Sunday, October 30, 2011

Celebrating the harvest

Harvest festival street display (All photos and text copyright to Eventful Woman, 2011)
Autumn wreath on doorway
The streets and doorways of Zell an der Mosel are filled with symbols and icons of the harvest thanksgiving, or Erntedank as it is known as here.

Erntedank starts on the 1st Sunday in October (for Catholics) and on the Sunday after Michaelmas (September 29th) for Protestants.  Vegetables, fruit and other harvest offerings have been a feature in most churches, although everyone seems to get in on the act whether in their homes, businesses or shops.

Harvest Festival display in Zell
Novelty chickens
Pumpkin orange is the predominant colour for the displays, which include vine leaves, scarecrows, kites, brooms, streamers, toy chickens and geese, lanterns and autumn wreaths. There are lots of pumpkins, of course. As the grape harvest is so important here, the Zeller Schwarze Katz (Zell's famous black cat) makes sure she does a 'guest spot' in the occasional display or in a shop window.



Can you spot the Zeller Schwarze Katz?

New wine and onion cake
Federweisser (new wine from the first pressing of the grapes) and zwiebelkuchen (spicy onion cake) are the big taste sensation of autumn and the harvest in Zell, and in other towns along the Mosel. I can see why zwiebelkuchen is a popular food for grape pickers. One bite of this tasty, nutritious, filling and savoury pancake/pizza, and I felt like I too could stride up the steep slopes of Zell's vineyards and pick grapes all day.  (TH says 'yeah, right' to this.)


Harvest setting in wine cellar

Zell had its Federweissenfest (new wine festival) on the first weekend of October, with music and dancing in the streets, and special tastings at vineyards and wine cellars. Nearby Cochem will have theirs on the first weekend in November. Each festival has its own Wine Queen.

Colourful doorway
Shop window (can you see the cat?)

The black cat has inspired a Halloween theme (in a wine shop)

Scarecrows are a popular icon of the harvest
The toadstools are so dangerous they have to put behind bars

Zebras? I guess everyone is entitled to their own ideas.
All photos and text copyright to Eventful Woman, 2011

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Mayoral welcome party

Party in full swing (All photos and text copyright to Eventful Woman, 2011)
We went to a marvellous party last week. TH and I were guests of Herr Stadtbürgermeister (Mayor) Hans Schwarz at an event to welcome the passengers off a tourist ship to Zell an der Mosel.

The band leading the crowd
Glasses lined up, Black Cat fountain in background
We had no idea what to expect but we knew the town would put on a good show and we weren't disappointed. 

The passengers, many marching in time to the music and clapping their hands, were led from the ship by the town's orchestral band to the Zeller Schwarze Katz fountain (Zell's Black Cat fountain).   

Glasses of fine Zell sekt (sparkling) wine were lined up for them on the bar in the marquee. 

The Mayor made a welcoming speech, the wine princess told the legend of Zell's Black Cat, the passengers were invited to keep topping up on the excellent wine and also that they could keep their Zell-branded glasses as a souvenir. 

Listening to the band
We circulated and talked to as many as we could about the great things to see and do in the Zell an der Mosel area. The passengers were mainly American and many were also travel agents. We met one Canadian who told us that there were some British people on board, plus two Australians but we didn't find them in the crowd. No Kiwis, unfortunately. However, a big HELLO and KIA ORA to the people we met from Utah, California, Washington DC, Arizona, North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Kentucky.

There was a lot of curiosity about why two New Zealanders were part of the welcoming party but they appreciated the opportunity to have their questions about Zell answered in English and by fellow tourists.  

Enjoying the music
The band played hits from the 1960s to the 1980s to suit the age and nationality of the passengers, such as Silence is Golden and several Beach Boys numbers. Soon most were singing and doing the actions to Village People's YMCA.



