The Dwarf and Barrel At Heidelberg Castle

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Heidelberg Castle, or Schloss, is a labyrinth of interesting rooms and fascinating legends. Reality and fable come together when you see the Tun – a mammoth wine barrel, and you learn about the dwarf – the barrel’s mythical protector.

Heidelberg Schloss rests on a mount above the city along the Necker River in Germany. Part of it lies in ruins, blown-up by the French in 1689 during the Nine Years War. Many legends arose from the ruins including ghosts and witches A favorite is about the Tun and Perkeo the Dwarf.

Within the castle is a gigantic wine barrel that holds 220,000 liters, or 58,100 gallons. It is referred to as the Heidelberg Tun. Germans call it the Großes Fass. Built in 1751, it consumed 130 oak trees.

The Tun is mentioned in literature by the following famous authors: 

  • Jules Vernes, Five Weeks in A Balloon
  • Mark Twain, A Tram Abroad
  • Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
  • Washington Irving, The Specter Bridegroom

As a monthly visitor to Heidelberg, I heard about the Tun, but like the Alps or the Grand Canyon, you must see it in person to appreciate the scale. Why did someone need a barrel of that size? Apparrently, the castle was sometimes under siege. The Tun provided enough wine for a long defense. Before the tramway was built, some casualties likely occurred when soldiers rolled individual barrels up the steep slope to the the castle.

As you admire the Tun, you will hear about Perkeo the Dwarf. Perkeo was the jester under the local ruler, Elector Karl Phillip. Among his duties was protecting the Tun. The dwarf was a hard drinker who guarded and sampled a limitless amount of wine. He never turned town a drink. Perkeo is Italian for’why not?‘ – the answer someone received when offering him a cup. Consuming only wine, the dwarf lived a long life. Poor Perkeo substituted wine with just one glass of water and died the next day.

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