German Romer Roemer Green Stem Glass

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German Romer Roemer Green Stem Glass
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     It has been said that "in order to enjoy wine fully, the proper glassware is required".  There are many different shapes, styles, and colors to found in wine glasses.  This monograph is concerned with the origin and development of one particular wine glass -- the well-known glass with the green stem used in Germany to serve Rhine wine like the one shown below.  This one I acquired while on atrip to Germany.  While most are made
in Germany, this one was made in France.   Why? 

The most obvious answer is that the glass sells so well that even French glass makers produce it to sell on the German market.  But, might there not be another explanation that could answer the question and shed some light on this glass.  Following this line of thinking, I decided to explore the origins of this glass and see what I could learn along the way not only about who made it, but why this particular shape, and why a green stem ?

    The knowledge of how to make glass began in the Middle East.  Most people believe that the first glass makers came from ancient Egypt starting about 4500 B.C.  There is some evidence for even earlier origins in Mesopotamia at about 5000 B.C.  In either case, the glass being made was in the form of beads.  It wasn't until about 1700 B.C. that glass was being made as a hollow container.

     Glass is made by melting silica (sand) with an alcaloid flux (soda or potash) to aid in the melting process and adding lime to stablize it.  The properties of glass vary with the above components.  For example:  if soda from burned seaweed is used, the result is a "Soda Glass"  which is soft and plastic after melting and slowly hardens as it cools.  This allows the glass maker time to shape it and even decorate it in complicated forms.  If potash (burned wood and bracken) is added, the glass "stiffs" more quickly and sets harder than soda glass.  This type of glass is better suited for cutting and engraving.  If there are other elements or impurities present in the sand, the color or appearance of the glass is affected.

     In ancient times molten glass was kept in a liquid state (using a wood-burning furnace which had to be heated to over 1000 degrees to melt the sand) till it could be shaped .   Syrian craftsmen have been credited with inventing the glass blowing pipe which became the basic glassmaking tool from the 1700's B.C. until the present.  With this invention, glass production became easier, faster, and cheaper . . . though a large volume of wood was still necessary to keep the furnace going.
     The glass blower took the hot and fluid glass on the hollow pipe and by blowing into it and rolling it, he could shape a glass bubble.  The bubble could be further heated to keep it soft enough to continue shaping it, using a variety of tools.
     Glass makers in both Syria and Alexandria, Egypt both exported glass products and set up glass works throughout the Roman Empire.  Syrian glass works in particular were set up in Italy, France, and the Rheinland in the 1st century A.D.   By the 2nd century, glass works had spread to Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Britain. 

Here is a "wine" glass commonly found throughout the Roman Empire of that time produced by both Syrian
and Alexandrian glass makers. 

      This glass has blobs of  molten glass (prunts) applied to the surface.  This type of glass was originally intended to hold specific types of wine.  The shape and size of the prunts where meant to imitate the type of fruit used to make the wine.  In other words the prunts served as an early "label".  This pattern, for example, may have indicated that this glass held date wine.  As this style of glass became more widely spread throughout the Roman Empire, the labeling purpose gradually disappeared as the glass was used to hold any sort of wine or drink.  The decorative prunts were retained merely to facilitate holding the glass.

      By the 4th century, with the decline and eventual collapse of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D., particular shapes of glass began to take on a more regional identity.   Glassware began to differ as migration of glass makers gradualy came to a stop.  Soda glass continued to be produced around the Mediterranean while "forest glass" was produced north of the Alps.   Northern Europeans could no longer easily import traditional ingredients and skilled glass makers found it difficult to do business in an unstable world.  Many glassworks tied to monastaries where ancient technological knowledge was preserved did survive. 

GERMAN FOREST GLASS -- Krautstrunk & Romer:
        The Franks (settled in Gaul or "France") began to make a hard greenish colored glass.  This color came from their use of forest potash and a sand that contained iron impurities.  "Forest Glass" was made in glass works concentrated in northern France and in the Rheinland.  They were migratory (moving when the wood was used up) and often established new settlements in mountain areas.   In Germany, the term for forest glass was "Waldglas".  The location of the glass works was initially determined by the supply of fuel available then, later when glass-cutting was introduced, also by the accessibility of water-power.
        The traditional Roman wine glass barrel-shaped beaker continued to be made.  In Germany it began to be modified in time into two forms:  1) the "Krautstrunk" or "cabbage-stalk" shape (so called by a 16th century Lutheran Pastor) which was basically the same as the Roman wine glass but green in color and taller; and 2) the "Römer" which was also green or olive green/brown but longer, narrow-waisted, and often had a foot.  The punts were retained in both types as a practical means of holding the glass.


     The German "krautstrunk" generally was used for drinking beer, while the "römer" was used for drinking wine.
      The name "römer" may be attributed to two sources.  It may be derived from the Latin word "Roma" for Rome and may refer to the old Roman glass or perhaps to the Romans who introduced the first grape vines into Germany.   It may refer to the custom of using this style of glass to toast the Holy Roman Emperor.  It is definitely described by many Germans as a "toasting glass".   Or, it may come from the Lower Rhenish word "römen" which means "to boast".