Buffet tables in the wine cellar

Treats to eat
A selection of  local delicacies such as wurst, meatballs, cheeses, breads, zwiebelkuchen (spicy onion and bacon cake), würstchen (little sausages) and potato pie and a great vat of federweisser (new wine) was served buffet-style in the wine cellars under the nearby town hall. The tables had little black cat shapes decorating the tablecloths.  After the chilly night air, it was good to be in the warm.

Mayor Schwarz with passengers
When we left some were still dancing to the music of the town band. I'm not sure when they got to bed but hopefully all made it back to their cabins by the time the ship cast off in the morning.

Thanks to Herr Hans Schwarz and the town of Zell an der Mosel for a great night.

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All text and photos are copyright to Eventful Woman, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

On the prowl for Zell's black cat

Zell's famous black cat (All photos are copyright to Eventful Woman, 2011)

Stained glass window in wine shop
Zell's Black Cat (Zeller Schwarze Katz) is on everyone's lips - in more ways than one. She's not only talked about, she helps to sell most of the wine produced in the area. She's present at every sip, as her image is on most wine labels. This is some cat!

Street sign




On my travels around Zell an der Mosel I see her everywhere, but I am unable to meet her. When I say "everywhere" I mean representations of her, not the real thing. The legendary cat died nearly 150 years ago, but her spirit lives on.

Cat defending the wine barrel
Laura, Zell's wine queen (who wears a tiara with a cat design) told me the story:  "In 1863 there were 3 wine merchants from Aachen and they came into a wine cellar in Zell an der Mosel to purchase the best wine they could find.  In one winery, the negotiations went on for a long time and suddenly the cellar owner's black cat sprung up onto one cask. She arched her back threateningly and she hissed when these merchants came near her.  The merchants interpreted this as a good omen [that a cat would defend a wine from price discounting] and they bought without even tasting the wine. Back in Aachen, the wine sold well [it was branded with a black cat on the label] and the merchants came back for more. That is the legend."

An image of the black cat has been used ever since to promote the Riesling from Zell an der Mosel.  Use of the Zeller Schwarz Katz brand and logo is fiercely defended, just like the cat did herself.

Watchful black cat
Stadtbürgermeister Hans Schwarz

When I interviewed Stadtbürgermeister Hans Schwarz (the local mayor) he said, "The logo belongs to the town and is managed by the council. It is protected by a patent and this patent has to be renewed every 10 years. A vineyard in Austria used the black cat logo last year and was fined.  In former times there was a seal on every bottle and the owner had to go the town hall to complete a record of the number of bottles he produced, He was then given the same number of corks to use for the wine." [Note: The mayor's words have been translated from German.]


There are records dating back to the Year 930 on wine making in Zell. However, it is thought that wine was first produced in the Mosel River area by the Romans almost 2000 years ago.  The excellent local history museum in Zell has artifacts, tools and records from centuries ago, including how Zell got its name. The Romans called the place "Cella" after the storage cellars they made for the wine. Cella translates to Zelle in German. The mayor said that there are at least 20 towns in Germany with the name of Zell, but only one Zell an der Mosel (Zell on the Mosel River).  

Black cat fountain
Also on display in the museum are the patent documents that the mayor talked about for the Zeller Schwarze Katz logo.

Images of the black cat are everywhere in Zell. She even has a whole fountain dedicated to her.

Zell has around 4,300 people and approximately 4 million vines. I've lost count of the number of images I've seen of the famous cat.

Signs and window displays in Zell




They even have cat woman
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All text and photos are copyright to Eventful Woman, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Traben-Trarbach: twin delights

The Brückentor (Bridge Gate) is the symbol of Traben-Trarbach
(All photos copyright to Eventful Woman, 2011)
The first modern bridge to be built across the Mosel River was between the towns of Traben and Trarbach in 1904. Had I had crossed it back then it would have cost a couple of pfennige for me, the same for my horse, and the same again if I had a flock of 10 ducks or sheep.

A pfennig (or pfennige for the plural) is an old German coin, which was in use from the 9th century right up until the introduction of the Euro in 2002. Older Germans sometime refer to the new one cent piece as a pfennig.

