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Auf Der Walz Posted by on Apr 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

A unique and struggling German tradition is the Wandergeselle, Geselle, or journeyman— a 3 year and one day pilgrimage which novice Zimmermänner (carpenters) undertake after finishing an apprenticeship. Sometimes this is even considered another test or Herausforderung (challenge) in the apprenticeship.  The “traveling carpenters” gehen auf die Walz (set off on a journey) on foot with little more than a knotted and gnarled wooden staff with some small Besitz (possession) bundled in a Charlottenburg (a cloth bag) fastened to the end of it. Der Zweck (point) of the apprenticeship is to travel no closer (or further) than 50 kilometers, roughly 31 miles from within their hometown or village. Their mission is to find odd jobs in exchange for Unterkunft (room or board). A few restrictions do apply. Gesellen (journeymen) are not allowed to travel with Handys (cell phones) or technical devices like GPS Systems; they must be under thirty years of age; and furthermore, they are not allowed to return to their home city or village until completion of the journey.  There is, however, one exception to this rule. If a family member dies, it is permissible to return to their Heimstatt (homestead, home) for grievance.

Its Bestehen (existence) has its roots in Zünfte, or guilds from medieval Germany. When young apprentices sought to become master carpenters, they would take a loyal oath to a certain guild. It was often restricted for the journeymen to work independently from their guild. The goal then was too gain experience over a period of years and through the completion of jobs. The ultimate achievement would be the honor of becoming a master craftsman. Subsequently, journeymen in medieval Germany, more often than not, were too poor to afford supplies and housing for their own artesian shops. Thus, a large amount of Gesellen (journeyman) continued to work within their original guild for their entire lives.

An article published by Der Spiegel, a German magazine, discusses how “most of the Gesellen (journeymen) are carpenters, cabinet-makers, roofers, tile layers, masons or plumbers, and their travels are meant to teach them about work and life.”  In the past, going auf die Walz (off on the journey) was a way of building skills and progressing forward in a trade. Today, it still has that intent and value, but it also serves a new function. For many journeymen, it is a way of earning a living and surviving in the world for a short time before entering the economic turmoil and tough labor market.

The wandering carpenters are gekleidet (dressed) in traditional Tracht (garb) of a black Weste (waist coat), black ausgestellte (flared) Kordhose (corduroy pants), black hat and a white shirt. In addition, a black Krawatte (necktie) and a corduroy overcoat, are worn.  The clothing is all hand-made and individually fitted for each carpenter.  I often wished and still do on occasion, how exciting it would have been if I had the opportunity to become a Geselle (journeyman) and travel the German Landschaft (country side) working only for food and bed. Unfortunately, my time is running out as I quickly approach thirty.

I saw many Wandergesellen (Journeymen) during my year stay in Germany. I am continually mystified and in wonder of this  tradition. Once I discovered that the funny dressed men were not hobos, wizards, magicians or Merlin, himself just time-warped to the present straight from Camelot, I grew more curious and wondered why we didn’t have anything as exciting or self-actualizing in the U.S. for our journeymen.

I engaged in a few conversations with the locals—those of whom I befriended. They shared with me that the Wandergesellen (journeymen) tradition is not as prominent as it once was. Though this may be the general trend, if you spend a good amount of time in Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein, you will definitely happen upon young carpenters looking for an honest day’s work. So, if you encounter Gesellen (journeymen) during your travels abroad, invite them to dinner, for a beer or simply donate a small amount of money. You will be supporting the longevity of a European tradition.

Note: In all the research and experience I have done on this subject, I have not come across anything that suggests women  partake in this tradition. Does anyone have any information about this?

Links to articles and pictures.


Der Wandergeselle/n-journeyman

Geselle/n-journeyman, assistant, guild member

Der Zimmermann/(ä)er-carpenter

Die Herausfordung/en-challenge

Auf die Walz gehen-to go on a journey/pilgrimage

Der Zweck/e-point, aim, purpose

Der Bezitz-possession (collectively Plural)

Die Charlottenburg-cloth bag

Die Unterkunft-room and board/accommodations (plural)

Das Handy/-cell phone

Die Heimstatt/ (ä)e- homestead, home

Das Bestehen-existence

Die Zunft/ (ü) e-guild


Die Tracht/en-garb

Die Weste/n-Vest/waistcoat


Die Kordhose/n- corduroy pants

Die Krawatte/n-necktie

Die Landschaft/en- country side

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  1. Marita:

    I don’t have any research, but the fact that these are all traditional men’s jobs makes me think it is all guys on the road. Furthermore it would probably be way too dangerous for women.

