The Wandering Years

On my recent trip to Germany, I caught a news story on TV that was of interest to me (although my understanding of spoken German is very limited) and perhaps to others with German heritage. The story was about a traveling craftsman and his wanderbuch.  This gentleman was an apprentice bricklayer, and told of his adventures on his journey of 3 years and 1 day.   He was in his “uniform” that apparently is centuries old and according to the rules he can only carry his sleeping bag, some tools, a few special clothes and travel around to master his craft.  He is allowed to ask for free food (by asking in a special poem form) and by asking other master’s, like bakers or butchers. He also will ask for work and a place to stay.  All these jobs must be recorded in his wanderbuch and stamped by the master he worked for.

So a little background on the Journeyman and Wanderbuch.

Since the late Middle Ages, craftsman experience a period of wandering after completion of their apprenticeship. They may only go wandering if they have passed the journeyman’s examination and are unmarried, childless and debt free. They are labeled as strangers or foreigners since they must leave their home and travel, never coming back within 30 miles of their hometown for  3 years and 1 day.

DSC06729The rules are defined by the guild of their craft including the length of time they wander, what they may carry (a gnarled wooden stick, a black wide brimmed hat and a waistcoat and jacket and trousers that designate your trade. (different for carpenters, blacksmith, bricklayers etc.)

The wandering years served to get to know their craft and new techniques and generally to collect life experience. They would have to wander throughout their country and even into other countries to learn from other masters and to hone their skills before coming home to start a career.



Throughout this journey they would carry their “Wanderbuch”.

The book made ​​it possible for the person in search of work to move from city to town. However, he had to meet certain requirements for it. At each place where the workers are staying longer than two days, he was obliged to report to the authorities and show his Wanderbuch for inspection. The book was then given a short entry and a stamp of authority. A stay

Wanderbuch 2

over two days was also banned him unless he could not find work locally. The Wanderbuch also expressly forbid under threat of “prison-punishment” begging and “aimless wanderings.” Also, any change to the book by the owner, such erasures or strikeouts, was found to be a forgery which also was punishable.



Wanderbuch To enable the authorities a clear identification of the holder, Wanderbuch includes detailed information about his appearance. Passport photos did not yet exist, so stature and facial features are therefore given exactly.


Example: Johann Gottfried Dannenberg is “5 foot 7.5 inch” tall, of medium build and has gray eyes. Hair, beard and eyebrows are blonde. His face is oval, round the forehead, the nose “strong,” the mouth “mediocre”. A special feature is noted that he had “the right index finger a scar.”



Despite adverse circumstances, travelers have above all, the freedom. The wander years are also an opportunity to think about life and pursue philosophical questions. In journeyman evenings, however serene atmosphere comes down to what is partly due to the whim of drinking companions. After all the impressions and experiences many find it difficult to return to everyday life. As one Journeymen said: “It’s hard to leave from home, but infinitely more difficult to come back.”