life on the road for not less than the duration of the apprenticeship. So if one has spent three years as an apprentice, he must complete three years and one day at least, on the road. And on the road, he must find work. He is not allowed to pay for travel, only hitch hiking is allowed. Only exception being when an employer funds overseas flight tickets.
You can read more about this tradition here:
Why am i telling you this?
I got to Lima a few days ago, and my buddy Tamir who owns The Point Hostels was in town and wanted to catch up. The Point has been a regular haunt for me since last June, when i first arrived on Peruvian soil, and i also got in a stint as ‘bar manager’ at their resort in Mancora last December. But this time i wanted to talk to Tamir about hooking up a few gigs while in Lima, since he rubs shoulders with the nightclub biggies here. That chat did not eventually happen. But between 7 pm and 1 am last Friday, i might have gotten an overdose of inspiration.
I walked into the pub and this was the first thing i saw.
As he gave me the ‘man-nod’, i figured he was either another surfer in town, or some underwear model. Looked exactly the type you see in men’s fragrance ads in those glossy fashion mags. Eww, that’s the only time i’m using ‘fragrance’ on my blog. He came up and introduced himself as Kalle, and with him was Josef. I asked if the outfit was part of the night’s theme party.
‘No, it’s our tradition’, he said with a straight face.
I thought he was pulling my leg so i sat at the bar, and started talking to Bryce and Dana since i hadn’t seen them in three months. I had time to kill until Tamir got in.
Then this dude pulled up in the bar stool next to me, and started rolling one. He told me he was in Lima to cut down the pollution, by setting up a mass bicycle unit. I might be joining him for a few rides soon.
Tamir showed up for a few minutes and said he had to run for a real quick dinner and be back soon.
‘Do i look miserable?’, he asked.
‘Yeah, a little bit.’
‘That’s cos dinner is with my girlfriend and her mum.’ And he disappeared.
Much later, after the Germans had finished their game of pool, the three of them came to the bar and sat on my left. I felt like i was on the set of The Clockwork Orange. Then Kalle started telling me about the Wanderjahre.
It’s been two and a half years since he left home. Most of that time has been spent doing carpentry work, hitch hiking, sleeping under bridges when money runs out, which is pretty frequent. After each job, they travel again, until the money runs out. And then they look for the next job. The rules are that they’re not allowed to pay for travel. They’re not allowed to be within fifty kilometers of home. They’re not allowed to have a girlfriend, wife, or kids waiting at home while they complete this task. All they’re allowed to carry is a very small backpack, and it’s smaller than my laptop bag. And in that backpack is one extra set of the same suit, that they wear every day for three years. And two books, one that certifies their works by every municipality council under which they have worked at, and the other a personal diary.
‘So, this outfit is a real thing then?’, i asked.
‘Yes. Told you, it’s our tradition. But it’s ok you don’t understand. Even people back home in Germany don’t understand these days. Everybody teases us. There are only about five hundred people that still follow this tradition.’
I was feeling a little knot in my stomach for making that theme party joke.
The three met while on the road. Their last job was in Tobago, where they built a cycling track. I’ll have the pics of that here soon as Kalle sends me some.
And while in Tobago, Josef got stabbed three times while saving a woman from getting beat up by a bunch of guys. The wounds don’t look pretty.
Yet they have a genuine smile on their faces. A sense of accomplishment that you and i can’t imagine.
It took them two months, 10 hours a day six days a week to finish that olympic grade biking track. You know, the ones that look like this:
They’re not allowed to take off those coats, no matter how hot it gets. I couldn’t even imagine wearing one of those in Carribean heat.
Then Kalle offered to show me his traveling books. I was more than excited. He ran to his room and came back with a ziplock that had two books apart from this passport and papers.
He opened the first; the official one, and it started with a one page description of the travellers in five different languages. A message to people saying these brothers may need food, shelter, or work for a while. Please try to help them.
Once past these pages, it was like a passport, only with a hundred more stamps than a passport could accomodate. Stamps from different counties, districts, territories, countries. Each of them from a place he had worked at. Sometimes the employers wrote long pages praising his work.
In between he pointed out to the bar at a third member of their entourage, and said ‘look at him trying to talk to that girl. He doesn’t speak a word of Spanish, or even English. it’s hard being on the road with no relationship for comfort. Our community is all we have during this time. They’re the only ones who understand.’
Then Kalle pulled out the second book from the ziplock bag.
‘I don’t care about the passport and visas’, he said. ‘But if i lose these books, my life is…’, his voice trailed off.
The second book was the personal diary. It had pics, flowers, cards, memories from different places across the last two and a half years, and messages from friends they’d made on the road. The book had two pages left. He handed the second last page to me, and said ‘this is for you to fill. You can put whatever you want in there. I’m only allowed to read it three days later, or once i’m fifty kilometers out of this place’.
How’s your life going then?
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