As Dan Kenkel drove down Highway 16, the traditional garb caught his eye.
Two men, dressed in the uniform of traditional German journeymen, were just standing there, hitchhiking.
“I kept driving,” says Kenkel. “I said to my daughter, ‘I should go back and talk to them.’
“Of course, she’s like, ‘Dad, no, please, just keep going,’” he says.
Sure enough, Kenkel turned the vehicle around and stopped to meet the two men, named Max Kern, 21, and Malte Braun, 25. The men are part of a German journeyman brotherhood, called Gesellenzunfte. One of the brotherhood’s requirements sees its members travel abroad for three years.
“We are trained carpenters,” says Kern. “We did our apprenticeship in Germany… I’ve been on my journey for a year now.”
Gesellenzunfte has a strict set of rules: You must finish your apprenticeship. If you’re 27-years-old or younger, you may join the brotherhood. A journeyman must not be married, must have no children, no debts, no bank accounts and no criminal background.
With tradition being a key theme within the brotherhood, Kern says one of the last steps before the journey is for a blacksmith to take an iron forged nail and hammer it through the journeyman’s ear.
The rationale for the earing, he says, is traditionally if a journeyman were to die on his three-year journey — the person to find the journeyman’s body would take the earing as payment for a burial.
Traveling very lightly, Kern and Braun carry only a bedroll and a couple of books. The brotherhood does not allow for the men to carry a cell phone, or other modern conveniences, says Kenkel, and what you see is what you get.
“You get a travel book,” says Braun. “You collect stamps from every border you pass through, and every company you (engage) with.”
Kenkel realized quickly that he had an offer for them.
“I told them we have a farm in Valemount, in the Rockies, right near Jasper,” says Kenkel. “Turns out they were hitchhiking to Jasper.
“I told them I had a few little projects I was working on, a great place to stay, great food — I was trying to sell it, eh?” He says.
Kern and Braun agreed to trade services for room and board. They jumped in the vehicle, Kenkel says, the now they’re here.
“Canada is one of my dreams, to see,” says Kern. “It’s easy to make this my journey.”
Since arriving in Valemount, the carpenters have helped Kenkel finish a treehouse for his daughter, worked on the fence as well as other odd jobs around the farm.
When the men got Kern and Braun got to the Kenkel’s farm, the treehouse was at the point where the trusses were made, but they weren’t installed, Kenkel says. There were no windows, no doors, and no railing, he adds.
“We started it about three years ago when our daughter was 12,” Kenkel says.
Traditionally, a lot of the building done by Gesellenzunfte is very exacting, according to Kenkel. All the plans are laid out, planned and calculated, he says.
However, this project wasn’t been all that calculated, Kenkel says, and while the carpenters are learning about Canadian construction, they’ve had to do a lot of improvising on the fly, too.
“I would give them instructions like, ‘I don’t know? What makes sense? What do you think it should look like?’” Says Kenkel. “They had to just figure it out, and that’s what they did. “
People ask why the men wear their traditional uniforms in today’s modern world, but Kern says it’s the uniform that opens up opportunity for conversation, as it did with Kenkel.
“Then we explain we are carpenters, and maybe more opportunities open that way,” says Kern.
Members of the Gesellenzunfte can be found in various parts of the world.