This morning we had our usual excellent breakfast, followed today by the wailing of the emergency alarm and a drill on the sun deck, to make sure we all knew how to report to our proper group, and that we were all present. Apparently we all were. By now we had traversed the 5th of 17 locks we will encounter on the Mosel River.
We relaxed while we traveled to Bernkastel, our first stop. After lunch, we assembled for a walking tour of this medieval town, led by our excellent guide, Krista. There were many wonderful half-timbered houses, and houses with smaller first floors than the other floors. This was to save taxes, because the area of the ground floor determined the taxes you paid. Apparently, taxes have brought out the ingenuity of people for many years.
The Celts were here in 2000 BC, a claim which beats the town of Metz by 1000 years. Early on the town’s economy was based on mining, especially silver. As a result, they were able to coin their own money, giving them a significant commercial advantage. I guess so! The Romans brought red wine to the area, which was soon replaced with white wine which grows especially well in the steep, slate-based soil, common in this area. The slate helps maintain moisture during dry spells. The early Roman homes had large beautiful mosaic floors.
The area has been prone to flooding, and the historical flood markers showed the water reached surprising heights above the present stream level.
We saw the recently rebuilt Astor home, which has had a varied history over the years. In 1989 it burned down (not the first time), and took Mr. Astor’s life. Next door to the Astor home was a tower which had five foot thick walls, and which Krista said was the biggest, strongest, highest, tower in the world in its day. I’m skeptical.
We then moved to a wonderful plaza surrounded by half-timbered buildings for the most part. In 1870 Louis XIV passed through, but built a fortress by taking stones from the town of Bernkastel.
In 1926 there was a tax revolt by 8,000 wine growers, who trashed, government building, burned it down, and finally won tax relief and the freedom of four who had been arrested earlier. We saw handcuffs chained to the wall which were used to pillory women for punishment.
There was a particularly old narrow building leaning precariously, it seemed, which was the oldest, or one of the oldest buildings in town. It was originally dated to 1546 but they did wood dating and determined that the home went back to 1412. Our guide said we would never remember those dates but here they are in print forever.
Our next stop was to Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler’s wine cellar where we tasted for different Rieslings. Our host was Katya, who introduced herself as “Engineer for Winemaking” we tasted four Rieslings, ranging in price from from about €6-€20. The wines were sweeter than we expected and that their most prized wine was the sweetest of all was surprising to me.
Their best wine comes from an area only 1.7 (4.2 acres) hectares in size. We looked at a room where many barrels were sitting each with a candle on the top it turns out the candles are not only for illumination but as a safety device to detect when there is too much CO2 in the room which is heavier than air.
Although the slopes with the vertical rows of vines are ideal for wine growing, it is difficult to harvest. It must be done by hand and what would take 400 hours on level ground takes 1000 hours on the slopes. Most of the work is done by Polish migrant workers.
After another delicious buffet dinner we were treated to a concert by “The Trio”, consisted of a guitar, cello and a gloriously dramatic violinist. When I saw her play, I decided I would put her in touch with Jung Ho Pak, Director of Orchestra Nova, who believes the whole body is part of a musician’s performance. [UPDATE: Alas, this is not to be. Maestro Pak has resigned, in part over this issue, and the season is canceled.]