Esslingen, Home of Germany’s Oldest Bubbly

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The day after meeting up with friends in Germany where we spent most of our time visiting Ulm Minster, the tallest church in the world, Travis and I turned our trusty ol’ VW toward Stuttgart. Trusty because it’s a pre-2009 model.

Ouch, too soon?

We were giving two of our friends, Alanna and Michael, a ride from Ulm to Stuttgart on our way home south to Switzerland.  It would be a shame to drive from point A to point B, though, without stopping at least somewhere in between, so we were more than happy to spend the better part of an afternoon exploring the town of Esslingen am Neckar on the outskirts of Stuttgart.

Esslinger Burg

Our first stop was Esslinger Burg, or Castle Esslingen.

The name is actually a bit deceptive since the site isn’t a right proper castle, but rather a fortress consisting mainly of fortified stone walls interspersed with watch towers creeping up the hill bordering town.  Some manner of defensive site has existed on this spot for over 700 years, and locals still affectionately refer to the fortress on the hill as the “Burg.”

During our visit, it was hot – too hot.   We arrived while the site was being readied for a summer concert, which is apparently one of the Burg’s more common uses nowadays.  Rows of folding chairs filled the central green and a huge screen was set up with speakers blaring a rather catchy but unknown-to-us pop song.

With little to actually do there, we finally found the entrance to the fortress walls and slowly climbed the stairs.  Acres of bright green vineyards shimmered in the summer heat.

Vineyards in Esslingen am Neckar near Stuttgart, Germany
The grapes are happily soaking up the relentless summer sun.
Castle walls of Esslinger Burg in Esslingen am Neckar in Germany
Visitors can walk along the ramparts of Esslinger Burg, which offers nice views of the town of Esslingen am Neckar and the castle’s vineyards.

The town consists mostly of cute, red-roofed houses and businesses, with your typical European abundance of churches.  One church stood out to us because of its twin spires connected near the top by a curious little walkway.

I was intrigued.

And too hot.  Unless I have a piña colada in hand on a sandy beach or am about to go adventuring in the jungle, 90+ degree weather is not my shtick.  Grateful to leave the sweltering sun that was pelting the exposed hillside, we headed down into town.

Stadtkirche St Dionys

The most iconic church in town is Stadtkirche St Dionys, a Protestant parish church with Gothic architecture.

While Esslingen dates from the 8th century, the parish church is the third church to stand in its place.  The first and second date from the 8th and 9th centuries, while construction on the current church building spanned from about 1220 to the mid-1300s.  The distinctive foot bridge connecting its two mis-matched towers wasn’t added until the 16th century.

Stadtkirche St Dionys in Esslingen am Neckar, Germany
Stadtkirche St Dionys is unique for its twin towers connected by an elevated bridge.

Though the church is notable for its stained glass windows, we didn’t go inside.  We were happy just to explore the exterior.  Plus, we were searching for something better – something more refreshing, cool, and bubbly!

Travel Tip: Visitors can tour a museum in the basement of the church.

Kessler Sekt

We were on the hunt for Kessler Sekt, the oldest sparkling wine producer in Germany.

Sekt is German for “sparkling wine.”

Kessler Sekt cellars in Esslingen am Neckar, Germany
The Kessler Sekt cellars are housed in a beautiful half-timbered building in the historic center of town.

Kessler Sekt was founded in 1826 by Georg Christian Kessler, a German who learned the art of making champagne while living in France.

At one time the co-owner of the famous Veuve Clicquot champagne house in Reims, he later returned to Germany to start his own company in Esslingen.  Rather than imitating French wine products, however, he created unique sparkling wines that have been wildly popular for nearly 200 years.

If you’re an old movie buff and happen to like Errol Flynn, you might be interested to note he was a fan of Kessler’s sparkling wine – and probably drank too much of it.

In the early 1900s, Kessler was the favored premium wine served to Zeppelin guests on board the airship’s flights.  I’m guessing that folks who could afford a ride on a Zeppelin could certainly afford a glass or two of Kessler premium sparkling wine. According to Marie, who posted a nice piece about Kessler’s guided tours, Kessler also keeps the German government supplied with a steady stream of bubbly.

German government and bubbly are two words I wouldn't normally put together in a sentence! Click to Tweet

With only 30 employees, it’s incredible that this single cellar releases a million bottles of sparkling wine every year. How many of these do you think are slated for government employees?!

Click to Purchase Image on Fine Art America

After winding our way through the narrow, cool streets of old Esslingen, Michael, Alanna, and I arrived at Kessler Sekt.

We eagerly ordered several varieties of sparkling wine, passing around the glasses for sampling.  Travis, who much prefers dark, thick, unfiltered beer, eschewed Kessler’s wine options for a simple Coca Cola.

Sipping bubbly at Kessler Sekt with friends, Esslingen am Neckar, Germany
Outdoor seating is limited at Kessler Sekt where a charming courtyard surrounds their outdoor bar.

Though I admit the bubbly was delightfully cool and refreshing after a wickedly hot day traipsing around the Burg, it is not and likely never will be my drink of choice.  Deciding to try one of their cocktails, I settled on a signature drink with a mixture of hard liquor spiked with Kessler sparkling wine.

Lo and behold, it was delicious!

We lounged for a bit on their outdoor patio, returning several times to sample different varieties before meandering back toward our car.

Eiscafe Dolomiti

Considering the plenitude of ice cream parlors in Esslingen am Neckar, it would be a shame not to sample some local flavors during your visit.

We opted to try the newly opened Eiscafe Dolomiti.  Settling in at an outdoor table where we could enjoy the quaint street and adjacent church, I waited in anticipation for my coffee milkshake.  I’m a total java junkie, so it was an obvious option as it was one of the few items on the menu with coffee.

When it arrived, I was far more impressed with Trav’s tasty berry sundae.  Even better was Alanna’s mound of mushroom shaped ice cream balls, wafer rounds, whipped cream, nuts, and liqueur.

Eiscafe Dolomiti in Esslingen am Neckar, Germany
The liqueur desserts at Eiscafe Dolomiti are clearly the front runners.

Um, hello? Is 'ice cream envy' a diagnosable affliction? Click to Tweet Um, hello?  Is “ice cream envy” a diagnosable affliction? 

Because I had it, and I had it bad.

Next time we’re at an Eiscafe Dolomiti, I know what I’ll order.

Quaint church in Esslingen am Neckar, Germany
Eiscafe Dolomiti looks across at this quaint little church.

Quite content after a day of fortress exploring, wine sampling, and ice cream indulging, we dropped off Alanna and Michael at their friends’ apartment in Stuttgart, then drove home through the Black Forest, enjoying the pungently cold and clean forest smell well into the night.

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Know Before You Go
  • If you’re not a fan of champagne or lean more toward hard liquor, try one of their house cocktails. They offer mojitos, cuba libres, and even a signature cocktail that resembles a Long Island but is spiked with Kessler wine.  Superb!!!
  • You can tour the cellars, so make sure to check their website for their tour schedule before your trip if you’re interested.
  • Official site of Kessler (DE)
Map of Ulm Road Trip
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