Prior to 2013, I have only visited Germany once and that’s a quick work trip to Frankfurt, the country’s financial hub. In the spring of 2013, I spent five weeks living in the thriving capital city of Berlin. My Berlin stint aside, I flew south of the country to join Till in Munich, where I had the opportunity to visit a commercial joinery located 50km outside of the Bavarian city.
It was 7.15am when we drove along a windy road meandering around large plots of farmland. Till takes this road to work every morning and he could have driven with his eyes closed and still find the main door of his Schreinerei with ease. However, I wouldn’t say the same if one is not local. We passed several village Bäckerei until we hit one of Till’s favourite to grab croissants and cappuccinos. I’m a breakfast monster, so there is no way I’ll start my “work” day on an empty stomach.
As we neared the Schreinerei (joinery or carpentry), the smell of raw wood slowly engulfed the cool spring air around us. The fresh and earthly scent of wood drew me into a large double storey workstation where several carpenters, clad in pullovers and functional carpenter pants were already hard at work. The Schreinerei reminded me of my school days in the chemistry lab except that this is more complex and on a much larger scale. There are bottles of chemicals, lots of hand and measurement tools: Vernier calipers, micrometers, wooden tapes, levellers and even a pipette! Surrounded by so many gadgets and machineries can be really overwhelming, but at the same time, there is a certain order and tidiness to the place. Every tool seems to have a rightful place in here. Where gadgets are taken and used, they are subsequently returned to the same spot. There is ease in finding everything you need.
Behind the buzzing workstation is a huge wood storage area. Intrigued by the shelves of wood, I browsed through layers of timbers and quizzed myself on the various shades of temperate browns. For me, the most charming ones are the “fresh” pieces of raw wood that still bears strong relations to the forest from which they originated. Around 30% of the national German territory is forested and there is no more deforestation since producing sustainable timber has long been a tradition for them. For every tree cut, a certain number of the same tree is replanted, in accordance with the principle of sustainability and adhering to a prudent forest management scheme.
The lingering scent of wood made me eager to work on them. A newbie is typically given simple tasks of sanding and oiling, which I did with pleasure. I took my time to sand out rough edges and smoothed out surfaces while the experienced carpenters multitasked between planing, routing profiles, chiseling or spray painting. Everyone has their own project to work on and sometimes, I would hear chatters as they brainstorm the best possible way to make or to amend their lapses. “Could we angle it this way, or do you think it is better to use a parallelogram jointer?” It took me a few seconds to recall what a parallelogram is and a much longer moment to understand its application in carpentry. Even after they have arrived at a solution, I was still pondering over basic geometry (gosh.. and I had an "A" for Maths in school and used Calculus at work!). What I observed though is that they didn't take short cuts to amend mistakes. They discussed as a team and would re-do an entire piece if need be.
I value this quality in them - they take time to do their job because they take pride in what they do.
Despite being in the midst of a tranquil farming area, I sense such intensity emitting from each maker hard at work. From the "Chrchhhhh-Urchhh---Chrchhhhh-Urchhh---Chrchhhhh-Urchhh” sound of wood sawing to the buzzing noises from machineries, the silent story of each maker’s thoughts, focus and concentration is subtly told. Everyone works with a deep sense of purpose, unperturbed by the numerous Pirelli calendar girls peering over them nor the ambient alternative rock music streaming from FM4, a hip Austrian radio station.
At this Schreinerei, work starts at 7.30am sharp, with a 15 min break at 9.30am for quick bites before lunch at noon. To welcome me, we had a typical Bavarian lunch of “Weisswurst mit bretzel” or boiled white sausages with baked salted pretzels and honey mustard dip. This is one of my all-time favorite dish and whenever I am back in the Bavarian region, I'll always have it without fail! At exactly 12.30pm, work resumes with no further breaks till 5pm. By that time, the intensive manual work has worn everyone out and it’s time for the drive home to their respective families. The chaotic workstation is once again restored to its peaceful state, all cleaned out and ready for action tomorrow.
Having spent several days out here opened my eyes to fully committed makers. I look upon them with newfound respect and I’ve also learnt to appreciate the amount of planning, thinking, eye-hand co-ordination and hard work that goes into being a Craftsman.