I've sometimes wondered how much of my peripatetic life I owe to my early days with the "Fahrende Gesellen", a sort of German version of Baden-Powell's scouts sans the left-handed handclasp and three-finger salute.
I must've been 11 or 12 when I joined up, after which I spent almost every weekend and every school holiday "auf der Waltz", either with the group or on my own. Being impecunious didn't mean I couldn't travel the world. I hiked and hitchhiked all over Germany and across to England, Holland, and Scandinavia, and deep into Italy, France, and Spain, living off the land and sleeping in the open or in farmers' barns or, less often, in youth hostels (another German "invention").
Looking down from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, taking the lift up the Eiffel Tower, dangling my feet into the stinking canals of Venice, hiking across the Brenner Pass into Italy, eating polenta with farmers in the Dolomites, and riding on a donkey down the cobbled lanes of Clovelly --- I'd done it all by the time I was 14 which was just as well as my carefree school days (and holidays) had come to an end as I signed my articles to start my professional career.
With all that Sturm and so much Drang in me, emigrating to Australia at the age of 19 seemed a natural progression. Memories of the "Fahrende Gesellen" are still with me today, especially when I read their quarterly magazine.
Their simple philosophy has stayed with me throughout my life:
"Der Bund der „Fahrenden Gesellen“ hat seinen Ursprung in der Wandervogelbewegung des vergangenen Jahrhunderts. In einer Zeit der zunehmenden Ablösung der Menschen von ihren natürlichen Lebensgrundlagen wollten die jungen Menschen hinaus aus „grauer Städte Mauern“ in die Natur. Nur mit dem Nötigesten ausgerüstet suchten sie die Abgeschiedenheit von Wäldern und Feldern, um ein Leben fern der bürgerlichen Einengungen und Konventionen zu führen - eigenverantwortlich und selbstbestimmt. Auch heute sind Wanderungen mit dem Rad, dem Boot, vor allem aber zu Fuß ein wesentlicher Bestandteil unseres Tuns. Wir nennen sie „Fahrt“. Dazu gehören das Übernachten im Zelt oder auch beim Bauern, das Kochen auf dem offenen Feuer und das Singen."
"The "Fahrende Gesellen" have their origin in the Wandervogel movement of the last century. At a time of increasing alienation from the natural world, young people wanted to shake off the restrictions of society. Equipped with just bare essentials, they wanted to get back to nature and be free to determine, and be responsible for, their own action. Trips by bike, by boat, but particularly on foot, were a major part of our activities. We called them "Fahrt" (Tour) which included camping out in tents or in farmers' barns, cooking over open fires, and singing our songs."