Deep in the bowels of Heidelberg Castle is the world’s largest wine barrel. The Heidelberg Tun or Grosses Fass holds over 220,000 litres (58,000 US gallons) and stands an impressive six metres high. To encourage partying, a staircase leads to a dance floor installed on its top so people could drink and dance all evening!
With elegant deceit, the path through the castle leads past a smaller barrel at around a fifth of the volume (beautifully made with no hoops to hold it together) that could easily be taken for the famed Heidelberg Tun.
The sad news is that the barrel spent most of its long life empty. Originally used to hold taxes (paid in the form of wine) from the local winegrowers - the idea of such a mixture of wines brings a headache at the very thought! Savage axe marks remain in the barrel from where Napoleon’s soldiers attempted to access the golden liquid inside. They were unsuccessful but ironically, the barrel was empty anyway.
While the focus of this battered fortress is its wine barrel, the panoramic views over the red-roofed university city of Heidelberg, the old bridge and the meandering Neckar River are glorious and highlights the prestigious location of the castle.
Along with the ancient cooper’s tools and a strange clock, opposite the barrel is a statue of an Italian man, Perkeo. As a dwarf and an odd-looking character of amusement, he was appointed as the court jester and Keeper of the Tun. For a man of such short stature, Perkeo was legendary for his incredible consumption of wine. It is strongly rumoured that he only drank wine in his adult lifetime. On being ill nearing his eightieth birthday, the royal doctor advised him to drink water and refrain from wine. Despite his protestations, he drank the water and died that evening in his sleep.
In Mark Twain’s epic A Tramp Abroad, he eloquently ridicules the large empty Heidelberg Tun as follows: It is a wine-cask as big as a cottage, and some traditions say it holds eighteen thousand bottles, and other traditions say it holds eighteen hundred million barrels. I think it likely that one of these statements is a mistake, and the other is a lie. However, the mere matter of capacity is a thing of no sort of consequence, since the cask is empty, and indeed has always been empty, history says. An empty cask the size of a cathedral could excite but little emotion in me. I do not see any wisdom in building a monster cask to hoard up emptiness in, when you can get a better quality, outside, any day, free of expense.
Perched on a grassy hillside overlooking Heidelberg, the castle dominates the city. Its war-torn history, splendid views, semi-ruinous state and adventurous stories make for an entertaining couple of hours exploring this grand castle. The focus on large barrels merely adds to the intrigue.
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