Wine, War, and Peace

So, the Romans went north and, well built hilltop forts, actually. And planted grapes, from Egypt, and then … well, you know, they married the local girls and never left. Welcome to Stauffen, Germany, where the good Doctor Faust was dragged down into Hell after studying the black arts in the ruined castle on the hill, which was built out of stones from the ruined Roman castell that preceded it. Most of those stones were later used to add more terraces to the roman vineyards below the castle, which was then rebuilt in the Belle Epoque to look like a perfect castle ruin, which is what it looks like today. But what about those stones, eh? With all that terracing, all that old military stone has nicely been turned into a battery to store the sun’s heat and give it to the grapes in a concentrated form when the weather turns. (Hey, if I’m going on and on here, just skip to the last photo and its tag. The point is well made, I think.)

The Heat Engine of Stauffen

See those clouds behind the castle? Fifteen minutes after this image was made, the temperature dropped 10 degrees and the rain came down like Faust’s cape itself. Not to mention the lightning.

Grapes like heat. They’re not greedy about it, mind you, but they do love it so, and can keep making sugar after other plants have shut down their photosynthesis processes because it’s just toooooooooooo hot. What’s more, with the help of a bit of warm stone, grapes can keep making sugars and acids even when the clouds come in and cut the earth off from the universe.

Belle Epoque Vineyard Tool Shed

Note how the old roman stones were nicely rebuilt with military bunker grade concrete back in the good old bad old days of the Cold War’s own brainchild, the West German Republic. 

Military technology seems to be a part of winemaking in these parts. Here we are a few minutes north, in Freiburg …

The Civic Vineyard of Freiburg, or…

… the approach to the old French fortress of the Occupation during the 30 Years’ War. And what are the French? Why, Germans who married romans and started to make cheese and smoke their hams in their chimneys.

Heat is a different thing in Freiburg than it is in Stauffen. There are fewer terraces, for one thing, to catch the heat. A little altitude above the rooftops of the city seems to suffice. Maybe all those roofs just beam it up like a microwave beam. At any rate, the terraces are still here, though, just overgrown. Freiburg, after all, is wealthier than Stauffen. It can afford a few romantic luxuries, such as these ruins…

The Ruins of Freiburg

No, these aren’t the ruins of the fortress. They’re the ruins of vineyard terraces that have been let go, just for the sheer beauty of it all.

I mean, you can sit on the hill, look out over the wilderness of abandoned agriculture, and imagine all of time there together with you at once. It’s a spiritual thing.

The Freiburg Cathedral, Jewel of the Gothic

A time machine seen through a screen of abandoned vineyards, with its tower in a corset while money is being raised to stabilize its corner stones from the attack of 900 years of wind. 

Vineyards once rimmed all of Freiburg. Most are settled with villas now. No doubt, they started out with vines, then added a few trees, then the trees took over, as trees will. At the heart of the city, though, and at the root of the trees, are grapes. A civilization based on wilderness is just one based on grapes in which people let the weeds grow. Now, can you imagine what contemporary politics would be like if the Air Force cadets who come every year to train at the Vernon Military Grounds in the North Okanagan spent the bulk of their time tending grape plants around their World War I and II vintage huts? Wouldn’t they, like, be tempted to give up on head-bashing and precision bombing and marry the local girls and under their influence use all their clever military knowledge to capture the sun? Wouldn’t it be worth trying? As they say in Freiburg, the only city with the bad luck of being bombed to bits by both the German and the Allied Air Forces during World War II (The Germans read their maps wrongly.) …

Note: when I made this image, an elderly woman high above looked down at me with an indulgent but ironic smile. She looked very beautiful against her crown of trees.

2 replies »

    • History has its way of tripping me as I walk down the path and when I come to, why, there’s the earth staring me in the face!


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