Great Heidelberger Tun
The battle for the largest wooden barrel waged over the centuries between Germany’s Electors in a costly power struggle. In 1591, Johann Casimir commissioned the first of four “large barrels” for Heidelberg Castle. Followed by the Karl Ludwig barrel of 1664, the Karl Philipp barrel of 1728, and the last of the four barrels was completed in 1751 under Elector Karl Theodor. A total of 90-130 oak trees were felled for their completion and there was room for a total of 221,726 liters (58,573.81 gallons) of wine in the fourth barrel. This barrel trumped that of Johann Casimir by more than 26,000 liters (6869 gallons) of volume.
The last “Great Heidelberger Tun” was only filled three times in history. Similar to the other giant barrels of the Saxon competition, the large barrels were not tight. Also, they lacked of quality, since the wooden barrels had to be refilled regularly to avoid wine oxidation. The Saxons’s oversized wooden barrels remained empty and rotted over the years. The first large Heidelberger barrel was destroyed in the Thirty Years’ War and its wood burned. The Great Heidelberger Tuns were marketed as a tourist attraction from early on. The people of Heidelberg even put a dance floor on the top of the second barrel.
When in ca. 1718 the Italian court jester of Heidelberg was asked if he could drink the Great Cask alone, he is said to have replied in Italian: “Perché no?” (why not?). From then on he was nicknamed Perkeo, and was appointed the keeper of the Great Tun. His face decorated the tun for many years; today a wooden figure of Perkeo stands next to the barrel to commemorate his story. According to legend, Perkeo, known as a “wine battle drinker”, died the first time he ever tasted water.
Mark Twain, Washington Irving and Jules Verne immortalized the Great Heidelberger Tun in their stories. The French writer Victor Hugo visited the famous wooden barrel in 1840 during a visit to Heidelberg, Herman Melvilles compares the barrel to the size of whales in his novel “Moby Dick“.
Today, about half a million of tourists visit the fourth Great Heidelberg Tun every year. Read about another famous barrel the “Schwedenfass“, that was build for the “Jahrtausendwein” and the Thirty-Years-War story of the famous “The Master Draught“.