Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The World’s Largest Wine Barrel (Heidelberg, Germany)

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.

Other Germany Posts
The Fairytale Mining Town (Goslar)
A Timeless Promise (Oberammergau Passion Play)
Peering from the Eagle's Nest (Berchtesgaden)
Bacon Beer and Bishops (Bamberg)
The World's Largest Advent Calendar (Gengenbach)


Amar said...

Hi Mark,

Wine-cask as big as a cottage hey. Impressive!

Just thought I would let you know that you have made it into the Top 50 Travel Blogs. Congratulations!

I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.



BarbaraW said...

"With elegant deceit.." Love it.

Vacation Deals said...

wow!!fantastic have a nice site.

sherry Ott said...

I love the fact that there's a dance floor above the barrel - that's the best idea I've heard! I have a question though that needs a bit more explanation - you said that the barrel used to hold 'taxes' - what do you mean by 'taxes' - I presume it's not money?

Mark H said...

@amar: Thank you so much

@barbara: It sounds weird when you pluck the words out like that.

@vacation deals: Thanks.

@Sherry: I will update that sentence. The taxes are paid by the grape growers / wine makers as users of the lord's land and are paid in wine (not money). Hence the barrel to collect the taxes.

backpackingchica said...

Great picture of the wine barrel! I'm from a town about 40 minutes away, and every time I visit the room seems WAY too dark to get a good picture! Nice article, btw!

Anil said...

I hope the stairs aren't too many. Seems it could be a dangerous combination with the wine after a night of dancing :)

Mark H said...

@backpackingchica: Thank you. My other photo turned out too dark as well.

@anil: The stairs are steep too. I suspect a few accidents over the centuries over this barrel.

Anonymous said...

Pah. Not even close. The Worlds biegest eine Barrel is located in Bad Dürkheim and is called "dürkheimer riesenfass" and could contain 1,700,000 Liter of wine. But instead they put a restaurant in it.

Mark H said...

@anonymous: Wow, a much bigger barrel that now holds a restaurant. Interesting alternative to the claimed biggest barrel in the world.

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