The Heidelberg Tun

Jacques Offenbach’s grand-opera of Les contes d’Hoffmann premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1881. Adapted from several outré fantasies by the Prussian Romanticist E.T.A. Hoffmann, the plot is framed by a prologue set in a German beer hall, Luther’s Tavern.

An illustration of the set design for the 1881 production reveals an enormous cask dominating the back wall.

It is a visual reference to the Heidelberg Tun, an enormous wine barrel housed in the cellars of Heidelberg Castle in Baden-Württemberg. There have been four containers bearing that name since 1541. The Calvinist pastor Anton Praetorius cited the first Tun as proof of the superiority of the Reformed faith since it was a product of Calvinist Heidelberg. He wrote a poem in its honor. The current Tun was built in 1751. It holds roughly 58,000 gallons. Throughout the nineteenth century the Tun was an attraction on the Grand Tour. It is mentioned in Raspe’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Irving’s The Specter Bridegroom, and Melville’s Moby Dick. In A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain jokes about its ubiquity, “Everybody has heard of the great Heidelberg Tun, and most people have seen it, no doubt.”


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