Meersburg on Lake Constance: Home of the “Holy Ghost Torkel”Set up in 1961 in the rooms of the historical infirmary Heilig-Geist-Spital, the town’s small wine museum takes its name from the most famous item on display: the “Heilig Geist Torkel,” an old wine press (“Torkel”) named after the Holy Ghost.
The massive tree press dates from 1607 – probably the oldest functional wine press in the Bodensee, or Lake Constance, area – and was in use until 1922. It is a monument to the centuries-old culture of winemaking in the region, and above all, in the wine town of Meersburg.
Prehistoric finds around the Bodensee suggest that wild grapevines were growing there long before the arrival of the Romans, who brought with them new grape varieties, such as Elbling, and terms like “Torkel,” which derives from “torquere,” or Latin for twist or revolve. The word ultimately became the technical term for enormous wine presses. The first documented mention of viticulture in the region is attributed to Frankish ruler Charles Martel, who served as the chief steward under the Merovingian kings. He is said to have planted the first grapes in ca. 724 near Ermatingen, on the southern (Swiss) shore of the lake.
Meersburg’s viticultural history has been documented since 1324. Its vineyard area today comprises about 120 hectares (300 acres) that yield some one million liters of wine annually. Although the vines lie 500 meters (1,640 ft) above sea level, viticulture is made possible by the lake itself, which serves as a gigantic heat reservoir that tempers the climate. The leaves of vines planted on lakeside slopes also benefit from the water’s solar radiation. At the same time, the relatively high altitude with its cool nights fosters the development of grapes that yield particularly fruit-driven wines.
The Heilig-Geist-Spital was built in the 17th century. Viticulture helped finance the charitable institution. The items on display in the museum were collected throughout the 1950s by the former cellar master of the state-owned wine domain in Meersburg, Willy Stingl. The collection includes beautifully carved barrels, historical wine bottles, an old cart used to transport grapes, as well as numerous traditional cooper’s tools. However, the main attractions are the “Türkenfass,” a richly ornamented cask with a capacity of 50,000 liters, which once belonged to the Knights of the Teutonic Order in Mainau – and, of course, the Heilig Geist Torkel.