Germany - Tradition - The Waltz and the Richtfest

by Kimp 26. February 2012 06:43

Jason and I were sitting in a German bar enjoying a few beers last Friday. A young well built dude in a black corduroy suit (kind of like an old turn of the century double breasted tux) with a fancy top hat (like Abe Lincoln) and an awesome handmade cane walks in. He also had an awesome handmade traveling sack with a nice leather shoulder strap.

He speaks with the bartender, knocks his cane loudly on the floor several times to get every-ones attention, then recites a poem. Afterwards most people in the bar were coming up to him and giving him money.

Jason and I were looking at each other like, man that is a nice gig for a few minutes work. We asked one of the women there and she said that he was a carpenter, just learning the trade and if you touch him, it is supposed to be good luck. Although the way the women were swooning over this well dress young man, I think they just wanted to touch him regardless of weather or not it brought them luck.

Curious, I had to look up that tradition.

Waltz

 
Since the Middle Ages, when crafts where organized in guilds, traveling has been an integral part of the education of any craftsman. Before one can become a Meister (master craftsman), one has to be a Lehrling (apprentice) with a Meister for usually three years. Upon completion of the Lehre (apprenticeship) one becomes a Geselle. The guilds for most crafts, in particular the ones for carpenters, masons etc., mandated that every Geselle had to travel for a certain number of years without returning to their hometown, except in case of family emergencies. During these years, Gesellen would travel from town to town seeking temporary employment with various Meister.
 
These travels are called Walz and are to be done in traditional dresses, which for carpenters and masons consists of a black corduroy suit, their traditional work clothes, a top hat or a bowler, depending on the trade, a bandana, used to wrap and carry all belongings on the road, and often a fancy walking stick. Traditionally, the Walz had to last three years and one day, during which time the journeyman walked from town to town. The perks of these journeys included one free meal at the local restaurant and sometimes a close encounter with the current employers wife, the Frau Meisterin.
 
In modern times, the Walz is no more a requirement for becoming a Meister, since we now have more effective ways of disseminating the skills and knowledge for a particular trade. In recent years, it has become more and more popular again with Gesellen in the traditional trades, and the people bothering you in your favorite bar are most likely legit and on the Walz (those corduroy suits aren't exactly cheap).
 
Apart from the now optional Walz other bits of the medieval guilds that have survived the centuries are the requirement that you have to be a Meister to be allowed to have your own shop and take apprentices, the Meisterstück (master piece), a piece of work of high quality and demand that you have to produce in order to become a Meister and the Richtfest.

Richtfest

The Richtfest (topping out) is a traditional part of any building construction in Germany. As soon as the Rohbau, the shell of the house including the roof structure, is finished, it is decorated with a fir wreath or fir tree and everybody involved with the building gets together for a celebration with drinks (beer, not cocktails) and some food.
 
This tradition goes back to the traveling Gesellen on the Walz: for the traveling carpenters the Richtfest was the time to move on, their work on this building had been done and they were supposed to go and find work somewhere else. So apart from celebrating a milestone in the construction of the building, it was also a goodbye party for some of the people working on it.
 

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