A Remembrance of the Past; Building for the Future." ~ Eve Eckert Koehler

Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors

On becoming a Woodworker

By Adam Martini
(Trenton Donauschwaben Nachrichten, April-June 2003)
Translation by son, Hans Martini

          I was 15 years old and had just completed the mandatory part of my  schooling.  I was a young  teenager and had to decide on a profession or  if I wanted to pursue further academic studies.  After some thought, I  decided on a career as a craftsman.  This dovetailed quite nicely with our  family's background: my father and grandfather were both craftsmen and  once had their own woodworking business back in Bukin, Yugoslavia (Batschka).

          In Austria, the way one went about learning to become a woodworker - or  any other profession - was to find an apprentice position at a master  craftsman's workshop.  Happily, I easily found such a place at the firm of  "Eduard Schrott" in the town of Ostermiething.

          The course of training would last for three years.  In that time span, I  would work for 48 hours a week with a seven week technical training course  each year in the town of Mattighofen, Upper Austria.  For other students  in other areas, one would attend the technical school once a week.  This  was often the case in larger towns.

          The first few months are by far the most difficult time for a "Lehrling",  a student craftsman candidate.  To me it seemed like some kind of military  boot camp.  In the workshop where I was placed there were nine journeymen  (fully trained craftsmen), two apprentices, and the master craftsman/boss.    There was also a painter and his assistant on staff.  The journeymen  behaved like sergeants and the master craftsman like a general!  You can  imagine what that must have been like for the lowly apprentice.

          That first year found me often holding a broom in hand and being the butt  of practical jokes, which caused great amusement in the shop.  On the  other hand, woe to the apprentice who did not find the right tool quickly  enough, the journeymen could be most heartless.  It behooved one to find all one could about every facet of the work, as quickly as possible!  That first year was for most apprentices the most difficult time and, for a few, a psychologically overwhelming time.  Consequently, some would drop out and find another line of work.

          Following that terrible first year - a student's baptism of fire, so to speak - things did get better.  One was thankful that the journeymen then had a new apprentice to pick on!

          The life of a student craftsman changed dramatically in the second year.  For instance, I received a workbench and my own set of tools.  I would work under a senior craftsman (called an "Obhut") and was located right near his work area.  I would glue boards together, sand them, and do various other jobs for the senior journeyman.  It was far more interesting work though there was constant pressure from the other journeymen who would find every opportunity to make the student "feel the pain".  I cannot imagine anything remotely similar occurring in today's day and age.

          During the third year, things would again change dramatically.  I received my own small projects to complete and was allowed to use all of the machines in the workshop.  Although I was often just as productive as a journeyman, there was no doubt I was still low man on the totem pole.  I still had to greet them personally and, no matter where we were, I had to play "go-fer" whenever they asked.  This meant not only for things like getting wood for their projects but also to run and buy them cigarettes!

          Slowly the journeymen had to make room for the third year apprentice, however, as the relationship would dramatically change after the year-end examination was successfully completed.  The former greenhorn and go-fer, would then become a work colleague.  This would be especially difficult for the more senior of the journeymen to accept.

          As already mentioned, the apprentice had to attend seven weeks' worth of technical training.  There many students gathered from a variety of professions: mechanics, masons, carpenters, etc.   The technical school was also a boarding school that would be just like a home away from home for all of us.  Of course, we were young guys "feeling our oats", as it were, so strict rules were in place to maintain control and order.  From the time one got up in the morning until "lights out", everything was strictly regulated.  Our dorm rooms slept six, with three bunk beds per unit.  Meals were taken en masse in a large cafeteria.  However, each profession had its own lecture room and workshop where proper techniques would be demonstrated and practiced.

[Published at 7 Jan 2005 by Jody McKim Pharr]

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