Cobbled street with wine press in Trarbach
If I was Catholic, I could get a discount on Fridays and Sundays, providing I was making the journey to attend church. I counted 8 churches in total (they were either Evangelic or Catholic) and I wondered why anyone would need to get to the other side to go to church. I suppose it's a bit like the perennial question on why the chicken crossed the road.  The most logical answer: because it could!!

These days the crossing is free and I wasn't charged anything for TH either. Neither of us had ducks, horses or sheep and it wasn't a Friday or Sunday. However, it is not the same bridge. The original was blown up in 1945 in the dying days of World War 2.

Carved doorway
Traben was first mentioned in the record books in the year 820 and Trarbach around 300 years later. However, people (Celts, Romans, Saxons, etc) lived there long long before that date. Both towns have their historical charms although we spent more time in Trarbach, which is on the right hand side of the Mosel going downstream towards Koblenz.

We wandered the cobbled streets, which were remarkably free of tourists. It's the details that impress as much as the larger buildings - carved doorways, ivy growing on walls, the ornate shop signs, half-timbered houses with slate roofs and window gables, and the grape vines that trailed above us.

Carillion on the old tower
In Trarbach, it's worth a climb up one of the last remaining towers from the old city wall, originally built around 1350 but restored in the last few years. In 2004 a new Carillion was installed on this tower to commemorate the anniversary of Traben-Trarbach joining as one city in 1904 (when the bridge was built). Yes, I know I don't like "walk", "up" and 'hill" but these were steps and I liked peering over the edge of the staircase, which made my head whirl. It was very entertaining in a tipsy sort of way.

Looking up the staircase of the tower
Once you've stopped puffing at the top, you can admire the view over the town, the Mosel, the steep-sided vineyards and up to jagged remains of Grevenburg Castle (also built around 1350 and destroyed by Louis XIV (the "Sun King") in 1734. 

The MittelMosel Museum (the Middle Mosel Museum), which is housed in a baroque villa on the corner of Enkircherstrasse and Moselstrasse in Trarbach has a comprehensive history of the twin towns.

Linger awhile and make sure you also stop for fabulous German cake (kuchen) at the many delectable shops.

Getting to Traben-Trarbach:
  • By river boat or bus from most of the towns on the Mosel, including Zell an der Mosel.
  • By rail, check out www.deutschbahn.de for ticket specials (when travelling in the Mosel Valley) after 9am, Monday to Friday, and any time over the weekend.
  • By car along the Mosel River road. There's free parking under the bridge.
  •  By cycle, along the cycle way (radweg) beside the Mosel River. Under the bridge there's nifty little lock-up bike garages (like large dog kennels) for your bike and/or back pack.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Meeting the Queen

Queen Laura Waltner, Weinkönigin for Zell an der Mosel
(all photos are copyright to Eventful Woman, 2011)


Zell's Weinkönigin Laura Waltner 
It's not often you meet a Queen, but in the Mosel region, there is a good chance you will see one. Like many other towns on the Mosel River, Zell has a Wine Queen (Weinkönigin) and also a Wine Princess (Weinprinzessin).

The role has moved on from being merely decorative. The Wine Queen has a key part to play in promoting the area and its wine, and she makes a significant time committment to attending a large number of events for the town during her reign.

I met with Weinkönigin Laura Waltner recently to pose a few questions. She spoke good English, which she had learned on a school exchange visit to Florida, USA.

What does a Wine Queen do? 
Laura making a speech at an event
When there are guests to the town I greet them. I represent the town, the wine, the wineries and the wine growers. When there are wine festivals in different towns I go there and I represent our own wines.  I'm also invited to wine tastings.

