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Zeil by the River

Updated: May 3, 2023

Today I would like to treat you to some background information about Göller Brewery's little village in Germany. The beautiful little town is named Zeil-am-Main. This means "Zeil on the Main" River. "Main" (pronounced like 'mine') was a name given to this river by the Romans. This important waterway has played a major role in the history of this town.

You can see that as the river passes the town, it curves around a little mountain that towers over the town and the surrounding countryside. This means, of course, that the mountain called "Kapellenberg" makes a defensible spot to build a castle to control the boats passing along the river. That's exactly what the Germans did many centuries ago. The little settlement of Zeil (below the mountain fort) began perhaps as early as 600 AD.

The castle no longer exists, since it was replaced by another castle lower down, called the Schmachtenberg castle, which also only exists only as a ruin today. But the hill of Kappellenberg has continued on in importance. During the late Middle Ages as many as 400 witches were burned on this mountain. Today you can see the stone church called the "Zeiler Käppele" atop the mountain where once the ancient castle stood. This church is famous for attracting Catholic pilgrims by the tens of thousands, who come for the shrine of Mary, and for the famous stone carved Stations of the Cross lining the ascent to the church. These stone carvings, like so many others in Zeil, point to a long history of "Steinhauer" (stone carvers) after which Göller Brewery named their Weisse beer.

Zooming back a little, the town of Zeil sits at an important juncture, right in the center of Germany. Although it is a rural area, bound by the Hassberg Forest to the north and the Steigerwald Forest to the south, it sits right on the border between the territories of Würzburg and Bamberg, two ancient City States of the former Holy Roman Empire. Zeil technically belonged to the Bishop Prince of Bamberg, but the greedy Bishops of Würzburg wanted to extend their territory to include this mountain. It was like a neighbor who moves his fence a few extra feet onto your land, hoping you won't notice. But he did notice. The Bishop of Bamberg heavily fortified the castle and town of Zeil by adding large stone walls in the 14th Century, once again giving a lot of work for the stone carvers of the area.

About a hundred years after the Schmachtenberg castle was built, in 1514 Göller Brewery (called "Alte Freyung" at the time) was licensed to sell beer. Only 8 years later the region (and all Europe) would be rocked by a crisis lasting through the next century: religious wars between Protestants and Catholics. In 1522 the German Peasant War kicked off this dark era. During this time the castle was besieged and ruined by invading forces moving up and down the river. The city walls also were partially wrecked and Catholics in the area saw many of their beautiful stone statues destroyed. I'm sure zeilers needed beer more than ever during these gloomy days.

The next century saw a return to relative peace in the region, and with it a flourishing of good beer and wine too. It was in this region of Franconia that the famous white grape began to be cultivated, called the Sylvaner. If you walk around the rolling hills of Zeil today you will see row after row of Sylvaner vines. Indeed Franconia is just as famous for its white wines as for its traditional beers.

The people in this region have always been focused on food and drink, as any true farmer is. Their favorite dishes include things like Schweinhaxe (pork knuckle) and cabbage. Be prepared for heavy, solid meals if you visit this region, because these traditional Germans love their pork! It's no wonder that a city down the river from Zeil is called Schweinfurt, meaning "swine ford." And of course, their beer is created to complement the pork and sausage. If you want to get the most out of Göller beer, try pairing them with heavy pork dishes.

There is a lot more I could say about Zeil and it's long history, but you will have to wait until my next blog, or until you make a visit to this charming town yourself. In the meantime, you can ponder Göller's long history as you sip one of Germany's finest beers.

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