Anatomy of a Winefest

THIS WEEK the world famous Iowa State Fair rages back home.  I admit, I would not mind the chance  to walk up and down the fair grounds in Des Moines munching on a turkey leg and snickering at the mulletts. I sort of miss the (what’s the right word?)…corny-ness?…but what we lack in Butter Cows and friend Twinkies here in Rhineland-Pfalz we make up for in Winefests.

The perennial, omnipresent Winefest.  From spring to summer to fall, all up and down the Deutsch Weinstraßse, communities lay claim to a weekend to celebrate.  If wine is part of the culture here, then the winefests in the Pflaz area are the traditions that keep that culture vibrant.   There are literally hundreds of Winefests in communities big and small in the area.  Just this weekend, for example, there are no less than eleven communities with separate Winefests in about a 50km radius.   They range from grand, world renowned events, like the Durkheimer Würstmarkt, to alleyway festivals of neighbors, like the Hambach Jakobskerwe last weekend.

While not the Iowa State fair, they all ring familiar to us by now.  Each winefest is unique, but they also follow a cadence.   Take the Jakobskerwe last weekend as a case study:

There’s the music, often times a live band:

The candied nuts, always a stand of candied nuts:

Usually located in the quaint city center:

Grilled würst or schnitzel,  right off the schwencker…


Games and rides for the kids….

Elbow to elbow, a mass of people…

And of course, the wine, served in a unique glass that’s yours as a souvenir, if you are willing to forgo the 2€ deposit..















Say ‘Gimmeldingen’.

LAST WEEK the almond blossoms came out.

Might not seem like a big deal, but when the Almond blossoms blume, people come out of the woodwork. Every year the appearance of the Mandelblüten signal the arrival of Spring, and the tiny town of Gimmeldingen (a district of Neustadt) host the season’s first wine festival.

Gimmeldingen is a district of – from what I can tell –  about 15 people, with about 50 square meters of paved  space.   Nonetheless, last weekend we learned that when the Mandelblütenfest is in town, every single citizen of Rheinland Pfalz descends on the place to celebrate the Spring season and toss back a few glasses of wine.  Gimmeldingen is, for it’s part, a quaint and picturesque town in a sea of grape vines.

(As a side note, Gimmeldingen is fun to say.  So fun, in fact,  that Melissa has replaced the word ‘watchamacallit’ with’Gimmeldingen’ in her vernacular, is in ‘Hey can you reach over and grab that, uh,  Gimmeldingen for me? Yeah, spoon. That’s what I meant. ‘

Man cutting cheese with a, uh, you know, a Gimmeldingen.

We drove around looking for a parking space for 20 minutes, walked to the town for another 20, then got lost in the crowd. When we found ourselves stuck in a throng of people  crammed into the town square  bobbing up and down to the rhythm of a Foreigner cover band (I ask you how –  after 30 years –  can it still ‘feel like the first time?’) we just about bailed out, but managed to escape to an ice cream stand and found some friends to enjoy a glass of Riesling with.

As a wine fest alone, the Mandelbütenfest is maybe not so impressive….except that this particular wine fest  it is the kickoff of the wine festivals….meaning that now, and virtually for every weekend here on out, somewhere up and down the Weinstrasse one can find a wine festival in action.

And it’s about time, because its been at *least* a few weeks since we dried out from last years fests.

Walk to Wolfsburg

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN, opposite of Neustadt’s famous castle Hambacher Schloss, lie the Wolfburg ruins.  It isn’t a spectacular castle, but it makes for a good hike and is only  couple of kilometers away, so that means it is a perfect Sunday afternoon activity.

We parked our car underneath the castle near  the town pool and hiked up…and up, and up, and up.  This week Melissa took up running with her friend and yesterday I sprinted through a workout with 5x400m sprints and 75 air squats mixed in, so today with each step ours legs were reminding us we aren’t quite as in shape as we used to be, but the walk was worth it.

The castle is position atop a hill that provided a fantastic view of the  Neustadt valley.  Some of the walls were precariously positioned,  short enough one one side for kids to climb upon and tall enough on the other to make a parent nervous.  Nonetheless, no one pulled a humpty-dumpty and we hiked down the hill all in one piece.  We also  got a few snaps of the kids in action.


Speyer Technik Museum

Sunday brought unusually warm weather, more snow melt and a nice sunny day to visit the nearby Speyer Technical Museum. There, we had the chance to inspect up close all manner of aircraft, a russian space shuttle, old and new bikes, boats and submarines, cars, motorcycles and trains.

Best of all was the rocket-speed tube slide that came protruding out of a a 747 exhibit. The museam featured an elevated 747 that you could tour, through cabins and luggage compartments, even crawling out onto the wing for a view of the entire city of Speyer.  On this aircraft there were only two exits:  The civil way – down the stairs like you came, or  by holding on to your 2 year old daughter for dear life after you have situated yourself on a cloth sack and launched yourself barreling down a vertical tube slide like greased lightening.

We opted for  the latter.

The mild winters here in the Rhine Valley

“It’s warmer here in the Rhine valley,” they said.  “We get a lot of sunshine and not a lot of snow,” they said.

“Oh sure it snows,” they said. “But it really doesn’t accumulate much.” they said.

“Winter driving? Oh, hardly ever a problem here in Neustadt.” they said.

“Just a light dusting every now and again.  Nothing like  the big heavy snow you get in Iowa,” they said.

Well, they lied.