Deutsches Weininstitut Bannergrafik

Vineyards' Sundials: Measuring units for the blithful (wine-)hours

They measure the progress of time throughout the day and they are as old as mankind: Up to the beginning of the 19th century, sundials were the yery synonym for watches – since there were no others. The principle is easy: A pole is fixed into earth paralleling the axis of the earth, its shadow then points out the position of the sun therefore denoting the hours or even minutes.
Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Ürziger Sonnenuhr Wehlener Sonnenuhr
Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Ürziger Sonnenuhr Wehlener Sonnenuhr

The steep slopes of the Mosel, often directed to the South, were ideal for the setting of sundials. In those days, before pocket watches or even wrist watches were available, it was the sundials who pointed out the progression of the day to the workers in the vineyards.

Several hundred of these sundials, mostly made out of stone, are probably still around along the Mosel valley. Many of them figured so prominently in their locations that they even gave their names to the vineyard sites surrounding them. That's no coincidence: Wherever sundials were installed, premium wines also flourished for the sundials were always erected on the sun-bathed Southern slopes.  

The most famous ones are the Wehlener sundial, its brother Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, which is only a few hundred metres away, and the Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr. More sundials can be found in Ürzig, for example in the tower of a ruined castle, built in between the wine grapes into the rocks. But also Neumagen, Maring und Pommern feature sundials which figure prominently in the steep vineyards, which can be spotted from a long distance already.

In Wehlen, the famous sundial even became the town's landmark. Erected in 1842 by the owner of the vineyard, Jodocus Prüm, it shows the true time of the place: When the sun reaches its highest point above Wehlen, the shadow of its needle points exactly to twelve o'clock. Compared to our modern standard time, made mandatory in 1893, the sundial's time diverges for 32 minutes – the sundial thus running late for about half an hour. It was around the year 1900 that the vineyard site took its name from the famous "Wehlener Sonnenuhr."  

Today, the community of Wehlen strives to become the city of one hundred sundials. More than 50 of these markers are already situated around the community, the oldest ones stemming from the 17 century. Also, new sundials emerge, and they come in quite of number of different shapes: there are horizontal sundials fixed on old wine barrels, vertical ones on the facades of houses, equatorial sundials that look like globes and even digital sundials where no needle's shadow is moving but which show the time through a strip of iron marked with numbers – their shadow then paints the accurate number of time onto the ground.

A list on the internet contains each sundial in Wehlen. And who knows, maybe it was the sundials along the Mosel who inspired the composer of a famous German hit to write: "Mach' es wie die Sonnenuhr, zähl' die heitren Stunden nur": Do like the sundials – only count the blithful hours.




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