   It is at this point important to take a look briefly at the French influence in the design of the wine glass -- particularly from the province of Alsace which is just across the Rhine from Germany.  Alsatians produced two traditional white wines:   rieslings, and  gewürtztraminers.  These wines were and continue to be traditionally bottled in green bottles and served in special glasses with clear bowls and green stems.   To get a clear bowl, the impurites had to be washed out of the sand.   The green color was brighter with less olive brown tones.
    Alsatian wine glasses were unique in havng a  green stem and a wide clear bowl.  The wide bowl was thought to be the best way the express the floral scent of the two Alsatian wines.

      Above is the "flute d'Alsace" green bottle.                Above is the traditional Alsatian wine glass.  This
      It is tall and slender.  Notice the dark,                        one has a taller stem than the Romer.  Some people
      vibrant green color.                                                    have described the "traditional" Alsatian wine glass
                                                                                        with a squat stem, but I think that is a result of the
                                                                                        German influence.  The slender stem reflects the
                                                                                         slender bottle.

     The borders of Alsace changed many times in its history.  It was torn apart and partitioned and absorbed by Germany and finally restored to France.  As a result, in that region there has been much sharing of culture.  In my opinion, part of that sharing is reflected in the Rhine Wine Glass we see today.

                                     In this map, the French province of Alsace is
                                     outlined in red.  Note its position on the Rhine River
                                     next to Germany (Deutschland).  The purple
                                     area within Alsace shows the wine growing region.
                                     Source of map is Wikipedia.

      Towards the end of the 1500's (16th C.) A.D. wine glasses in Germany began to take on more sophisticated refinements.  Engraving was added to the bowl of the glass for decoration.  Today, the makers of this glass frequently add gold to the engraving as well.
    German Römer glasses spread to Holland where they were known as "Roemer".  Dutch artists used the symbol of a half-filled Roemer wine glass in their paintings so frequently that it has become almost an expected theme in Dutch art.  
    In England under King George, German Rhine wine was favored and imported.  The English called the wine "Hock" or "Rhenish".  [Hock is an English word referring to the German town of Hochheim o the Main where shipments of German white wine bound for England originated.]  The Römer glasses were called "Rummers".   In Georgian versions of the glass, English glass makers omitted the prunts and the green color.  Air twist stems replaced the thicker German stem and were often opaque.

                              Georgian Rummer                      Rummer with opaque
                                                                                   twist stem

    Back in Germany, the foot of the Romer also took on new form.  The prunts were omitted.  The foot was formed by coiling a thread of glass round the base of the waist.  This gave way to the waist and foot being replaced by an open glass cone joined to the bowl and a glass thread coiled around the surface of the cone.


         Today wine connoisseurs recommend that white wine should be served in a clear wine glass.  The green stem, however, was retained in both Alsace and Germany.  Ostensibly in Alsace before their wine was made with an eye to quality rather than quantity, the green stem reflecting into the wine was used as an excuse for the greenish color of the wine from an inept mixing of various types of grapes.  Today, they claim the green stem remains part of the design to intentionally reflect the color into the now pale, crystalline wines of the region.
         The Rhine Wine Glass is relative squat (short) when compared to other wine glasses.   White wines, unlike red wines, do not need a wide bowl which allows space for the wine to breathe and develop.  However, the bowl in this case is kept wide to ostensibly allow the drinker to receive the full sweet scent of the wine.
        Stemmed glasses are prefered for wine so that the drinker can hold the glass by the stem and swirl the wine.  In this way the warmth of the hand does not warm the wine.  However,  the stems on these glasses are usually too thick and short to effectively hold comfortably.
         While the prunts have disappeared, the coiling or ribbing on the stem still serves to help in holding the chilled glass.  The stem is a darker, brighter green and reminds you of the green vines along the hillsides of the Rhine Valley.
         The bowl of the glass is clear and may be engraved or etched  (sometimes even painted) with bunches of grapes and vine leaves.  In Germany, gold may added to the engraved decoration.


                So "Prost!" (Cheers) or "Zum Wohl!" (Good Health) to all of you wine drinkers!!

         ** Update:  DoRi Miles, a modern Pattern Glass Historian, wrote me about this article and wanted to know who made the original glass (see top of article).  Thanks to that writer I took a closer look and discovered that it was made by Luminarc which is one of the brands produced by ARC International.   ARC was established in 1825 in the village of Arques in Northern France.  The Durand family purchased the firm in 1926.  Luminarc was the first of its own brands to be marketed in 1948.    Today it is one of Europe's leading glassmakers with a brand portfolio consisting of Luminarc, Cristal D'Arques, J G Durand, Studio Nova, Mikasa, Salviati, and Pyrex, Arcoroc, and Longchamps.     There is always more to learn!

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