Sunday, July 6, 2014

Honing Their Craft: The Journey of Journeymen

Anita Lamoureux and Zachary Riffell with carpenter journeymen
in Hamburg.
July 6, 2014 - Bremen, Germany. By Zachary Riffell.

Bremen is a glorious contrast in eras. The streets and the buildings are a mixture of old and new: modern rails are laid in the cobblestone streets and modern facades sit in the shadows of their ancient counterparts. Even the people seem to mimic this juxtaposition as the modern dress of most citizens brings attention to the rustic uniforms that would have those unfamiliar with craft training in the country to assume that the people wearing them are performers.

For the second time on this trip we had the pleasure of running into journeymen. The two men we met today (as with the four we met in Hamburg) were journeymen carpenters enjoying some free time in the city center. I asked if they had been working that day, assuming that was the explanation for wearing the ridiculously warm-looking uniform on a Sunday to the city center. One candidly laughed and said, “Yeah, we’re working,” as he held up a beer. The uniform is the only clothing they have for the duration of their journey.

The uniform consists of a heavy jacket, bell bottom pants, and vest worn over a white, long-sleeved shirt. Each wears a hat, but the style of the hat is at the journeyman’s discretion (as is the fabric from which the others are made). All the clothing (except, of course, for the shirt) is black. They told us masons and anyone who works with minerals or the earth wears lighter colors.
Both of the gentlemen we met today spoke English, one exceptionally well. The four we met in Hamburg spoke very few English words, making the conversation difficult. Today was exhilarating because of the particular prowess of one of the journeymen with English (he spent a year in New Zealand which helped).

The journey begins after they complete their apprentice training. To embark on the journey they must leave their home and not return for 3 years and 1 day. They receive no financial support from their families in the process. Both were quick to praise the educational system that allowed them to work and train while attending school to learn academic skills that would benefit them, such as English. Neither one bemoaned the need to participate in traditional schooling while they were apprentices. This is an important truth for those in the States who would argue that students who want to pursue skilled craftwork as a profession must not want any traditional school.

Sadly, as with trades in the United States, not everyone respects the work they do or even the journey they are on.  They told me the reception they receive from people is mixed, though they were quick to say their families were very supportive of what they were doing.

I was so enamored of the meeting that I forgot to ask them about the blue stripes on their shirts. Most of the group in Hamburg had been wearing them, but they did not know the words to describe them. I think it has something to do with guild membership, but I will have to do my best to run into some more of them this week to confirm that suspicion.

Shortly after walking away from the carpenters I saw a journeywoman! She was wearing a grey, checkered jacket and vest over black pants. Using the knowledge I had just learned from the carpenters, I asked her if she were a mason (lighter colors work with minerals). She informed me that the lighter jacket and vest over the black pants meant food work (masons would be lighter over lighter). Her specific colors represented pastry chef.

It is great to encounter so many individuals on their way to earning master craftsperson status, especially on the eve of our studies at Universit├Ąt Bremen. Perhaps we can learn just how their system creates students who want to learn a craft while also learning needed academics.  With any luck, there is a way to move beyond the artificial choice of skills or education.