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The Vineyard Cottages of Saale-Unstrut– The Schweigenberg Ensemble
They are the landmark of the wine making region of Saale-Unstrut: the vineyard cottages. In no other region of Germany, there is such an amassment of these little cottages, huts and sometimes even villas that used to serve as shelters for the laborers in the vineyards.
Several hundred vineyard cottages are supposed to exist in the region of Saale-Unstrut, among them rarities of their epochs. The oldest example that can be dated back is a half-timbered little tower which stands in the vineyard site Steinmeister near Rossbach – its was built in 1555 and is called "The Steinkauz", meaning little owl. The highest amassment of vineyard cottages, however, is without doubt found on the vineyard site of the Schweigenberg near Freyburg: on 20 hectares, there exist no less than 90 vineyard cottages, most of them built between 1700 and 1800.
The Schweigenberg itself is the most famous terrassed vineyard of Saale-Unstrut: Its 25 hectares are assembled in five to ten terraces layered on top of each other, each divided in small and even tiny plots of land – the Schweigenberg is a true cultural monument for this traditional way of cultivating wine. More than 40 winemakers still work twelve hectares of the vineyard, divided into 65 parcels of land. On that space alone, there are to be found ten kilometers of dry stone walls, about five kilometers of enclosing walls, several hundred staircases – and those 90 vineyard cottages.
Originally, the cottages were used as shelters for the laborers in the vineyards, but also to store tools and for the watch between the grapevines. The high amassment of cottages in this vineyard site is explained thus: because the vineyard used to be divided in so many tiny parcels, every winemaker working here erected his or her own cottage – thus the enormous number. In most vineyards, the number of cottages vanished when the land was re-aligned, not so the Schweigenberg: since the parcels were never re-allocated, the cottages survived.
Later on, many a vineyard cottage was rebuilt to accommodate wine parties, often held as wine celebrating societies by the vineyard owner. Over time, the constructions erected became more elaborate and were built according to representative ideas or certain architectural styles of the time, sometimes even serving as residential buildings as well. Among the latter, there is the villa of the jeweler Carl Gottlieb Steinaur, purveyor to the duke's court, which was built in 1722 as a representative residential mansion on top of his own vineyard.
Another representative building was the so called "Schlifterhütte", a pompous mansion built within the Schlifterweinberg in Freyburg whose occupants were none other than the owners of the Rotkäppchen champagne cellar, the families Foerster and Kloss. One of the most impressive examples of the vineyard cottages is a cottage in rococo style that was built in the Duke's Vineyard in Freyburg. The hexagonal half-timbered building was built in 1774 by the Electoral Saxon tax collector Carl Gottlieb Barthel and is notable especially for its French roof and its barrel-vault cellar underneath.
The most famous of all vineyard cottages, however, is the "Toskanaschlösschen", meaning Castle of Tuscany, which is situated in the Schweigenberg of Freyburg: The treasured building is currently under renovation and has become the very landmark for vineyard cottages in general. Where the cottages are to be found and where there are those that can be visited – the winemakers association of Saale-Unstrut holds the lists.