"My name is Johanna Röh. I worked around Europe for a while but then also spent time in North America, in New Zealand, and in Japan." She seems self-confident, very open and always holds on to her sense of humour. Today, the dark-haired young master carpenter Johanna Röh is standing next to her home-made wooden rucksack. Rucksack is actually a slight overstatement for this small bundle that has accompanied her as she worked around the world for four years. "We don't actually carry these rucksacks but instead we wrap everything we're able to carry in these cloths and take that with us. That's because everything you take with you is obviously a luxury that you then have to carry and then you think about whether you really need it."
The bare necessities
In actual fact, she explains, you only need clothing; the tools you need for the work are given to you in the carpentry workshops. Reducing everything to the bare necessities is part of the tradition of being on the road during the journeyman years. This is a huge adjustment when compared to normal everyday life in Germany. Traditionally, you leave that behind, she explains, by being lifted over your town's place-name sign before heading off on the road - without any money and generally leading a very spartan existence. "We don't make phone calls; we travel without a mobile. In other words, you can't call, you have to knock on the door. You get referred on a great deal because you also hitch-hike a lot which means you'll end up getting to know people who live somewhere locally and who can also refer you on."
Freemovers - as the tradespeople on the road in the journeyman years are known - who do not explicitly complete a placement abroad or travel with the support of the Erasmus plus programme, must continue for one day longer than the length of the training, as tradition demands. That's three years and one day. Social networks? Can you post photos, on WhatsApp or telephone colleagues? That’s a ‘no go’ on the road during the journeyman years: "This means basically that people aren't aware you're there until you're standing in front of them".
You learn a huge amount on the road during the journeyman years
In Canada, Johanna learned that when working with wood, everything is much more relaxed than in 'standardised' Germany. In Japan, she was fascinated by tool sharpening and just stayed a year for this reason:
"So, what was really good was that they were able to sharpen really well and also practice it a lot in their everyday work. We hardly do this in Germany anymore. It's obviously part of the vocational school teaching and you do it now and again, but what they do over there is just on another level. They also have really good steel and a different way of adjusting the plane. This means they can work with much more precision."
In Europe, the journeyman umbrella organisation - the CCEG [Confédération Compagnonnages Européens - Europäische Gesellenzünfte] - makes it really easy to work in different countries on the road during the journeyman years, but outside of Europe you always need a work permit. The exception is Australia. With the official travelling book of the CCEG in which the individual places worked while on the road during the journeyman years are confirmed by the hosts, a man or woman working Down Under can receive a one-year work-and-travel permit without a problem.
Prejudice is everywhere
Being on the road as a woman in the journeyman years would be a thoroughly exciting experience were it not for the prejudices of male skilled trades people towards their female colleagues. "What I found really fascinating was each country has different prejudices towards women. You have to fight against them."
Johanna Röh explains that in New Zealand, for example, they believe that women have less technical understanding but that they can cope with the hard work. By contrast, in Canada, people don't believe women can do heavy lifting and instead credit them with technical understanding and having fine motor skills. And in Japan, she explains, women are regarded as emotionally too unstable to hold down a job over the long term.
"Ultimately, it's all relative, and it's about what you can do and what you can develop. It would therefore be much nicer if people were a bit more open, and if all people treated themselves and others with a bit more openness."
Putting what you have learnt into practice in your own workshop
The master carpenter is now able to make best use of the different experiences she has had over the four years on the road in her own workshop. Whether it's Asian-inspired furniture, Nordic design, or stairways designed in a creative way: Without her time as the travelling journeywoman, all this probably wouldn't have been possible.