The more time you spend in Germany, the more you can learn just how large and diverse this country truly is. Since arriving here five years ago, I have lived in four different municipalities in three German states. Each new place begins a discovery in itself, because there's so much to learn and so much to enjoy. At present, the Deutsche Weinstraße – the German Wine Road – is just steps from where I lay my head at night and pass most of my days.
The beautiful German Wine Road -- die deutsche Weinstraße, in fall. PHOTO: Jeannette van der Woude
At present I feel quite blessed to be residing in Haardt an der Weinstraße, nicknamed der Balkon der Pfalz (“Balcony of the Palatinate”). This is because Haardt is perched on hillsides that overlook the Rhine valley to the north and sidles up to, and is named for the Haardt forest on its southern border. It is contiguous to the city of Neustadt an der Weinstraße, a city with approximately 53,000 residents that sits smack dab on the midpoint of the Deutsche Weinstraße.
Established in the mid-1930s to encourage appreciation of German wine and winegrowers, the Weinstraße is one of the oldest touristic byways in Germany. It begins at the southern part of the State of Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate) in a small town on the French border, Schweigen-Rechtenbach, then stretches northward approximately 85 kilometers up to Bockenheim, near Grünstadt. It cuts through the Pfalz, offering drivers an alternative to the not-so-scenic Autobahn, and juts in and out of quaint villages, each one different than the one before.
Driving on the Deutsche Weinstraße, or German Wine Route, offers a scenic and friendly alternative to the Autobahn. PHOTO: Kristina Stellhorn
Living on the Weinstraße has many benefits. The terrain is gorgeous and peaceful with plenty to explore on foot or bicycle. Paths have been carved through the vineyards (or the vineyards were raised around them) for evening walks and morning jogs. Signs demarcate local landmarks, such as an antique wine press or a centuries-old well. Hiking trails stem from the wine-growing valleys and lead into dense forests and/or to castle ruins.
Additionally, people here are friendlier and more approachable than in other places I’ve lived. The majority will greet you on the street or smile at you in public. Grocery store clerks are more cheerful, I've found, and neighbors are more talkative. It is a self-proclaimed fact that the Pfalz has the friendliest folk in Germany. I often wonder whether that the amount of wine they drink reduces their stress levels, or the fact that it's so beautiful here. Perhaps they’re happier because of exposure to more sunshine: southwest Germany and the Pfalz are at the top of the list for number of sunny days per year.
Are vineyards and wine what make people in the Pfalz a friendlier sort? PHOTO: Kristina Stellhorn
Moreover, one becomes adept at recognizing (and drinking) good wines and finding enjoyment at local vineyards, relishing grapes in their finest form. Romans began cultivating that very useful agricultural product in this area over two thousand years ago. Even children who grow up on the Weinstraße can recognize a quality bottle of wine or distinguish between a Riesling and a Grauburgunder, learning from their wine-drinking parents, and dreaming perhaps of one day becoming Weinprinz or -prinzessin. Here on the Weinstraße we have learned to appreciate Germany for something other than its fine technology, automobiles, sausage, bread, and good beer. Knowledge of fine wine lets us feel a bit more cultivated ourselves.
Not surprisingly, like the rest of Germany, the Weinstraße is not averse to celebrating. Among many events throughout the year and weekly in the summer, it hosts its own long party on the last Sunday in August. That is when wine enthusiasts, hikers, tourists, skaters and bicyclists venture up and down the famous route – which is closed to motorized traffic that day – to enjoy beautiful weather, sightsee, and imbibe along the way.
Even on a cold and cloudy spring day, almond trees on the Weinstraße sport their trademark pink blooms. PHOTO: Jeannette van der Woude
Wine festivals in towns and cities along the Wine Route dot the calendar from March to October, beginning with the Mandelblütenfest, a commemoration of the blooming almond trees that signal the onset of spring with their beautiful pink or white flowers. Fortunately, almond trees are commonplace, and one does not have to travel far to breathe in their intoxicating fragrance or admire their utter magnificence. In fact, my apartment is just twenty steps away from the Mandelpfad (“Almond Path”), which travels 77 km through the Palatinate’s wine-growing regions.
The beauty of nature doesn’t end there. One can step out onto their balcony and gaze upon field after field of grapevines, which change in form and color throughout the seasons. In summer, the Weinreben are full with green leaves and sprouting tiny green orbs which will be the grapes pressed later to make fine German wines. In the fall, leaves turn red, yellow, gold and orange as grapes turn a luscious shade of purple.
Luscious grapes ready for harvest or "reading" dangle from Weinreben in early autumn. PHOTO: Kristina Stellhorn
The rolling hills of the vineyards lining the Weinstraße are lush in summer but the most scenic in fall, when colors begin to change, and grape harvests are being “read.” On a bicycle, one can tour these hills, stopping to take frequent breaks at a local Winzer or roadside stand to taste a glass of Weißburgunder. Everything looks much finer with a first sip of cold regional wine or a delicious Weinschorle (wine mixed with soda water).
Another exciting autumn event is the 600-year-old wine and sausage festival in Bad Dürkheim, proclaimed the largest Weinfest in the world: over 300 different wines are there for the tasting, and approximately 700,000 people attend. Neustadt has its own festival in October – the Weinlesefest, when grapes are "read" and harvested. This festival features a mini-carnival for the kids complete with rides, and parades, live music, and continual wine-drinking and feasting leading up to a final night ending with fireworks.
Music and gaiety waft through the air from wine festivals that take place every weekend somewhere along the route, whether in the city center or at a Grillhütte up in the Haardt forest. Wine fests are a great place to relax, enjoy delicious wine and eats, and get to know the relaxing atmosphere of the Palatinate a little better.
If you wish to locate a Pfälzer Weinfest for yourself, there is now an app which tells you when and where. Download the Pfälzer Weinfest App or visit www.pfalz.de to learn more about wine festivals and other events in the Pfalz.
Because of its beauty, warmth and wine, the Weinstraße is a popular destination for German natives, locals, and tourists alike, and Ferienwohnungen (vacation rentals) abound. Personally, I say danke every single day for being able to live in such a gorgeous place while on my working vacation.
Wörterbuch / Dictionary
(die) Autobahn - freeway
(der) Balkon - balcony
danke - thanks
(die) Deutsche Weinstraße - the German wine road or wine route
(die) Ferienwohnung - vacation rental
(der) Grauburgunder - a white grape variety with grayish-blue skin, and wine made therefrom; also called "pinot grigio"
(die) Grillhütte - grill hut, usually located in the woods or countryside and accessible by foot
(die) Pfalz - the Palatinate, a region of southern Germany, part of the State of Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate)
pfälzer - coming from the Pfalz
Riesling - a white grape variety originating in the Rhine region, and wine made from same
das Weinfest - a festival featuring wine
das Weinlesefest - a fall festival where wines are "read" or harvested