The Bremer Ratskeller
The Bremer Ratskeller —the cellar of Bremen Town Hall—is the oldest wine cellar in Germany, constructed between 1405 and 1410. The Bremen Council has been serving as the governing body of Bremen’s town hall since the 1300s. Without the prior authorization of this council, nobody could sell wine. Moreover, the council would store all the wines in the cellar to control the wine prices and ensure that every winemaker paid their taxes.
Due to the longstanding control held by the town hall, the cellar has remained standing for centuries. Moreover, it has been conserved for a long time – owing to its impressive architecture and craftsmanship. Currently, the cellar has been declared as a UNESCO world heritage site.
One of the primary attractions of the site is a ‘Rose Wine’ (in German, Rosewein) from Rudesheim, which is a 1653 vintage. The word rose here does not signify the typical style of wines but the prime quality of this particular wine. During those days, it was believed that excellent wine was analogous to a rose. Interestingly, on August 21, 1864, the New York Times published an article titled “The Bremen Wine Cellar” regarding this historic site. The article describes the exclusive right of the citizenry of Bremen by stating that Rosewein and Apostle Wines were only sold to inhabitants of the city. The article also elaborates that Rosewein was already 2.5 centuries old in 1864. Many tourists visit from afar to see and even touch this wine. One can only imagine how the wine tastes. A German citizen informed me that only the mayor has the authority to open the wine.
It is said that the barrel was opened and people were able to get a whiff & taste of this 300-year old wine. However, to their dismay, it had gone rancid and smelled like vinegar. Nonetheless, irrespective of the authenticity of this story, there is still a concept of a wine being too aged, and going bad. Although, other sources claim that the wine is still good as it is immensely precious and nobody dares to open it. Another associated story about this wine is that when Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain visited Germany in 1978, she tried the wine. However, there are no official records of her review/reaction. Besides, many other famous personalities have visited the Ratskeller, including Otto von Bismarck, Johannes Brahms, Adolf Hitler, and Nikolai Gogol. The primary aim of the Town Hall authorities is to preserve it for as long as possible .
It is estimated that the cellar has 200+ casks, each containing approximately 1000 liters. However, much of this wine only serves as part of history now, as most of these wines are too old to be worthy of drinking. One of the principal portions of this underground cellar is called Shatzkammer, which literally translates to treasury, and it’s the largest archive in Germany. Any wine lover would appreciate this great collection of wines, which includes those from the 1960s. However, they can also try newer vintages as well, as the cellar houses some of the best arrays of German wine, all of which goes through a formal approval process to be on the list. A part of Ratskeller cellar is now devoted to a restaurant that includes a plain open area as well as more intimate booths for people to relish their exclusive dining options.
This Day in Wine History
1818: The first ratskeller (council room) was built in Bremen. It was a standard wood construction with a copper roof, which was later replaced by tin. At that time, it was considered to be a very modern building style for a city center square.
1820: The first Bremer ratskeller was built at the edge of the old town, next to the harbour. Until then, all food production had been done on board ships or in storehouses on land.
1884: There were already 20 Bremer ratskeller buildings in Bremen. They were opened every day at 6 o’clock in order to meet the needs of workers who came into town after work hours.
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References Oehlerking, Rike. 2015. “Take a deep breath of history.” Bremen Blog. https://blog.bremen-tourismus.de/weinkeller-2/.