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Big Barrel, Old-Time Control

May 4, 2015
The Great Heidelberg Tun Impresses Panel Builders, Integrators and Engineers

The Great Heidelberg Tun could reportedly hold more than 220,000 liters when it was built in 1751, and even has a stairway leading to a dance floor on top.

I neglected to mention before that, after visiting Hannover Fair 2015 at Rittal's invitation a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. delegation also visited Heidelberg Castle. Now, this might not be interesting to the process control crowd, at least not until we encountered a large, cast-iron, manually operated pump near the king's hall, and later learned it was once connected via a hose and check valve to what has to be the world's biggest wooden wine barrel in the palace's basement.

The last of several huge barrels used collect wine in payment of taxes, the Great Heidelberg Tun or "Grosse Fass" was built in 1751, and could reportedly hold more than 220,000 liters, though it was reportedly only used rarely to actually store wine. Dimensions didn't appear to be handy at the time, but it easily looked about 20 feet high and 30 feet long. It even has a stairway leading up and around to a full-sized dance floor on the top!

Even more convenient, though no longer hooked up, the remnants of the pump's hose hung from the ceiling in the basement. It was next to a huge wood plane and compass (whose purpose was never explained), along with the barrel's guardian—a statue of Perkeo of Heidelberg, one-time court jester and wine production manager, and now castle and local mascot.

Remnants of the hose (far left) are no longer connected, but reportedly led from the huge barrel in the basement to the king's hall in the upper floors of Heidelberg Castle, and wine was drawn up via a hand pump and check valve. The tun is still overseen by a statue of Perkeo of Heidelberg, one-time court jester and wine production manager.

During another part of the tour, we were informed that one the castle's several rulers had imposed a strict, per-person limit on wine consumption of seven to nine liters per day. How severe!

In addition, Wikipedia reports that the Heidelberg Tun is referenced in Rudolf Erich Raspe's The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Jules Verne's novel Five Weeks in a Balloon, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, Washington Irving's The Specter Bridegroom, Mary Hazelton Wade's Bertha, Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad  (1880), and even Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

"Everybody has heard of the great Heidelberg Tun, and most people have seen it, no doubt," wrote Twain. "It is a wine-cask as big as a cottage, and some traditions say it holds 18,000, and other traditions say it holds 1,800 million barrels. I think it likely that one of these statements is a mistake and the other is a lie. However, the mere matter of capacity is a thing of no sort of consequence, since the cask is empty, and indeed has always been empty, history says. An empty cask the size of a cathedral could excite but little emotion in me."

Same here. Smaller containers and more wine is the way to go. This no doubt explains the working wine bar upstairs, which was unfortunately closed when we stopped by.

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