German artisan-Mafia: Handwerkskammer

During a week in East Germany I had my fears of German regulations for artisan production confirmed. Unfortunately :cry: 1.

Handwerkskammer advertisement

A long-lasting family business or an extended education in a traditional artisan environment appears to be a very good basis for creating high-quality products. And yes, I am sure it is. But there are many ways to become a master… ever tried one of Askinosie’s chocolates? Or one made by the chocolatemakers? Or Marou? (if not, you should they’re great!).
I mention them because they are wonderful examples of artisan producers that had the courage to do a drastic career switch. I could go on for hours telling you how much such different-perspective-people can (and do) add to the growing innovative world of small-scale bean-to-bar chocolate makers. The same is true for many –if not all- other areas of artisan production. Two countries in the world have a very different opinion. Germany and Austria. In both countries becoming a small-scale artisan producer is strongly restricted by law. Having a German passport, I will focus on my “home-country” (in this case mostly because it’s stubbornness drives me crazy).

Cemented by medieval traditions, similarly old habits and one century old laws, Germany’s artisan production is governed by powerful organizations called “Handwerkskammern” (Chambers of Crafts)2. Artisan businesses are forced to be members and pay fees. Artisan formation is regulated and controlled by the Handwerkskammer, and for many professions this Handwerkskammer appreciated formation is a prerequisite to start an own business.
Its existence is often justified by saying that it aims at guaranteeing a high enough quality of the professional formation as well as to increase the product safety for the final consumer. Both things make sense, and the artisan formation in Germany is indeed not a bad one. However, through blocking, delaying, and diluting as many reforms as possible an extremely inconsistent, illogical situation arose. That only well-trained professionals should be allowed to install electricity or gas in your house still makes sense. But why should a 5-year formation be a must for starting a business as a haircutter? And why can’t I sell self-made cakes or cookies without a full 5-year patisserie formation, while everyone is allowed to sell self-made cakes or cookies in their own restaurant of cafés (which you can open without any formation)? Crazy, huh3 ?
After some rationale thinking I would simply say that the best would be to have some general control instance that checks your skills before you can start producing and selling your (more or less dangerous) product, independent of your formal type of formation. However, that would be too logical. Too rational. That’s not Handwerkskammer-style. They have A LOT of power and they clearly want to keep it that way. So following this internal ‘logic’ it is indeed best (for the Handwerkskammer) to leave things unchanged. Drastic reforms of the German artisan sector which could boost innovation and facilitate career switches, is thus not in the interest of the Handwerkskammer. That’s very sad. And it also means, that most innovative small-scale bean-to-bar chocolates will continue to be produced elsewhere.

  1. I had read a lot and kind of knew what to expect, but I somehow still had hope. So I did some inquiries at a local Handwerkskammer only to find out that my understanding was right. No artisan candy production without “Meister” or equivalent. So here’s my plan for REVENGE: I will start my enormous candy empire abroad. Amsterdam, here I am! []
  2. By the way, the status of the Handwerkskammern was strengthened significantly under the reign of the National Socialists, aiming at more “Aryanization” of the artisan production (see German wikipedia). []
  3. The more you dig into it, the more puzzling, random, and inconsistent things get. Luckily, there were some first reforms over the last decades, mostly because high-pressure arose from conflicting with European laws. So after running your own artisan business in another EU country for at least 6 years you can now hope to get a Ausnahmegenemigung to work as an artisan in Germany (there are many more ifs and laws and rules … but BOREDOM-CONTROL said better stop at this point). In addition, several (mostly minor) traditional artisan professions were taken from the list of the strongly restricted professions. Many of the most common professions, however, remain restricted as before. By the way, Germans call this “Meisterzwang” (obligation to master). Unfortunately there’s no Denkzwang so far…(obligation to think) []

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