Author: Hanno Meier
Pictures: Hanno Meier

A cool woman in a tough man’s world

A pink hammer? Surely this sounds more like a girl’s toy than something which would be used in a hard and highly skilled manual job. But Julia Pröll has long since learned to laugh at people who doubt her ability to work in her chosen profession just because she is a young woman. Views such as this chipped away at her confidence in the same way that her pink hammer drives a chisel into the block of granite in front of her.

A tough fight

She was initially derided by her male colleagues when she entered college to study for a master craftsman qualification in stonemasonry. Her female friends also showed little understanding for why she would wish to embark on a traditional artisan occupation. Nevertheless, Julia continued to pursue her own pathway. At the age of 20, she became the youngest ever master craftsman pupil in her profession. She was also a woman in a rock-hard man’s world. All her classmates were ten years older than her, and her trainers found themselves dealing with the first female to want to qualify in the job. Today, Julia is a junior manager at her parents’ stonemasonry firm in Schwandorf. It is now a long time since she has needed to prove herself to anyone. All of this was a “tough struggle”, but there is one thing above all which she has gained. Self-belief. “This is because I simply had to show my worth!”

Julia is tall and slim and has long dark hair. She drives up in a forklift truck, onto which a red-grained block of granite has been loaded. This must weigh several hundred kilograms. Julia, now aged 29, is transporting it from the yard to the shop floor. Turning off the engine, she states the one thing that she does not want. “I don’t wish to be portrayed as some kind of virago working in the stonemasonry profession.” She became a stonemason because she was looking for a craft trade occupation in which she could have a design input. She is dressed in a slim-fitting outfit and would certainly cut an exceptionally good figure on the catwalk as a workwear model.

Julia Pröll schiebt einen schweren Stein aus der Halle

Girl Power

In any case, she is now more than happy to entrust hugely heavy stones such as this to the 10 employees who work at her family firm. These men have the same degree of respect for their junior manager as they do for their main boss, Julia’s father, who gifted his daughter the pink hammer when she set out on her unusual career. Julia refers to the tool as her “girl power hammer”, and this is also clearly a source of pride for her dad. The actual idea behind the color was that the male staff would know to stay away from Julia’s equipment. But the hammer has somehow now become her trademark, her signature feature since the very first day of training.

A presentation piece 

Julia used her pink hammer to chisel out the special presentation piece which all budding master craftsmen are required to produce before they can qualify. Wanting to show her father, the examiners, her classmates – and above all herself – just what she was capable of, she chose a hard block of granite for this task. Whilst her male colleagues were shaping pieces of soft soapstone, Julia’s hammer was at work on solid chunk of rock, carving out an unbelievably precise groove for an altar table. The material was so unforgiving that she almost began to despair. The final piece is now on show on the street-facing side of the company’s premises. It comprises a monolithic object, just over a meter and a half in length and a meter high and bears the words: “Thought is the product of individuality”. Even years afterwards, there is a palpable sense of relief when the woman who is probably Bavaria’s only female master craftsman stonemason sits down on the work she has created. 80 hours of toil with her girl power hammer and a steel chisel.  1,000 blisters which left their marks on her hands. Her arms burning like welding guns. Sometimes, Julia’s girlfriends cannot resist teasing her when they recall the state of her hands following the 14 days it took to complete the master craftsman presentation piece. “They were twice as big as normal.” Even Julia must concede: “It wasn’t fun at the time.” But it was something she had to do. She needed to get through the assignment.

Precision and safety

Julia has made it in her profession. Gravestones in different colors lie on mobile work tables in her “atelier”, the name she gives to the 50 square-meter area located at the entrance to the main production hall. The stones are reddish, gray or marble-hued. She pushes one into the center and gives the fixing device a vigorous kick. A headstone like this can easily weigh between 300 and 400 kilos. The trolley needs to hold firm, and the shoes she is wearing also must withstand the pressure.

Julia slips her yellow ear protectors over her black hair and claps goggles over her eyes. She quickly changes the chisel tip in the pneumatic hammer and begins to engrave the name of the deceased person into the red granite. Letter by letter. Julia brings incredible concentration and precision to the job at hand. She carves out serif, antiqua and black letter typefaces. Julia Pröll loves the artistic element of her profession. She also very much enjoys singing with a rock band in her spare time, although these sessions have become all too rare of late. She likes the various fonts and relishes the opportunity to apply individual designs. This is her world. Working freehand, she adds ciphers in Gothic script. She is currently involved in designing a high-end staircase portal and can also be found taking measurements for kitchen counter tops which are accurate down to the last millimeter. Julia conducts mee-tings with customers and sometimes hops onto the forklift truck or grabs the large angle grinder. “The main fun comes from variety,” she says. Julia Pröll is a woman who has found her dream job in a male-dominated profession. And there is one further thing she is sure of: “The pink hammer became my lucky charm.”

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