Keeper of Germany's finest wine cellar
Keeping the keys to Bremen´s 15th century wine cellar means becoming a part of a 600-year-old tradition. The vast collection is one of the indebted city's most valuable assets but is being targeted by a wealthy Chinese collector.
One man is responsible for overseeing this huge assortment of quality wines, the largest in Germany. Karl-Josef Krötz, head of the so-called “Bacchus temple” and world-famous expert in quality wines. Krötz has been in the role for almost 25 years and describes it as a dream.
“I am proud to serve in this house. I have the opportunity to work at a site of cultural heritage, and also to do something which I used to do as a hobby on the Mosel,” Krötz told The Local.
One of the 100,000 bottles of 1,150 different wines under Krötz´s care is the most treasured wine of them all, the oldest barrel wine in the country. The 1653 Rüdesheimer Rose is reserved for dignitaries. It has been tasted by Queen Elizabeth II, Heinrich Heine and Richard Strauss.
Krötz has tasted it once - June 1st 1996 - and that day was for Krötz the most significant tasting session of his life.
“You have a feeling of pure happiness, that you're allowed to taste this most precious wine, that very few privileged individuals have tasted - it's history and tradition," he said.
And it is precisely this 1653 wine which is currently causing Bremen's city council something of a dilemma. Should the indebted city sell a bottle of this renowned wine to a Chinese businessman for €150,000?
Krötz is keen to emphasize that he will not have the final say – the mayor of Bremen will most likely make the decision.
But Krötz can see both sides of the argument. On the one hand, it would certainly be an “historic” occasion, for the city and for Germany. The deal would be a sign of excellence for Bremen which has traded fine wines for centuries.
The national importance of such a sale is not lost on Krötz. If the deal goes through, the bottle would be one of the most expensive ever sold - and it is German not French.
Yet, Krötz underlines the cultural commitments Bremen has made. “It is a matter of preserving cultural treasures”, said Krötz. “We have a duty to protect these goods so that future generations can also see them. This is an issue which needs to be raised, for which we need an answer”.
And before selling an expensive wine, Krötz must make certain that the person is “worthy”.
“I say to them, I am not just giving you the wine in exchange for money. You are getting a part of me too. Every bottle down here is special to me. You must first prove to me that you’re worthy of it," he said.
Krötz has a long history of wine-tasting, having spent his early years on the banks of the Mosel, the wine region of Germany.
At the age of 20 he became, to this day, the youngest qualified wine engineer in Germany. Wine runs in Krötz blood. He learned the trade and cut his teeth in his father´s business back in Mosel, and knows how hard the life of a wine producer is.
“It is really back-breaking work,” he said. “It’s not just a job that brings a lot of joy. It also has its fair share of difficulties and hardship.”
And his current role as keeper of the keys to the largest collection in Germany is something he always worked towards and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
“For me, it´s about giving Bremen wine cellars the status they truly deserve," he said.
By Frances Foley