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.

Der Winzerfestumzug: Yet another reason to drink some wine.

Three weeks of Neustadt’s Deutsches Weinlesefest ended today with the highlight event, the Weinlesefest Parade. We had heard it was a massive parade,  and so the kids – having in mind Ankeny’s Summerfest parade and all that candy – each went and found a big plastic bag able to hold as much candy as they could possible carry.  Unfortunately, they all pretty much went home empty handed, because although it was in fact a huge parade with 131 entries, it didn’t feature candy.  What it did feature, however, was plenty of wine.    Adults brought (or bought) their own wine glasses and held them up to passing floats, who generously filled and re-filled them with a few ounces of wine.  After 131 floats, that’s a lot of wine…so by the time the last float presenting the new Wine Queen for 2010/2011,  the parade was a-hoppin!



Deutsches Weinlesefest

Once again, the wine, food and fun came to us for Neustadt’s l Deutsches Weinlesefest. We walked out our front door and to the entrance of the annual Wine Harvest Festival, celebrating the grape harvest and providing all of the local wineries an opportunity to move some inventory.  It was also another chance to take the crew on the Ferris wheel, grab some pretzels and wurst and hit a few carney games.  And as always, we captured a few photos. The view from atop a Ferris Wheel provides a few  good landscapes of the town from above.

Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt in Bad Dürkheim



This afternoon the family spent the afternoon at the Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt in Bad Dürkheim, about 20 minutes away.  Bad Dürkeim (besides having a name you can’t help repeat) is another picturesque town on the Weinstraße.   The Wurstmarkt is a festival comes every year for the last 570 years seems like its one of the more well attended events in the area.  It was a carnival like atmosphere reminiscent of the Iowa State Fair (less Twinkies, more Wurst, same amount of beer).    

First order of business was to get some carnival food, so we stopped off and order up 3 plates of Wurst and fries.   Bad Chäse took a couple of bites of the fries and said, “These fries taste funny.  They taste like potatoes.” Yeah, that says something about food in the US.    

Next stop was the Ferris wheel where Bad Cämden screamed bloody murder on the platform, so  Bad Melissä had to pick him up and force him into the Gondola…but predictably exactly ten seconds into the ride he realized he liked it.   Later Bad Änna tried her hand at the Hammer Swing carnival game (Life lesson learned: Carnival games are deceptively hard).  Bad Kiersten and Bad Jäzzlyn did well and seemed occupied just taking everything in.   

Bad Dürkheim also has a really cool castle and some other sights to take in, but we saved those for another day.  Also, Melissa found these pictures of Bad Dürkheim after the war. A few photos of the rest of the day are here.

Eating through Germany

 Although we’ve been able to generally maintain our American-style eating habits with the macaroni and cheese and Ranch dressing that we air-freighted over here, the reality is those things won’t last forever.  So we have been slowly figuring out how to eat here.  Or better, how to eat well here.  Since you can’t go to the store it seems and pick up in Iowa chop and a handfull of sweet potatoes like we used to, that means tackling some of the local cuisine. Melissa has introduced some Wurst and Fleischkäse to the dinner table and we sure like the rolls down at the local bakery.

But Flammkuchen (litterally, “flame cake”) is the family favorite right now.   It’s sort of like an thin crisy pizza, except it has a special white sauce. The sauce is a mixture of sour cream, quark ( a unique German item, basically tastes like sour cream), and creme fraiche (which also tastes alot like sour cream). You stir them together into a mixture that continues to  pretty much tastes like (suprise!) sour cream, and then spread it over a flammkuchen crust like you would pizza sauce.  The typical flammkuchen is then topped with diced ham and onion.  You can of course experiment with different toppings…Melissa’s favorite is a Margherita variety with tomato, basil and little bit of mozarella and gorgonzola. Its really good.

We washed it down tonight with a local specialty, Neuer Wein.  We were driving back to Neustadt today and saw a few stands on the side of the road with “Neuer Wein” signs on the road. Its like an Iowa sweet corn stand except with less corn and more wine.  I stopped in one and asked the lady manning the station what exactly Neuer Wein (“new wine”) was.   I understand about 20% of the German I hear, but gathered from her it was the early fruits of this years grape harvest – grape juice just before or, if you like,  just after it has begun to ferment.  We picked up two varieties, one that was just grape juice (ok for the kids) and the other that had already begun to ferment for Mom and Dad.   And the nice things is you can use the jugs for your lawn mower later. So we’ve got that going for us.     The thing is, I don’t think most Germans sit around eating flammkuchen and drinking wine all night long, and neither can we…so after a month here of a diet that would make Man v. Food’s Adam Richman blush, we both recognize we need to figure out how to start  eating  healthy.  Some of our favorite staples are hard to find here (I had to work hard to find some sweet potatoes – found exactly four of them at the down town farmers market last Saturday –  and we still haven’t spotted a butternut squash). But in general the fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats fare is excellent.  And although its been nice to take a few weeks off from the exercise regimen,tomorrow I think its going to be time to for me to welcome back the workouts with about a 150 wall balls. Thats when I’ll realize how bad 4-5 weeks without regular exercise can really hurt.

Its like the RAGBRAI of Germany just broke out in front of our house, sorta.


By no planning of our own we came to live on the Deutsch Weinstraße (German Wine Route). We didn’t even know there was a Deutsch Weinstraße when we found this house, but it turns out this Weinstraße thing is a pretty big deal.  The Weinstraße runs north and south through Germany and is dotted by small and medium sized cities and hamlets alike that are a big tourist attraction for all of the scenery, castles, restraunts, and of course wineries.

When I say  “we live on the Weinstraße”, I don’t mean it in the sense that we live in a town that the Weinstraße runs through (although we do, the name of our town is Neusadt an der Weinstraße, and that by itself is a privilege). What I mean specifically is that street outside our door is the actual Weinstraße. Our street address is Weinstraße 35, our neighbors are a wineries….We live on the Weinstraße.   Most days out of the year it seems like the Weinstraße is just like any other street, cars, bikes, walkers, etc.  But what we’re learning is that the Weinstraße and the towns along it frequently host festivals & events centered around the wine culture. 

I learned about one just last week was visiting our neighbors (Hans and Eva Nickel, Weingut Kaiserstuhl).   They were mentioning all of the parties and festivals throughout the year, especially one coming up the next week.  I was having a hard time keeping up with the conversation in German but I caught one part that stood out. “Did you say kein auto? No cars allowed on the street?”.  Yup, 85km of the street closed all day for Erlebnistag Deutsche Weinstraße.  No exit, no entry, except by foot or bike.  Its like a mini RAGBRAI except they have wine and cheese instead of Bud Light and hotdogs.

Weinstraßse at noon today

On an average day.

The picture on the left is our street, I took for our movers last week. This is our street on a “normal” day. The  picture on the right is our street this afternoon. What you can’t see in the picture is the live music, smell of flammkuchen and wurst and associated jubilee.