Perkeo of Heidelberg (1702–1735) was a court dwarf and notable jester of Elector Palatine Charles III Philip in Heidelberg.
He was the guardian of the Great Heidelberg Tun which was an extremely large wine vat contained within the cellars of Heidelberg castle, and because of this role he became an unofficial mascot of the city and region. He was connected with a variety of festival, traditional songs, cultural and scientific institutions, hotels, restaurants and private companies.
His real name was Clemens Pankert and he was apparently affected by dwarfism. Born in Salurn in the County of Tyrol, present-day Salerno, he originally practiced being a button maker. He met Prince Charles III Philip in 1718, who since 1712 ruled as a Habsburg governor over the lands of Tyrol and Further Austria.
The prince took an interest in Pankert and brought him along to Heidelberg Castle where he assumed the role in the Electoral Palatine. He made him the official entertainer for the court and a cup-bearer who famously watched the castle’s wine stock.
His nickname ‘Perkeo’ was given to him because of his famously replied question “perché no?”. Many times after being asked if he wanted another glass of wine at various court events he replied with that question.
Really quickly he became celebrated for massive wine consumption despite his small figure, maybe on account of diabetes insipidus. There are documents about him that claim that he regularly drank between five and eight US gallons of wine a day.
Many found amusement in the striking contrast that tiny, little, funny Perkeo was in charge of the largest wine barrel in the world. The truth was that this court jester just had a really strong love of drinking. He is often celebrated for a variety of humorous legends connected to his life, his repartee and comical court pranks.
There are various stories about him; one of them is a tale of a mysterious clock that he used in wine production; the other is the large key he had gotten on a misadventure into town to have an official uniform created; and the most famous stories are about his demise.
According to legend, he lived happily into his eighties drinking only wine when one day he got ill and the town doctor had him drink water. He died the next day.
Perkeo was mentioned in a letter by Victor Hugo after his visit to Heidelberg castle. The trademark PERKEO for lamp components was registered under No. 1 by the German Imperial Patent Office. The PERKEO group at the Institute of Physics of the Heidelberg University examines free neutron decay.