Steeped in tradition, German wine festivals are a lesser-known alternative to the rollicking tents of autumn beer celebrations like Oktoberfest – but have just as much to offer.
The deceptively-titled Wurstmarkt, or Sausage Market, claims to be among the biggest festivals of its kind and has been running for 570 years. This year it will be held the second and third weekends of September in the Rhineland's Bad Dürkheim. Vendors will serve some 150 different wines in large wine halls, old-fashioned wooden wine stands, a winegrowers' garden and even a wine village, where smaller huts are home to tasting rooms run by various local vineyards. A fairground and circus provide entertainment for children, and beer hall style tents offer traditional German fare – including the sausage that gives the festival its name.
Across the country on the weekend of September 18-20, wine-lovers can find the Radebeul-Kötzschenbroda Herbst & Weinfest in the state of Saxony. The picturesque town in the wine growing region near Dresden puts on a wine tasting set to entertainment from around the globe. The line-up includes performances by legendary Uzbek jazz guitarist Enver Ismailov, Russian dancers, pantomime from America and many more.
As the smallest wine area in Germany, the surrounding Elbeland may not be a wine-lovers first destination, but their festival promises to live up to a long history of wine in the area, which dates back to the twelfth century. After years of neglect under the East German government, the area's winegrowers are now seeing the fruits of redevelopment, and the festival is also a celebration of the comeback.
The same weekend, the baroque-style Castle Moritzburg in Zeitz, a town situated at the border of Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Saxony, hosts a wine festival that will be opened by a “wine princess.” Local wine merchants and vineyards will have tasting stalls in the charming castle gardens. And in an unusual twist, the wine festival will be followed by a car show on Sunday, with a diverse range of displays and events from exhibitioners that include the army and police.
On the first weekend in October, the town of Rinteln along the Weser River hosts a smaller, more traditional wine festival in the restored market place. Surrounded by timber-framed buildings and some of the best examples of “Weser renaissance” architecture in the country, the Lower Saxony festival promises a global selection of wines to accompany local winery production. Guests can sip from their glasses under Pagoda-style tents with extra assurance – huge umbrellas will be on standby in case of rain to ensure that more than just some of the wines are dry.