We found Mainz to be the perfect getaway spot for a few days in between family visits in the UK – a sort of extended mini city break. We like towns that, whilst having plenty of amenities and connections, are not overwhelmingly large and Mainz with approximately 200,000 residents fitted the bill perfectly.
A university town, Mainz is pleasantly situated at the confluence of the Rhine and Main rivers (on the opposite bank from their precise meeting point). If you come by train, as we did from Frankfurt am Main, you suddenly realise that you have rivers on both sides of you as the smaller Main opens up to merge with the wide expanse of the Rhine River. Mainz is the capital of the Rhineland-Palatinate Region close to its border with Hesse (another one of the sixteen German federal states or Bundeslaender). Wiesbaden, which lies on the opposite side of the river to Mainz is the state capital of Hesse whilst Frankfurt am Main is its largest city.
Not surprisingly Mainz has been a strategically important town for centuries. Named Mogontiacum by the Romans it served as a military fortress on their northern borders and was the provincial capital of Germania Superior. Coming into Mainz by train you pass through Mainz Römisches Theater station, which runs adjacent to the remains of what was once the largest Roman theatre north of the Alps. The ruins were excavated during construction of the railway station in the late 19th century and one of the guidebooks I bought said that the trains now run through part of the original stage!
Later Mainz became the seat of the powerful Archbishops of Mainz (the archbishopric was established in 747 AD) who were both secular and political leaders as well as religious ones. By the Middle ages the Archbishops of Mainz were Electors of the Holy Roman Empire – their status and wealth was considerable and you can see their legacy in the imposing presence of St Martin’s Cathedral , which towers over the main market square (currently like so many old buildings undergoing restoration work). I’ll cover our visit to the cathedral and its treasury in another post to follow. I don’t know any of the people in the photo below though!
We were staying in the AC Mainz Hotel near the Hauptbahnhof (see here for my last post) and it was about a twenty minute leisurely walk into the Altstadt or Old Town, which is the main hub of any old European town or city. Along the way to the town centre we had passed by the memorial statue to one of the town’s most famous sons, Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the typesetting press and printer of the Gutenberg Bibles (more about him in another post – as you can see Mainz is a treasure trove of history). The photo below contains the curious juxtaposition of the statue against a background in the bottom corner of the McDonald’s golden arches – not sure what Gutenberg would have made of that!
Our first full day in Mainz was a Saturday and the town was bustling with locals doing their shopping at the thrice weekly markets held in the picturesque main square (see here for more details).
The town square is surrounded by colourful historic buildings, most of them beautifully restored following the Allied bombing raids in World War Two when about 80% of the town centre was destroyed. I read that after the war different areas chose alternative paths for building restoration with some going for a more modern appearance (such as Frankfurt am Main) but Mainz preferred to restore the buildings to their traditional historical look. They would have been the homes of wealthy merchants back in the day.
With spring officially in the air (despite the bitter cold on that particular Saturday) the stalls were overflowing with an abundance of beautiful white asparagus (Weisser Spargel) and juicy strawberries (Erdbeeren). It wasn’t all just asparagus and strawberries though – there was an enormous selection of other fruits, vegetables, fresh flowers, wines, preserves and pestos, produce such as eggs including painted ones. One stall wishing to assure their customers of the freshness of their eggs had their wares being “advertised” by a slightly bemused looking hen. The inscription as far as I can tell reads, “Keine Angst vor Salmonellen im Ei” – literally “have no fears about Salmonella in the egg”.
We actually visited the market a couple of times on both the Saturday and Tuesday (the other market day is Friday) so the following photos are a selection of our two visits.
It did warm up a bit by the following Tuesday but on that Saturday it was about five degrees maximum with a biting wind so after a quick stroll along the river in the rain, we hightailed into the nearby Messe (Conference Centre) and ate a hearty lunch to warm ourselves up along with sampling a couple of the local drinks too!
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