Late summer and early autumn in southern Germany is a time of much drinking, a bit like the rest of the year in fact, but a little more choreographed with popular wine festivals and being-sick-on-beer festivals. The Breisach wine festival held in early September is a civilised long weekend of sampling some of the 300 wines on offer with little if any public vomiting.
The beer festival in Munich, and its spin-offs in other cities (there was one in Freiburg this year) have much the look of typical weekend nights out in any English town centre (don’t look at this link while having you tea).
The smallest victim of alcohol this year weighed only six grams.
But here beside the Rhine, once the wine festival is out of the way, it is back to work for many to bring in the grapes that will fuel the coming years’ Breisach “pop festivals”.
Each day brings a procession of trailers to town with their huge tin cans of grapes. Most are on their way to one of Europe’s biggest producing wine cellars the Badische Winzerkeller.
It is only when the 2 metre high maize is cut that you are reminded this is, after harvest and through much of winter, a dull muddy brown country with not a single stone wall or hedge.
In France the stalls are mostly found near the vineyards at the foot of the Vosges and having crossed the maize fields you may find a friendly farmer selling refreshing bunches of grapes and the Alsatian cake, Kugelhopf.
This dry cake is baked in a distinctive fluted mould and tastes like two-day old bread. It is a dry cake, and although sometimes sprinkled with sugar, nuts or raisins is wisely marketed as a good cake to eat with wine. If you wish for something to soak up your wine then I would recommend the better flavoured common bathroom sponge.
A short ride through the sweetcorn fields outside of Breisach brings you to a change of gear. The vine filled hills of the Kaiserstuhl and the Tuniberg (home to a favourite pop – Attilafelsen Spätburgunder Rotwein) rise up sharply just outside of Breisach.
The arrival empty and departure full of tractors and trailers is the only noise that breaks the quiet. There is rarely a breath of wind and the air is pleasantly warm. Often the autumn sky is a uniform overcast light grey, but when there is a rare break in the cloud cover you can lie down among the vines and soak up the thin sun and breath in the thick musty air.
The Kaiserstuhl is the warmest part of Germany and is described as having a Mediterranean climate. I have seen more Bee-eaters hunting over the vineyards or perched on wires here than I have seen in Provence. If you move slowly and quietly you will spot many colourful lizards and insects such as the wasp spider.
In spite of scratching around the vineyards I didn’t find an aggressive Kaiserstuhl praying mantis but on my return home I found one had come in through an open window and was typically squaring up for a fight.