In Germany, I met my childhood friend Julia for a two-week cycling tour through Germany and the Czech Republic. We bought bicycles in Hamburg and rode them all the way to the city of Plzen in the Czech Republic, for a total of around 1,000 kilometers. We also met up with another friend, Kili, for part of the journey.
Our main destinations were Erlangen in Germany and Brno in the Czech Republic (due to time restraints, we ended up taking the train from Plzen). In both places we stayed with friends that I met in Laos while volunteering at Saelao Project.
On the way, we slept in a variety of places. Sometimes, we simply pitched our tent on the side of the bike path, which is not technically allowed in Germany but wasn’t a problem. Other times, we stayed at legitimate campsites, and enjoyed use of the showers and a sink for washing clothes. We also used the website Warm Showers for the first time, which is like Couchsurfing, except only for cyclists.
One of our Warm Showers hosts, Tobias, lived with his family in a small village in the German state of Thuringia. He was a well-experienced cyclist, having completed an eight-month tour almost completely around the Mediterranean. Being a roofer, he had also spent four and a half years as a traveling tradesmen, following a German tradition.
The tradition of the traveling tradesmen goes back to the Middle Ages. The goal is to learn about your profession from the perspective of different cultures of the world. They travel around Germany and the world, working in exchange for room and board. If they want to travel, they must earn the money to do so. Any tradesman can go so long as he or she is under 30 years old and has no debts or dependents. Carpenters, masons, tailors, blacksmiths, bookbinders, painters and more can choose to go on this journey.
The rules for it are rather strict:
- Must be gone for a minimum of three years and one day
- Can’t go within 50 kilometers of hometown
- Must constantly wear traditional clothes, and carry few possessions
- Must carry a journal, and get stamps and comments from majors and employers
- Start with only five euros
|Tobias's Travel Journel|
|First page outlining rules and goals|
|On one of the first pages, a map with his hometown in the middle, illustrating where he wasn't allowed to go|
The traveling tradesmen also follow a variety of traditions for their journey. Before leaving, they have a goodbye party, in which they often have their friends pierce their ears. They also symbolically climb over the sign for their hometown and take a photo (seen above on first page of the journal). Underneath the sign they bury two bottles: one bottle of wine for their homecoming party, and one bottle of notes from their family and friends, shown below.
It was very interesting to learn about this unique tradition. On our cycling tour, the best part was being able to stay with different people and gain knowledge from their perspectives.