When we moved to Germany last fall, some Mainz locals told us that there’s a major difference between Mainz and Wiesbaden (two state capitals divided by the Rhein River): People who love wine live in Mainz. People who love beer live in Wiesbaden. We chose not to resolve this age-old dilemma and ended up moving to the border.
Bier: Cannstatter Volksfest
We kicked off the first official weekend of fall this year with an Oktoberfest-style festival in Stuttgart called the Cannstatter Volksfest. Like most of the crowd, we were decked out in traditional Bavarian gear: Lederhosen with suspenders and a stylish hat for James and a Dirndl (the traditional dress) with a blouse and apron for me. Where the apron bow is tied indicates a lady’s status: right = married, left = single, middle = taken but not married, and back = widow. Many ladies instead wore Lederhosen shorts with a blouse version of the checkered shirt. And I saw at least one man (beard and all) wearing a Dirndl and a blond braided wig.
Starting late morning, we enjoyed the first half of the day at one of the big reserved tables inside a circus-y red and white striped tent. The energy of the fest was fueled by a live band playing a mix of traditional German songs and mostly German and American contemporary pop music. After a few Maβ (the big glass mugs) of beer, everyone at our table was up on the long wooden benches singing and dancing along. Interspersed, of course, were trips to the long 50-cent bathroom lines.
Reservation hours ended at 4 p.m. so we moved on to the area outside the tent, filled with the standard festival rides, games, and food stands. The highlight toward the end of the day was, as I’m convinced it should be for all Oktoberfests, riding the roller coaster. Coasting around to view a town from every possible angle at night couldn’t be more loud, brightly lit, terrifying, or exciting by the end of this type of fest.
Wein: Grape Picking and Ingelheimer Red Wine Festival
Last weekend we were in for a totally different kind of experience, this time to develop a deeper appreciation for the wine-making process. From about 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, we toiled in a vineyard under a warm early autumn sun with a set of pruners and a plastic bucket per person. Our task was to snip every bunch of Riesling-to-be grapes in our designated row, the moldier the better in wine terms apparently. Dull thuds followed by dusty clouds of mold rising off the buckets filled the air. We brushed off ladybugs, spiders, leaves, and dry shriveled grapes, standing up frequently to combat backaches and bent knees.
In exchange for a hard day’s work, we received three meals put together by the vintner’s wife. The first two were set out on rough wooden picnic tables at the end of the rows: A breakfast of bread, cheeses, cold cuts, and light breakfast wine; and a lunch of roasted pork served with a horseradish sauce, potatoes, green beans, mushrooms, and more wine. Back in the vintner’s own dining room, we enjoyed coffee and cake (yes, this is a late afternoon meal here) consisting of Apfelwein cake, chocolate cake made with red wine, and cheesecake. Followed, of course, by a wine tasting of some of the winery’s best. Leave it to a group of Americans to do farm work for the experience and food/wine.
While white wine is the specialty of the Rheinland in general, red wine is the specialty of Ingelheim (a town just west of Mainz). Yesterday we topped off the wine-themed weekend by sampling a couple of glasses to accompany a dinner of Bratwurst, fries, and Magenbrot (iced gingerbread) while listening to live covers of mellow American 90s hits.
Prost and happy fall!