If you meet these guys in Mongolia or the Andes, don’t mistake them for homeless steampunks. They’re likely German woodworkers, tailors and engineers travelling and training to become official masters in their guilds.
The medieval journeyman pilgrimage is fairly simple: walk around the world for three years with only a light bundle. Knock on random doors, and see if strangers will put you up and feed you in exchange for fixing their roofs, making furniture and tailoring their clothes.
Before leaving town, journeymen must pass an exam and finish an apprenticeship. They also must be unmarried, childless, and debt-free.
Journeymen built most of Europe’s great cathedrals. The practice fell out of favor in the industrial age, but craftsmen still wandered up til the 1920s. Then the Nazis banned it, and the Berlin Wall made the travelling nearly impossible, but after the 80s, it slowly began to return.
Nowadays, women can join journeyman brotherhoods too. Around ten percent of wandering craftsmen are now women. Feminist movements (and liberal movements in the late ’80s in general) were integral to the tradition’s revival.
Before leaving town, most journeymen get DIY ear piercings with hammers and nails. Traditionally, journeymen wear a gold earrings and bracelets – should they die abroad, the gravediggers took these jewelry as payment for a proper burial.
Sendoffs are emotional. In their three journeyman years, they must not come within a 50km radius of home.
They dress aggressively cleanly to avoid being mistaken for hobos. The German Mission in the USA estimates there are only 600 to 800 journeymen currently on the road.
Know the term “jack of all trades”? That came from them. A travelling craftsman is sometimes called a Jack.
Journeymen typically work three months for every three months they walk, and if necessary, they sleep under the stars. Barring serious illnesses, they’re not allowed to idle around or take public transportation (though hitchhiking is acceptable).
Major “walz” cities have brotherhood-managed hostels. Brotherhoods change over time (this bricklayer’s fraternity used to be called Fremden Pisspots, for example), but most have existed for hundreds of years. If you want a handy FAQ on how to be go auf der walz, you can read a pastry baking brotherhood’s website here.
Typically, journeymen can only carry a sleeping bag, a walking stick, and a 7-10lb knapsack of clothes and tools. They can’t bring phones to warn anyone of their arrival – they simply arrive in new towns, and ask to meet its mayor or German consulate to stamp their traveller’s ledger.
When they return home after the long journey, they must climb over their hometown’s welcome sign. Which can be tricky on modern superhighways.
Learn more about this badass tradition here: