The Journeying Men

Have you ever come across a young man or woman, clad in black ornamented bell bottom suede pants, matching waistcoat, and a broad rimmed hat?

If he or she furthermore emits a distinctive aroma of wood, metal or masonry, you can consider yourself privileged, because you have very likely met a journeyman.

But there are much more interesting things about journeymen besides their distinctive and aromatic fashion.  

Here’s their story and how it intersects with Hawila’s.

A centuries old tradition

The tradition of wandering craftsmen emerged in the late Middle Ages, in 15th century Germany. At that time, cities had grown to be a third factor in the balance of political power in the traditional feudalistic societies of Europe. Before, absolute political power was shared only by the nobility and the Catholic Church.

All technological and humanistic knowledge had been concentrated in, developed and exclusively owned, by the many monasteries. The monks were not only the guardians of religion and spirituality but also scientists, craftsmen, engineers and teachers.


When cities became economically independent, and politically powerful, all this changed, leading to a new world order. Feudalism was based on agriculture, where few owned all of the land and 95% of the population were forced to work in slave-like conditions for their noble overlords. This new world order led to the end of serfdom, the emergence of industrialism and, eventually, democracy.

Until the early Middle ages, 99% of the population of Europe lived in the countryside. Today, after almost 1000 years of urbanisation, 75% of the population on the European continent live in cities.

The Guilds

Soon merchants and craftsmen in the cities of Central Europe began organising themselves into associations, called guilds.  

The guilds soon established their own professional standards, education systems and rules of conduct. If one wanted to learn a profession, he (women were not yet allowed to learn crafts) had to approach the local guild and apply for apprenticeship with a master craftsman. After a basic education of 3-5 years, the apprentice would, upon successful completion of an exam, gain the title ”Geselle”, or Journeyman. 

Being a journeyman entitled you to seek employment with a master craftsman, but only in the town where you had learned your trade. In order to become an independent craftsman, you had to gain the title of ”Meister” – Master Craftsman. But it was required that the Geselle had to travel for a minimum of 2 years, the exact duration determined by the guild before they could call themselves a Master.

Sending young craftsmen on year-long journeys made sense: Travelling journeymen were the primary bearers of cultural exchange, from the Middle Ages until the end of the 19th century. By travelling and seeking employment in foreign countries, they not only could enrich their professional knowledge, but also gain valuable life-experiences.  

Sending the young professionals away for a couple of years was also a convenient way for getting rid of undesired competition for the established master craftsmen. So that is why Journeyman where organizing themself in special guilds to have more power in negotiations with the master guilds, it was the begining of getting more workers rights. Although journeymen enjoyed international legal and political protection, travelling in the Middle Ages was still perilous. Food was scarce and there were robbers and highwaymen. One condition for the sanctuary state of the journeymen was that they were not allowed to carry arms. 

After the wandering years, the journeyman could return home and apply for the title of Master craftsman, subject to passing the master exam before a committee of the guild. Then he would become a member of the guild and get permission to start his own business.

By the end of the 19th century this century-old tradition began to disappear, as the power of the guilds was broken by political changes and the transition into the industrial society of the 20th century. 


In the 1990’s the tradition of travelling professionals began to resurface on the periphery of a ”back to the roots” movement. Young professionals, now both men and women, would rediscover these traditions and cherish the romance and adventure that came with them.

Today, journeymen, adhering to the ancient rules and traditions, are again travelling all over Europe, even all over the world. They have formed their own local and international organisations and enjoy growing respect for their high level of craftsmanship and work ethics.

Travelling was never about making money, but gaining experience. That’s why you today can find many journeymen and women working as volunteers in non-profit projects – like Hawila Project.

Journeymen on Hawila

We had the pleasure of recently hosting four talented journeymen and -women on Hawila. The reason being, originated from last summer, where we had the privilege to witness a journeyman being pierced with a long nail to the beam of Hawila in celebration of their rite of passage from the master. Here, everyone came together in a magical moment of song, celebration and tradition, a beautiful moment where the young journeyman was nailed to the beam for the ceremony. After this, the journeyman carved his name in the beam with the agreement that they would return to work on the ship.

This is exactly what he did. Travelling with three others the journeymen and -women made new hatches on deck, prepared the bulkheads and brought a great working spirit with them. The time shared with them made us reflect upon this broader idea of community, it was very inspiring to see the camaraderie, professionalism, skill and dedication of these craftsmen.

Under all circumstances, journeymen have a well-deserved reputation for being competent and highly qualified workers. Their lifestyle enables them to gain experiences others can’t even imagine. For many, this is a sound investment in their own professional and personal development and future. 

We always praise ourselves lucky, when a journeyman decides to join our work, how briefly it may be, and so should you. We learn a lot from them and they can learn a lot of us.

We are proud to be able to support this great tradition and we’re looking forward to meet more of these fantastic and dedicated people.

Set of Iron Clad Rules

In the Wikipedia article ”Die Wanderjahre” you can learn more about their set of rules and code of conduct.