Friday, June 26, 2015

Meandering in Miltenberg

Top L to R: Duck, Swans
Bottom L to R: Walking couple, Camp
It’s a scenic trip from Würzburg to Miltenberg along the Main River, so we spent some time watching the world go by. Mallard-type ducks seem to be common around the world with their iridescent green heads and their wiggly tails. There were also a variety of wading birds that looked a good deal like our own blue herons, but what we don’t see a lot of in the US are wild swans. Those large, white, elegant birds seemed to be around every turn as we sailed down the river. People out for a stroll are not uncommon on the trails along the river and we did see a couple, who could have posed for Grant Woods’s American Gothic, pause to watch our ship. Not far from the walkers were very neatly arranged campgrounds. In the summer, families camp in certain areas and spend their time on the river. Some of the spots have been used by the same groups for years, but most of these folks aren’t ‘roughing it’; the camping trailers look very comfortable.

Our destination, Miltenberg, is another of those ancient towns that grew up under the protection of a local castle. Miltenberg castle was built in the 13th century and strategically
Top L to R: Bunter Formation, Red sandstone fountain
Center: May Pole
Bottom L to R: City Gate, Zum Riesen
placed where the Romans, in the 2nd century, marked the boundary between the Roman Empire and Germaina. This is also an area of red sandstone quarries (Bunter formation for those of you of a geological bent). The rocks mined from these outcrops are used in grindstones, pillars, markers, and even some grand edifices. Passing through the old town gate leads you to the center of Miltenberg in which are several picturesque half-timber houses. I thought this method of building was simply to make the houses attractive or to save on the amount of wood used in construction. Evidently, half-timbered houses were designed to be moved quickly. The plaster was knocked out from between the beams, leaving the wood ready to be relocated and used in another building. Also residing in town is the traditional May Pole. During the May celebrations a guard is set at the pole to keep neighboring townsfolk from stealing it and ruining the festival. Sharing the town center with the traditional houses and the May Pole is the oldest inn in Germany, Zum Riesen (the Inn of the Giant). We lost some of our group there, since it was a wonderful day for outdoor dining or just to have a beer in the warm sunshine. The rest of us continued on up the hill to meet a local vintner and his family.

In many areas of Germany grape vines are planted vertically on steep slopes rather than in
Top L to R: Vertical vineyard, Stainless steel tanks
Bottom L to R: Young vintner, Oak barrels 
horizontal rows along the slopes. I never did get a good explanation for why they were not worried about erosion with this arrangement. I did learn that they don’t use machinery to pick the grapes but send workers down the slopes on cables and slowly haul them back up (or slowly lower them down). There are tracks at the tops and bottoms of the rows that are wide enough for a small tractor, so the grapes are dump
ed  into bins that the tractor hauls down to the winery. I was particularly interested in the fruitier Riesling wines, but those were in short supply or completely absent in most of the places we visited – these get exported, we were told. Our young vintner took us through their processing area. It wasn’t particularly different from wineries in the US or in Australia, where he studied viniculture; although the stainless steel tanks in which the white wine is fermented weren’t nearly as cold as I expected. In this particular winery there were
Top L to R: White wine, Baker
Bottom L to R: Plate of snacks, Smiling pretzel
also white oak barrels that they were using for some of the wine that was produced. The actual wine tasting was a bit different because we also got a pretzel making demonstration. The baker could trace his ancestry, and his business, back hundreds of years and told us some interesting stories about how pretzels were originally dunked in a lye solution. He did say that this is probably just a fable, but he now uses a baking soda solution that is much safer than his several-times-great grandfather used. His particular pretzels are a somewhat different from others made in this area. A small cut is made in the dough after the pretzel is shaped and before the final baking so that a smile forms at the bottom; all of his pretzels smile at you. In any case, the sausage, apples, cheese and pretzels were a great palate-cleanser between each glass of wine we tasted.

For information on What we did, Where we stayed and What we ate, go to ‘Review of the Viking Cruise from Prague to Paris’.
Miltenberg church and castle

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