    I remember seeing them when I was a kid – I thought it was the greatest thing! Total freedom!

  2. Nina:

    I agree with Marita, since it’s an old tradition women wouldn’t go “auf die Walz”, but I once saw female partakers as well and I remember that I was wondering why they are not wearing the exact same outfit as the men. They looked a bit more casual with a white shirt.
    So I think nowadays women are also allowed to take part, but wouldn’t really (jump to the chance to do so.)

  3. B. Barneetz:

    Komo: I find the “Auf der Walz” very fascinating. I do have a question maybe you or someone else who reads this may be able to answer:

    I read that some families would present their child(or children) to a Master Craftsman and basically “give” their child to him to raise and instruct. If this is true, would the child take on the surname of the Master Craftsman or keep his own?

    I hope the tradition continues and those who do it are sincere. Thank you for your article.

  4. michael:

    yes there are women that partake in “Auf der Walz” I have pictures I can email you if you wish.

  5. b:

    here you find a reference in english:


    there is a short remark on that. besides, i am german and i also saw more journeywomen in the last years – not often – but i am always surprised when i hear that there are less than a thousand remaining.

  6. Becker:

    Drei Jahre und einen Tag auf der Walz
    Von unserem Mitarbeiter Herbert Thormeyer
    Es sind abenteuerliche Jahre, die junge Handwerksgesellen auf der Walz erleben. Zwei von ihnen, die 28-jährige Zimmerin Vivien aus Hamburg und der 25-jährige Bäcker Daniel aus Nordfriesland, machten auf ihrer Wanderschaft Station in der Berufsbildenden Schule Saarburg. Was sie zu erzählen hatten, beeindruckte.As seen on 2/10/11 “http://www.volksfreund.de” with Pictures of Female Geselle.

  7. Robert Elwes:

    I am seeking wandering carpenters for our project how do I post messages for them please ?

    I have accommodation and plenty of work on a Chapel in the UK near Scunthorpe.

    RG Elwes

  8. Lia Grainger:

    Hey there! I am searching for one of these female journeywomen to interview! If anyone knows of any women currently Auf Walz, please contact me. liagrainger@gmail.com

  9. engine results:

    Appreciate the recommendation. Let me try it out.

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    • Colin Howey:

      @engine results Hello, I’m the Clerk of a stonemasons’ guild. I’m writing from Leipzig, where I’m the guest of the CCEG, the association of the European ‘wanderers’. There are indeed female Journeymen: I spoke to five of them in the bar last night: one stonemanson, one roofer and three carpenters (the tradition extends to other crafts). Also, there is an equivalent tradition – alive and thriving – in France, with the Compagnon du Devoir. The CCEG also has Danish members.

      Our Master Mason, brought up in the Angel, within a mile of St Paul’s Cathedral, also went on his journey as a young man, travelling across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. His guild, founded in 1096, has continued the tradition and, following in these well-trod footsteps, our apprentices will go on their journey in years 6-7 of their apprenticeship.

      Auf Wiedersehen

  10. Arun:

    Fine way of telling, and nice article to obtain facts concerning my presentation subject, which i am going
    to deliver in university.

  11. LES CRAFT:

    Have a look at ‘WALTZING MATILDA’..a song well known to Australians….you will find on Mr Google various sites which suggest a connection with the term. One of the sites says ‘the jolly swagman’ about whom the songs lyrics were written by A.B.[BANJO] PATTERSON was a European traveller shot during a riot of sheep shearers…that could make a connection with ‘auf der waltz’…
    I realise that even my short note contains some Ausie slang which helps to explain why non-Ausies find Walzing Matilda so baffling [And why ‘STRINE’ is almost totally incomprehensible to other than a dinky di ausie ]

  12. Crystal J. Ortmann:

    I enjoyed reading your post. I am writing a novel about Germany where the main character is on his journey. I can’t seem to find anything to tell where the journeyman stayed or slept during this time. Can you help me? I’ve read that they took a sleeping roll, but am not sure if they slept outside or stayed with a family.