How do you become a wine queen?
You usually have to be the daughter of a wine maker as you need to know a lot about wine making. In the past, there were many girls who wanted to become a wine queen. But, it's a big job in Zell with a lot of appointments [commitments] so it's becoming less that other girls want to do this. I do nearly 80 appointments per year.
Wine Princess (left) and Wine Queen Laura
My father is not a wine maker, although my uncle is. A friend of mine had this idea about becoming a wine princess first, like being an apprentice. There were three of us. We asked the mayor and he agreed to the idea. One of us became the Queen, as she was the daughter of a wine grower and she had a lot of experience and she knew a lot about wine. So, my friend and I became the princesses and 2 years later I became the Queen. Next year in summer it will be 2 years since I became a Queen.

Note the tiara design with the Zell cat logo
How long can you be the holder of the crown? 
Usually the Wine Queen title is for 2 years, but it can be up to 3.  After that, I could try to become the Queen of the whole Mosel area. I am not sure about that because I am going to university and I first want to graduate. I study art and philosophy and I want to become a teacher

In the 2 weeks I have been in Zell, I am aware of at least 3 events that Laura has attended and made speeches at. There have probably been other commitments that I'm not aware of. She accompanies the mayor to many events and helps him with translating (German into English, as well as English into German). I interviewed two wine makers from Zell and each spoke highly of Laura and the importance of her role as wine ambassador for Zell an der Mosel.

Laura's work as Zell's Weinkönigin is unpaid.

Eventful Woman (back to the camera) meeting Wine Queen Laura and two other guests at Zell's new wine festival (federweissenfest)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rocking up the Collis Steilpfad (Steep Path)

Eventful Woman climbing up the Collis Steilpfad (all photos copyright to Eventful Woman 2011)
As you know "walk", "up" and "hill" are not my favoured activities. It's the relentless plodding with no excitement that I don't like. However, throw in a challenge like rock climbing and I'm all for it.

TH suggested I wouldn't be able to clamber up the rock face of Collis Steilpfad to the Collis Tower, which looms 300 metres above Zell an der Mosel. I guess he thought I'd eaten too much of those delectable kuchen (cakes), since we've been here. Of course, we had a bet (a choice cake) just to make it extra interesting.

If the kuchen of my choice wasn't enough inspiration, the warning sign on the way up gave me an extra thrill. It had a number of stern warnings for the faint-hearted in several languages:
  • Walk at your own risk
  • Only for experienced hikers
  • Freedom from vertigo is essential
  • Sure footedness is essential
It didn't mention there was no safety rope. Still, with TH below me taking photos, at least he'd break my fall and also make a soft landing pad.

I admit there was more than a bit of huffing and puffing and I had to raid the nearby vineyard for some nutritious grapes to keep me going.


But I did it. The views were magnficent both up and down The Mosel. We completely dwarfed the Round Tower that we had conquered on an earlier climb.
View of the Round Tower and Zell

We noticed several padlocks clipped onto the viewing tower at the top.  Each of these had two names (a bride and a groom) etched on their surface.  This is a modern day tradition for hiking couples. They lock the padlock shut on one of the tower's rail as a sign that their love is sure and made in heaven. Then, they throw away the key so the padlock can't easily be opened - "let no man put asunder" and all that.

There wasn't time to suggest this romantic concept to TH for ourselves.  I was too busy making my way down so I could get that divine cake I had been promised.

Looking downstream towards Alf from the viewing tower
View of the Round Tower and Zell
Click here for more information about the Round Tower.

Directions to get to Collis Steilpfad (about 10 - 15 minutes walk uphill to get to the path): Start at Zell's Black Cat (Zeller Schwarze Katz) fountain, walk up Marktstrasse and then turn right onto Cuxbornstrasse. Continue left up Zeller Kehr, passing the Square Tower on your right hand side. At the top of Zeller Kehr, turn left onto Kabertchenweg for around 50 metres.  Look for the warning sign (about needing to be sure-footed and free from vertigo) on the right hand side. That is the start of the path up to the Collis Steilpfad.  Depending on your fitness levels, the walk/climb from there up to the Collis Tower will take between 25 - 45 minutes.