Excursion to the Winninger Uhlen vineyard
31 August 2020, near Koblenz. Agriculture ministers from the 27 member states of the European Union go on an excursion to Winninger Uhlen, one of the most spectacular terraced vineyards in all of the Mosel area. It sits between 75 and 210 meters above sea level with a gradient of between 50 and 70%. This is where one of the best crops of Riesling grapes in the country grows. At the invitation of Germany's Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, Julia Klöckner, the European agriculture ministers came to Koblenz for an informal meeting. The Minister organised the meeting under the auspices of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. The excursion was part of preparations for the ministers’ meeting, which took place the following day in an event centre, the Rhein-Mosel-Halle. On the agenda for discussion: which lessons can be drawn from the coronavirus pandemic? How can the agricultural industry and food sector be made more resilient? And how can the introduction of an EU-wide animal welfare label, which offers transparency about how animals have been reared, transported and butchered, be progressed? Such a label would make it easier for consumers to make decisions when at the grocery store counter.
Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany’s leading wine region
The Winninger Uhlen vineyard lies in the heart of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Six of Germany’s 13 wine-making regions are located in Geramny's premier wine region (Mittelrhein, the Palatinate, Nahe, Mosel, Rheinhessen, Ahr) and there are more than 10,000 agricultural businesses in the state, altogether producing around 70 percent of Germany’s total grape harvest. In this region in particular there are a large variety of types of grape. It is mostly the classic white wine varieties that are grown on around 64,000 hectares – Riesling, Müller Thurgau, Silvaner and the white Burgundian varieties. When it comes to red grape varieties, Dornfelder grapes dominate, followed by Portuguese and Pinot Noir varieties. Most of these grow in terraced vineyards overlooking the river valleys.
Travelling by monorail up the steep slopes
Cultivating the grapevines on these steep slopes gives the resulting wines a strong mineral character. But this obviously presents great challenges to the winemakers too. To get up the steep slopes, they use a railway known as a monorack. This allows them to get up gradients of up to 100 degrees, carrying up to 250 kilograms. During the grape harvest, stakes, fertilizer and grapes are all carried this way. Sometimes the monorack railway is also used to help the vintners climb upwards – and sometimes it‘s even used for agriculture ministers.
Drones over the vineyard
The use of new, digital technologies and the advantages of that for the wine makers was a major topic during the EU agriculture ministers’ Informal Meeting. One example is the use of drones. In the past, vintners had to use helicopters in order to spray pesticides. In the future, they will be able to use drones for this. Drones are quieter and there’s less chance of air accidents than there is with helicopters. Because drones can more precisely place the pesticide, it also means that vintners can use less of it. Additionally, the aerial pictures that drones take deliver information about growth rates, fertiliser requirements and ripeness or any sickness among the plants. In this way, drone technology can increase productivity.
Koblenz, 2000 years of history
Koblenz is not only one of the oldest cities in Germany, it also a city with a particularly rich and diverse history. The Romans, the Franks, the electors and prince-bishops of Trier, the French and the Prussians have all left their mark on the city. Parts of Koblenz are UNESCO world heritage sites. The city lies on the junction of two major rivers, where “Father Rhine meets Mother Mosel” at the Deutsche Eck, or “German corner”, a spot rich in history. With 114,000 inhabitants, Koblenz is the third largest city in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, following Mainz and Ludwigshafen. In 2011, the Federal German Garden Show took place in Koblenz, putting the city in the limelight and attracting 3.5 million visitors.
In the land of the Lorelei
Koblenz is in the middle of some of the loveliest landscapes in Germany. It’s the epitome of Rhine romanticism, surrounded by beautiful river valleys, romantic villages, steep vineyards and thick forests. The city is near one of the most famous German cliffs: the Lorelei, which heaves itself 132 meters above the Rhine river. German mythology has it that nymphs on the cliff would entice ships toward the rocks with their songs. The Lorelei has been a source of inspiration for many authors; Heinrich Heine dedicated a poem to it.
Headquarters of collective memory
Koblenz is also the custodian of Germany's memory: the city is the headquarters of the Federal Archives, responsible for the preservation and indexing of the Federal Government's archive. Some of the documents come from the time of the Holy Roman Empire (from the Middle Ages to 1805). The Federal Archives preserve 406 kilometres of manuscripts, 13 million images, 1.15 million film rolls, 75,000 posters, 1.95 million maps and 2.13 million books in its libraries. Among the photos are those of the legendary meeting between Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev in the La Redoute restaurant in Bad Godesberg in July 1989. The Soviet leader spoke here for the first time about a possible fall of the Berlin Wall.
A city for Europe, and the world
Koblenz is a cosmopolitan European city. The city has eight partnerships with cities of similar size in Europe and across the world. When the Franco-German Elysée Treaty was signed in 1962, Koblenz twinned with the central French city of Nevers in the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. Since then, town twinning arrangements with Haringey and Norwich in the United Kingdom, Maastricht in the Netherlands, Novara in Italy, Austin in the United States and Petah Tikva in Israel have followed. The newest twinning agreement was sealed with the Croatian city of Varaždin in 2007.
As with many twin town arrangements, the connection between Koblenz and Varaždin harks back to the initiative of a particularly engaged Koblenz local, Friedhelm Pieper (far left, flanked - from left - by Varaždin's former deputy mayor, Slobodan Mikac, Koblenz' former Lord Mayor Joachim Hofmann-Göttig and Koblenz' Head of Cultural Affairs Detlef Knopp). He was a convinced European and worked for many years as a foreign trade consultant for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Koblenz (IHK). Having travelled around many European countries over 40 years in business for the IHK, he wanted to support Croatia’s development after the Yugoslavian war. It was he who initiated the first connections. Even today he still acts as the president of the friendship group for both cities.
European solidarity during the pandemic
Originally created to support Franco-German reconciliation and to secure peace in Europe after the Second World War, town twinning today enables inhabitants to go on exchanges, become friends and learn from each other. This generates the feeling of a European identity.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic many of the exchanges and activities between Koblenz and its partner cities have had to be postponed. Koblenz has showed solidarity regardless, accepting Italian coronavirus patients in the Federal Armed Forces hospital in the city. And in April last year, Koblenz' Lord Mayor David Langner sent a letter of solidarity to his city’s twin towns. The mayor of Varaždin, Ivan Čehok, replied, “many thanks for your support and your understanding in this time when the whole world is fighting an invisible foe. The city of Koblenz and the city of Varaždin are partners who are not just bound together in good times, but also in this period of the fight against COVID-19.