Why you should care

The Weinstrasse doesn’t shy away from kitsch, but that’s part of its charm.

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Seeing the world’s biggest anything is always a thrill, even when it’s something stupid like the world’s biggest ball of twine. So when you have a chance to not just see but to eat inside the world’s biggest wine barrel, you take it.

The restaurant in question is Dürkheimer Fass, located in the small town of Bad Dürkheim in Rhineland-Palatinate. This gigantic wine barrel, nearly 50 feet in diameter, could hold almost 550,000 gallons of wine — if it were ever to be filled with wine. Instead, the barrel is a landmark on the German Wine Road, or Weinstrasse, a rite of passage for wine lovers and home to some amazing sauerkraut (hint: wine is involved).

When you dine inside Dürkheimer Fass (aka Giant Cask), you’ll be in a built-out section known as the Weinbutt. It has the same folksy, old-fashioned decor as the main barrel, with the addition of smaller barrels that hold low-lit booths. Most of the clientele are wine lovers, not tourists wearing baseball caps, lederhosen and “Ich Liebe Deutschland” T-shirts. The main barrel was erected in 1934 by a local wine grower and barrel enthusiast shortly before local Nazi leader Josef Bürckel officially established the Weinstrasse. After the war, Nazi symbols were scrubbed off, but the Weinstrasse remained.

The barrel can hold approximately 430 people, although the restaurant isn’t usually open outside of festival season or prearranged group outings. During offseason, you’ll be seated in the Weinbutt, which holds about 150 people.

All the wines served are from the surrounding region, says Dürkheimer Fass employee Birgit Schmidt. That attracts not just busloads of tourists, but “many, many people from the surrounding areas like Heidelberg, Mannheim,” she says.

The menu is surprisingly good, considering this is a wine Disneyland. Its focus is Palatinate specialties like liver dumplings and local roasted sausages — Schmidt says they are de rigueur for visitors from outside the area — served alongside Riesling sauerkraut and brown bread. Unlike in France, food and wine in Germany are less about pairing, explains German-born wine expert and writer Anne Krebiehl, and more about eating whatever is in season, like mushrooms, asparagus or game, along with whatever wine you like.

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A man checks the diameter of an oak wood barrel at a cooper’s workshop in Bad Dürkheim near Ludwigshafen, Germany.

And there are so many local wines to like. Krebiehl particularly recommends the dry rieslings of the Pfalz region. “Non-Germans have an idea of Riesling that comes in a blue bottle and is sweet,” she says, but Pfalz Rieslings are dry, partly due to the area’s sunny climate. And don’t neglect the sekt, Germany’s sparkling wine, a treat that has led the country to be the world leader in drinking bubbly.

The kitsch of the wine region hasn’t scared anybody away yet, nor has its historical connection to the Nazis. Dürkheimer Fass, and the town of Bad Dürkheim in general, hosts the world’s biggest wine festival, the Wurstmarkt, every September: Six hundred thousand people gather outside the barrel to drink. One of the region’s unexpected charms, says Krebiehl, is that the local measure for wine is a Schoppen, or 16 ounces, though sometimes those 16 ounces will consist of wine mixed with water. Imbibe just a few, though, and you’ll have to be rolled home.

Go There: Dürkheimer Fass

  • How to get there: The restaurant is located on St. Michael Allee 1, roughly a 1.25-hour drive from Frankfurt. It’s walkable from the Bad Dürkheim train station. Map.
  • Hours: 11:30 am to 10 pm, April to October; 11:30 am to 9:30 pm, November to March
  • Cost: Wines start at $4.28 for a glass or $15.37 for a liter. Main courses start at about $14.10 a plate.
  • Pro tip: While you’re here, visit some other wineries — but call first to find out which ones have tastings, and consider walking from one to another rather than driving.  

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