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    Für den unbekannten Hund – Guild Brotherhood Saga

    By Dorothea Holloway | August 24, 2008

    For even the best informed cineaste, Für den unbekannten Hund (Germany, 2007) by the brothers Benjamin und Dominik Reding handles an unusual and fascinating theme – the wandering Gesellenbruderschaften (Guild Journeymen Brotherhoods). You notice them at road-crossings, bus-stops, gas-stations, fast-food-counters, just about anywhere on the open roads in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. And you spot them by their antiquated togs, broad-brim hats, over-the-shoulder swags, and curled walking canes.

    And when they communicate among themselves, they’ll resort to coded lingual expressions familiar to the wandering Gesellenbruderschaften (Guild Journeymen Brotherhoods), who tramp the highways and byways as journeymen in one of the building trades: carpenter, joiner, mason, bricklayer, concrete worker, cabinet maker, and the like. Currently, there are circa 500-600 such journeymen (the craftsman between apprentice and foreman) plying their individual trades for a period between at least two years and at most three years plus one day (the wandering limit). According to traditional rituals and rules dating back to the 15th century, these wandering tradesman must be single, under 30 years of age, without debts or police record, minus a cel-telephone, and never allowed to approach within 30 kilometers of his hometown. Moreover, four of the six known guild brotherhoods do not allow women in their company, while workers from non-building trades (e.g., gardeners, plumbers, goldsmiths, tailors, violin makers) are more the exception than the rule.

    After the journeyman has completed the required trial period as a wandering craftsman, relying on trade-oriented jobs and the kindness of strangers to survive, he can then return to a stable existence in the guilds as a recognized foreman in his trade. To follow the wanderings of these journeymen in Benjamin and Dominik Reding’s For the Unknown Dog, a road movie shot against the muted greys and sepia-tones of a wintery landscape, contrasted with occasional splashes of color, is a pure visual delight (cinematographer Axel Henschel). After the critical success of their remarkable debut feature and much discussed skinhead-drama Oi! Warning Germany, 1999), the Reding twins spent seven years researching, writing, and directing For the Unknown Dog. Again, as in Oi! Warning, this is the story of today’s “outsiders” as viewed from the perspective of Wanderburschen auf der Walz (wandering lads on the road).

    Bastian (Lukas Steltner), a young concrete worker, kills a tramp for no reason at all and, although the crime goes undetected, he doesn’t at first feel a pang of guilt. Very much like today – terrifying, to kill out of boredom. A delicate issue, as reported in the media. The theme fits our times to the core: to senselessly torment and watch a person die – what’s the matter with today’s society? Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment comes to mind. When Bastian, a murderer without a conscience, joins a group of wandering handcraft workers, trade journeymen tramping the byways and leading a raw form of hardened existence, his wandering becomes a trial to prove himself, a pilgrimage to expiate his sin. Finally, Bastian begins to grasp what he has done, how guilty he is. He confesses his crime, knowing that he will be expelled from the Gesellenbruderschaften he has grown to admire and whose company he can ill do without. A plea for forgiveness. Für den unbekannten Hund won the Audience Prize at Mannheim, the Otto-Springer-Prize at Oldenburg, and the Golden Biber at the Biberach Film Festival.

    –Dorothea Moritz

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