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“Gautschfest” Makes a Splash on the Campus Grounds

The 21st day of June, 2016 A.D.: Institute for Print and Media Technology maintains ancient tradition and initiates new members into the printers’ society

"Pakket an! Lasst seinen Corpus posteriorum fallen auf diesen nassen Schwamm, bis triefen beide Ballen. Der durstgen Seel´ ein Sturzbad gebet obendrauff! Das ist dem Jünger Gutenbergs die allerbeste Tauff!" – Following an age-old German tradition, these are the words that five new initiates heard as they were baptized into the book printers’ society. The ceremony, which dates back to the 16th century, takes place annually on the “Gutenbergwiese” lawn behind the Technische Universität Chemnitz Institute for Print and Media Technology located at Reichenhainer Straße 70. Five apprentices, students and employees are selected each year to undergo the ceremonial baptism in water. This process is called “gautschen”.

The candidates are called forward by the “Gautschmeister” Martin Mellendorf and then they are dunked in a tub of water, clothes and all. After the water baptism, the “Gäutschlingen” are given a bad-tasting drink, whose recipe is a closely guarded secret. When the ritual is over, new initiates are given a certificate to commemorate the occasion.

The German word “gautschen” has its origins in paper manufacturing. It is a process by which water is separated from paper fibers during the production process. Damp sheets of paper are removed by a sieve and placed on a felt pad to dry. In earlier centuries, printers had close contact with the intellectual world of academics and students. Customs then emerged which were celebrated once every year by students. When typesetters and printers completed their training, they were baptized in water. This special ritual is still called “Gautschen”, even in modern day Germany. The “Gautschfest” of the Institute for Print and Media Technology was established as the ceremony to initiate apprentices, students and employees into the professional world of printers. The very first “Gautschfest” took place on June 25, 1978 at a garden party.

(Translation: Sarah Wilson)

Mario Steinebach

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