Walking and drinking on the the Weinmeile
…AND SOME OBSERVATIONS
I’m not entirely an outdoorsy person no matter how much Chris tries to turn me into one. My favourite pastime is curling up with a glass wine and a good book, not huffing and puffing away riding a bicycle against a mean slope. That’s more like up Chris’ alley or just about any Germans (in all stereotypical sense). I do admire the tenacity and faith of walkers of the Camino and Pacific Crest Trail, and how walking all the 800km of them would be an excellent way to not only experience nature but also to train your mind and body. But at this point of writing and in all honesty, I prefer reading about them than embarking the arduous journey.
In other words, I’m just your typical lazy city girl.
When Chris and our friends Benny and Tina, suggested that we should check out the fun-filled Wine tasting event called the Saale Weinmeile that would take place over the Pfingsten (Pentecost, a Christian holiday) weekend, my eyes lit up. I do, after all, enjoy a glass of crisp Riesling or Pinot Gris now and then.
Until Chris told me that, it involved walking. Miles of it.
Slaps forehead. Of course, Weinmeile–it’s a freaking wine mile. Not just one mile but 3.7 miles (6km) of it.
“And then we have to walk back to the car of course.” So 12km in total, just to go from one farmhouse to another, tasting wines? Is it worth it?
I closed my eyes and nodded a feeble yes. I was already weary, thinking about it.
Every year over Pfingsten, German wine-growing households, residents and wine producers along the Saale river get together to hold this event that stretches from Bad Kösen to Weindorf Roßbach. It is an event that celebrates drinking and feasting under the sun (if the weather’s good).
This route is actually part of a larger wine route which is the Saale-Unstrut Wine Region in Germany’s northern-most, running from Nebra through Bad Sulza, straddling states of Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. This 60km stretch boasts not only of lush vineyards and a picturesque countryside, but also old fortifications and ancient castles.
Not surprisingly, this area draws not only wine lovers for its pilgrimage of pleasure but also medieval architecture fans.
For Weinmeile, we actually cheated a little and started our walk from Schulpforta instead. It was an excellent place to park the car because I could see where Hogwarts would be like if it was in Germany. Schulpforta was a Cistercian Abbey from 1137 till 1540 before it was turned into a German boarding school for gifted children. Notable students included Friederich Nietzsche and August Ferdinand Mobius (Mobius strip dude!). Geez-I didn’t know I lived so close to so much history! Just when I thought most action happens elsewhere, in bigger cities.
We didn’t see the boarding school kids as we walked around but we did discover the remains of the monastery and its breathtaking surroundings. I can already imagine studying within these sturdy lecture halls and echoing long corridors.
Nearby was the popular Fischhaus Restaurant where we tucked into a sumptuous lunch for the drinking and walking task ahead of us. And then we started walking.
Germans love to drink…and walk
Which brings me to my first observation, no German can party without walking a lot. You’d think the idea of exercise and alcohol enjoyment don’t go together, but they do. This is not my first walking and drinking trip. I’d done the whole Christmas Valley walk (about 13km) where Germans go from one Mill to another, drinking Glühwein and eating Rostbratwurst. Or in Cologne where you dress up and walk around the city, drinking. There’s also Männer Tag, where men gather together, to walk and drink. I suppose the Germans are a healthy lot–they’ve figured out a way to enjoy drinks and lose those calories at the same time.
Throngs of merry-making Germans (and a few tourists) were already tipsy under the sun by the time we joined them, but their legs continued to power on. They were jovial and chatty with wine glasses in their hands or some sort of shell around their necks. I suspect they’ve been on the Wine route for a while.
Germans are practical people
It was a relatively warm day with an occasional cloud hiding the sun. The rapeseed fields that flank the sides of the route added a splash of colour to the scenery. It was also a tad bit windy. No surprise when everyone there was dressed up in Jack Wolfskin windbreakers and jackets. Almost everyone carried a backpack where they could stash away their extra wine bottles, and bottles of water supply to last them for the entire day. Here, people don’t dress to impress. They wear proper walking shoes or hiking boots and their outfits are flexible enough to be taken off when it gets warmer. Germany’s spring weather may be fickle but it didn’t dampen these people one bit. Their practicality is a virtue.
I’ve so much to learn because my thin cotton cardigan didn’t do one bit to protect my neck from the wind. So Tina later took pity on me and lent me her jacket instead. What god-sent!
German wines are awesome!
When it comes to the topic of wine, you’d think of France, Italy or Chile. Or nearer to home, Australia or New Zealand. Germany is after all, famous for beers, not wine – but hey, where did you think Riesling come from?
We went from backyard to backyard, looking for bottles to buy. Our journey consisted of us holding a bottle of White in one hand and wine glasses in the other. We walked and sipped, refilled our glasses, and repeat. Each sip was crisp and refreshing. The light tangy and fruity taste agreed with my taste buds.
Now I don’t mind walking the next few kilometres just to drink more of this.
Some of these people living on this route are wine hobbyists. These households may not produce wine commercially but they have a nice vineyard at the back of the house where they can harvest grapes to make small quantities on wine. On a day like this, they throw open their backyards (sort of like an ‘Open House’ that we, Malaysians, are familiar with) and set up stands to sell homemade wine, mixers, and small bites.
Germans can pee anywhere
The drinking and walking, and occasionally eating, led to the next big question: Hey, I gotta pee! So how?
There were portable toilets conveniently placed at certain points along the way but the problem was the line for them were long. The boys had it easy, only having to escape to a forest clearing somewhere to off their load. What about the girls? Turned out they had no issues doing the same.
Those who couldn’t wait in line to pee, would wade deep into the rapeseed fields, disappear under the tall stalks and relieve themselves. Of course, you could say: Ee yer, I’d never resort to that.
But then, if you dearly need to pee, do you have any other choice?
(Disclaimer: Okay, I’m making a huge stereotypical comment here because it’s not like they do it everywhere and at all times but because you tend to see more of this happening during events where toilets are scarce)
Germans love to dress up
By the time we bought our last bottle for the day, we were total kaputt. We had only walked a total of 4.5 km, but daytime drinking got us inebriated and sleepier faster. The sun had slowly went back to its hiding place behind the clouds and it was no longer as warm as before. We hurried into the yard and purchased our last bottle of wine. What lured us to this stand was its sign: Wein Mönch (which translates into Wine Monk). Cistercian monks had made wine since the 12th century so it’s no surprise that we’d come to a place where history was referenced upon. As such we had a lovely fellow who looked like a character right out of Game of Thrones set, handing a bottle over to us and then later some change. His medieval robes and youthful smile reminded me of a peasant boy who’d ran away to the monastery.
Interestingly, my experience with German celebrations that I’d attended had confirmed that this was not unusual. The sellers or exhibitors in general enjoy wearing medieval clothes and playact while selling their goods. During the Street Festival in my village, there were men dressed up as medieval blacksmiths, pounding away on middle-aged weapons. There were also witches, sorcerers and hunters clad in felt robes and hats, bow and arrows on a few, in the Christmas Valley event which we visited 2 years ago.
It was refreshing to see how locals take these celebrations and festivals seriously.
When we finally arrived at our destination, Weindorf Roßbach, we couldn’t bear to think of braving through the crowds and walking all the way back. So we all crammed into a bus and rode it back to where we had parked our car.
We had enough for exercise for the year and had tasted enough a variety of white wines to show for it.
Enjoy these other photos of our day:
Have you done something like that somewhere else?
DID YOU ENJOY THE ARTICLE?FOLLOW ME ON FACEBOOK IF YOU'D LIKE TO READ MORE