A journeyman taking the high road: Ronny Pahl, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Text: Bernadette Calonego
Photos: Courtesy of Ronny Pahl
Enlarge image (© Ronny Pahl) Ronny Pahl has traveled to 46 countries. Fourty-six! And he is only a little over thirty years old. Ronny belongs to a rare species: He was a traveling journeyman. This is an ooooold tradition mainly in German speaking countries in Europe. With old I mean medieval!
After their apprenticeship, young journeymen venture out into the big wide world to learn new things. They wear a wide-brimmed black hat, waistcoat and black bell-bottoms. With that uniform goes a traditional curled hiking-pole.
Ronny (32) says that of 18,000 carpenter apprentices, about 500 become journeymen for a few years. They get a job for two or three months and then they continue their trip. Ronny made sure he was one of them. “Europe was too small for me even when I was a boy”, he says.
Enlarge image Ronny as a journeyman: Don't you love his snappy uniform! But Ronny, what are you up to with your stick? (© Ronny Pahl) He lived with his parents and one brother in a town named Greifswald which was part of the district of Rostock (now Bundesland Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) in former East Germany. When Ronny was seven years old, the Berlin Wall fell and East Germany and West Germany reunited. Ronny became a carpenter and traveled through 24 European countries in only four years.
Then he went overseas, to Asia, Africa and North America. In his journeyman uniform, he drew attention in the streets. “Some people thought I was a chimney sweep”, he says. “In Canada, they took me for a cowboy.”
Enlarge image I was there too!! Machu Picchu in Peru. Why didn't I meet Ronny on that very spot? Would have been a great location for my interview. (© Ronny Pahl) Obviously, he did not mind. Because he decided to immigrate to Canada. First he went to British Columbia, but then a friend invited him to Saskatchewan. That is where he put down roots because “Saskatchewan is twice the size of Germany and only 1.1 million people live here. You really can spread out in this place.” Construction was booming there. Ronny found work instantly.
The travel bug has not left this globetrotter. Every two years, he quits his job and goes on a six-month journey, to some faraway area in the world. “I am single, I am free, I don’t have to ask anybody”, he says. Indeed.
But sometimes he dreams of his own family – if only he found the right woman. And he thinks the bride would have to come from Germany. “I wish I had brought a German girlfriend with me”, he says.
We have to know more! We asked Ronny some CCQ (Curious and Crucial Questions).
Ronny, why can you only fall in love with a German girl?
I think I miss a certain substance, a certain depth in Canadian women. People here are very friendly and welcoming, but I find them also a little superficial. On the other hand, they are relaxed and rather laid-back which I like.
So emigrating to Canada had its challenges. Am I right?
Absolutely. I think I underestimated what it means. When you are single, you have to be psychologically strong. What do you do when you get homesick? It can be fateful. Or you are a well-trained professional, but in Canada, you have to start at zero again.
Enlarge image Doesn't our Ronny look like a true globetrotter? Shorts, backpack and that dreamy look in his eyes. (© Ronny Pahl) Has this happened to you?
Yes, I had to go to school again because my German journeyman's certificate was not recognised in Canada. But I am a person who loves to learn new things. In Canada, the building codes are different than in Germany, so it makes sense. You have to be flexible. But a friend of mine went back to Germany because he could not take it.
You seem to be doing well, though, considering your extensive travels!
Yes, financially, I am doing better than I would in Germany. But I have to say, my professional know-how is not maxed out here. In Canada, houses are built very fast and the quality standard is relatively low. I suppose what quality is concerned, I am very German.
What else has remained very German about you?
I appreciate the German directness - Canadians are not direct at all. Too often, you don't get a clear 'Yes' or 'No'. I miss the German food but not the German dog-eat-dog society.
Enlarge image Rio de Janeiro. What statement are you making here, Ronny? (© Ronny Pahl) What do your parents say about you being in Canada?
Last year, I was in Germany, and this year, they will come to visit me. They come every two or three years. They say that they would have done the same as me if they had had the chance when they were younger. I am not born to satisfy my parents' expectations. I am born to be free and to make my own decisions.
But you still have your German passport?
Yes, as long as I don't have my own family, I won't change it. Even for traveling, it is better with a German passport. I am probably more German than I like to admit!
One last question: Can you remember what you did on the day when the Berlin Wall was demolished (November 9, 1989)?
Yes, of course. My birthday is in November, and the Berlin Wall fell shortly before that day. We were sitting in front of the TV and could not believe that this was actually happing! But of course we were extremely happy about it. My grandparents had been politically shunned under the East German regime. If the Wall had not fallen, I would not be in Canada today. I am very glad that it happened!