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Intangible cultural heritage

Traditions, knoweldge, craftsmanship techniques  
Photo: © UNESCO/James Muriuki

Social practices throughout Austria, inscribed 2021

At the end of a printer’s training, the Gautsch celebration takes place. The water baptism is the highlight of this celebration. In this tradition, the Kornuten (‘apprentices’) are grabbed and dunked into a vat of water in order to wash clean their ‘sins’ (from their time as apprentices). Afterwards, the graduating apprentices are ceremoniously released from their status and thus become journeymen*journeywomen. To confirm that they have been through this ceremony, the Gäutschlinge receive an artfully decorated certificate known as a Gautschbrief.

Gautschen (the ‘Gautsch’), an occupational tradition practiced by book printers and typesetters, can be traced back to guild initiation rites. Gautschen was documented as early as in the 15th century, under the rule of Friedrich III, and it relates to a procedure during paper production, as well as the moistening of the printing sheet in early book printing.

Several people, who perform different roles, are required for Gautschen: a Gautschmeister*in (‘Gautschmaster’), who determines the sequence of events, and their supporting Packer*innen (those who grab the apprentices), who do the ‘rough work’ for the Gautschmaster and are recruited from those journeymen*journeywomen at the company who have already been awarded a Gautschbrief. The Schwammhalter*in (‘sponge holder’) dunks the apprentices and requires two sponges as well as a bucket of water to perform this task. The Anführgspan or Faktor (‘trainer’) acts as a witness. 

Following the end of their time as apprentices, the process begins with the Gautschmaster issuing the command “Packt an!” (“Grab them!”). Afterwards, the apprentices are thrown, one after the other, into a vat of water by those in charge of grabbing them, placed on a moist sponge, or soaked with a bucket of water against which they were originally supposed to try and defend themselves with all their might. Each time, the Gautschmaster holds a speech while the sponge-holder cleanses the apprentice of their sins. At the end of each ceremony, the journeyman*journeywoman receives their Gautschbrief, which is representative of an important, historic link to and affiliation with an occupational group today.

Nowadays, in addition to printers, this is also practiced by professionals in occupations derived from printing, such as typographers, media designers, typographical engineers, etc. The initiation ceremony takes place at an institute of higher education in Vienna, at companies, and at events associated with the profession. This ritual forms an occupational as well as a cross-generational arch in its meaning for the apprentices and students and provides a sense of identity within the profession. This element is communicated and safeguarded by means of publications, public relations work, and continuous practice. 


Bernhard Honkisz
c/o Leyserstraße 6
1140 Wien



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