The Bad Duerkheim Wurstmarkt, where strangers become friends

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- The Bad Duerkheim Wurstmarkt wine festival, held on the famous Rheinland-Pfalz Weinstrasse, or wine road, is an annual festival that takes place during two weekends in September. The Bad Duerkheim Wurstmarkt is scheduled for Sept. 10-14 and Sept. 17-20 this year.

Although the fair is called Wurstmarkt, which literally stands for sausage market, the event is very popular for its celebration of excellent regional wines.

Looking back to nearly 600 years of history, the event changed from originally being a meeting point for local farmers and winegrowers to the largest wine festival in the world.

On the fairgrounds and in large festival tents, wine growers offer their best wines from the area. Live concerts, amusement rides and attractions surround the festival. A giant fireworks display tips off the event. Throughout the entire festival, fried and barbecued sausages come in all shapes and sizes.

The roots of the Bad Duerkheim sausage market fair go back to the year 1155, when the Monte sancti Michaelis was first documented. In those days, pilgrims came every year to the small chapel on St. Michaelsberg Mountain where they would buy a letter of indulgence; a holy document they believed would free them from their sins. With the large number of pilgrims coming to town every year around the end of September, local farmers and wine growers seized the opportunity to sell wine, sausages and bread, which they transported in wheel barrows. The event received the name Michael's market in 1417, attracting merchants, impostors and musicians from the area.

In the 16th century, merchants from across the state of Rheinland-Pfalz joined in the popular fair. The location for Michael's market was moved to the nearby Bruehlwiesen, which offered more space for celebrating.

The fair was officially documented as a Wurstmarkt, or sausage market, in 1832. The reason for this was simply the huge amount of sausages eaten during the fair. In 1879, the first Wurstmarktzeitung- a newspaper- was published and in 1882, a Nachmarkt-an after-market - took place the Sunday after the original three -day festival. At the time, a circus was the biggest attraction for visitors.

In 1948 and after the World War II, the city once held a fishfair instead of a Wurstmarkt due to a lack of sausages. Visitors were able to purchase one bottle of wine per person. Time went by, and, in 1966, more than 200,000 liters of wine were sold to visitors during a festival. Nowadays, the Wurstmarkt is known and recorded as the biggest wine festival in the world, attracting more than 600,000 visitors annually. About 250 different wines are served in more than 50 different locations throughout the sausage market, spanning from Riesling wines to ice wines. Inside the large tents, people sit together at long wooden tables to taste wine and socialize.

Every year, visitors consume 400,000 pounds of meat and 60,000 chickens. There are three festival halls with more than 1,200 seats each, about 36 wine tents where German brass bands perform, a large amusement park, more than 40 sausage and chicken food stands and about 40 historical wine stands.

The world's largest wine barrel is also one of the top attractions there. Bad Duerkheim is a spa resort, located in the heart of the Pfalz region between Kaiserslautern and Mannheim along the scenic Deutsche Weinstrasse or German Wine Street.

A local Bad Duerkheim area poet, Karl Raeder, once wrote: "The Wurstmarkt is the only festival where you meet old friends you've never seen before."