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Show me your Barrel – or: Wine Cellar ornaments in Germany

Art in the dark…exclusively a thing of German wine culture?

 

I am talking of Fassböden - ornamented, carved wine barrels. If you get to visit a German wine cellar, very often you will spot a barrel that sports some special decoration.

 

I don’t mean this exactly… though it could be considered ‘artsy’:

When cellar hands got too much time and coloured pens...
When cellar hands got too much time and coloured pens...

...or this… though now zooming in on target...

Wine Barrel 'Art' at Georg Breuer's
Wine Barrel 'Art' at Georg Breuer's in Rheingau

The barrel ornaments in question are more elaborate, mostly commemorating a special event in a winemaker’s family, a birth for instance, or a wedding. Like these...

Carved Wine Barrels at Schloss Westerhaus
Carved Wine Barrels at Schloss Westerhaus... One for each daughter.

In some instances, barrel ornaments take a wider stance. The wine University Geisenheim has a hundred year’s tradition of having the graduates designing a wine barrel’s carving. Recently alumni have published a catalogue of this impressive collection of barrel carvings (view it here) – the designs do reflect socio-economic circumstances of their time, but also trends in winemaking, or important changes at the University.

Pictured below: Details of barrel carvings from war time; when Germany got split to East and West; the landing on the moon.

And then there are barrel carvings that seem to stem from pure vanity, their size and elaboration to show off a winery’s pride and position. The wine barrel pictured below dates back to 1884 – it can be seen at Juliusspital in Würzburg, in the wine region of Franconia.

Drinking scene on a barrel at the Julius Spital wine cellars - Würzburg, Franconia wine region
Drinking scene on a barrel at the Juliusspital wine cellars - Würzburg, Franconia wine region
Carved Wine Barrels at Juliusspital
Another scene at Juliusspital: Angels mocking a drunk?

These carvings at Schloss Johannisberg express pride and vanity.

wine barrels at Schloss Johannisberg
Engravings on wine barrels at Schloss Johannisberg: Poems - Proverbs - Songs
Schloss Johannisberg's coat of arms engraved on a Wine Barrel - Rheingau wine region
Schloss Johannisberg's coat of arms engraved on a Wine Barrel - Rheingau wine region

One might wonder why wineries would have spent such efforts for artwork hidden in the dark?

 

One answer might be that cellars were a perfect place to keep treasured timestamps protected from destruction or theft. Another reason might well be that the ornaments were meant for the people labouring away in the cellars. But then in art, does there need to be reason.

 

Germany’s wine culture is my turf and I certainly have yet to see more wine cellars in other parts of the world.... so, dear reader, help me: if I wanted to see more ornamented wine barrels, or decorated wine cellars - where would I need to go?

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