Saturday, February 23, 2008

Germany's wandering artisans keep alive the ancient craft of the Walz

Tradition of Walz:

In 1995, when he was 27, Richard Werner, part of the Volgershall crew, acquired bis certificate of apprenticeship as a carpenter. Instead of settling into a comfortable career in his home village of Gersdorf near Augsburg, Bavaria, he decided to leave home and family to embark on the traditional Walz of the traveling journeyman - a period of at least three years and a day during which young artisans roam the world looking for temporary employment to gather experience in their crafts. Though custom demands that the Wandergesellen follow a set of strict rules - they may not enter a 50 km radius around their home town or remain in one place for more than three months - more and more people like Werner are following the calling. An estimated 500 traveling journeymen, about 10% of them women, from some 30 crafts are currently on the move-almost twice as many as 10 years ago. The origin of the Walz in Central Europe lies in the Middle Ages. From the mid-13th Century onward journeymen - forced to leave the city of their apprenticeship by increasingly rigorous guild regulations designed to secure the livelihoods of resident master craftsmen - took to the road to earn their living elsewhere and gather the experience needed to become masters themselves. The free trade introduced by the Industrial Revolution did away with the need for travel by the mid-1800s, so the practice gradually fizzled out. lt threatened to vanish entirely until, in the wake of the workers' movements at the end of the 19th century, a handful of newly established journeymen brotherhoods, called Schächte, revived the custom in Germany. Reintroduced at a time of growing professional specialization, the modern Walz was intended to broaden the artisans' vocational and personal horizons. "By traveling, the craftsmen were supposed to leam new practical skills in their trade and to pass their own knowledge on to others," says Nils-Peter Linderoth, head of the Society of Honest ltinerant Journeymen Carpenters and Slaters, the first German brotherhood, founded in 1890.

No comments: