blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Karlsruhe and Mainz

I was in both cities for a short time; both pleased me. I spent Wednesday August 26th on my own in Karlsruhe, and last Friday Chris and I spent a night in Mainz and explored that city together on Saturday, on our way home to Canada.

Schloß at Karlsruhe, now housing the Landesmuseum
Karlsruhe is full of cyclists, young and old, and Mainz caters really well for pedestrians –– German cities have so much to teach us about urban planning in the modern world. I like to hope that North American travellers with influence at home are taking note! It's a city that's 300 years old this year and celebrations were in preparation in the Schloßgarten: I walked past a big tent, where actors were rehearsing the parts of Großherzog Karl Friedrich I of Baden and his acquaintances. The name of the city means Karl's Repose. It was planned and created as a sort of grandiose hunting lodge with community attached, the Schloß at the centre of a semicircle of streets and formal gardens. Because of its layout, it's sometimes nicknamed Fan City.

Original plan for "Carls Ruhe"
Fasanengarten, Karlsruhe
Inside the Schloß is a wide-ranging museum, of which I saw as much as possible before I got exhausted. It struck me, while I was in the medieval section, how many different faces the Madonna carvings had, some more beautiful than others, all of them presumably inspired by the faces of girls personally known by the artists. There was a large collection of plunder from Ancient Greece, Egypt and the Roman Empire downstairs, and on the top floor artifacts from more recent, local history including many clocks, since this part of Germany, like Switzerland, was / is the home of precision engineering. Behind the Schloß spread the gardens, with the Fasanengarten to the east and the botanical gardens to the west, where Karl used to join in with his gardeners. Apparently he was hoeing between his tulips when he died of a stroke. Nowadays a mini train runs through the grounds, for tourists, who can also cycle (of course) along the avenues. The commercial / administrative part of Karlsruhe is easy to wander through as well, with pleasant squares, although this summer some of the main thoroughfares are out of bounds, due to substantial construction work. One of Chris' colleagues told me they're building an U-Bahn network here. Motor traffic has already
been diverted underground, outdoor cafés with parasols above the tunnels, rows of linden trees by the wide paths, and arcades against the buildings.

A corner of central Karlsruhe: not a car in sight!
Parkland is the first thing you see when you arrive by train and cross the Bahnhofsplatz at Karlsruhe because the Zoologischer Stadtgarten is immediately opposite. I bought an entrance ticket for the zoo on my way back to the station in the afternoon, rather than walk round it, rightly thinking it would be cooler in there. As a bonus, I saw some of the animals and saw the flowers and lakes at close quarters too. At its southern gate, I found I still had nearly an hour to wait for my train to Ittersbach, so I sat for a drink and slice of Apfelkuchen on the sunny patio of the Hotel am Tiergarten, watching children splash around in the adjacent ornamental pond.


Mainz was just as attractive, with the added interest of the international water traffic on the Rhine, a large cathedral and a more substantial history, Gutenberg being its most famous citizen. On Friday evening we found a restaurant in central Gutenbergplatz, where there's a statue of Gutenberg (sheer fantasy, as to what he really looked like, but still). As we drank beer and ate fancy burgers at an outdoor table there –– indoors the restaurant, Hans im Glück, looked like a grove of birch trees –– hundreds of people, most of them young, accompanied by smiling policemen, started marching into the square to cluster around the statue. The demonstration was one of the many across Germany in support of the people from the Middle East and Africa currently surging through Europe in search of refuge from the wars and impossible conditions in their homelands. "Refugees welcome!" the banners said, "Willkommen in Mainz!" There have been neo-nazi arson attacks and such at refugee shelters in eastern Germany recently, so some of the demonstrators also carried anti-racist banners. I was so heartened to see this I had half a mind to put my supper aside and join in; actually I'm joining in with a similar demonstration today, a week later, in Ottawa.

In Mainz you're better off without a car because the parking spots are limited, small and tight, much more so than in Canada. On foot, by following the patterns on the cobblestones, you can wander all over the Altstadt (old town) without getting too lost. The little shops and department stores all have entrances in the pedestrian zone and all the Eiscafés, restaurants or Bäckereien have patio tables. There's time to cross from one side of a street to the other or to stop and take photos or pause for a conversation midway, without any fear of being run over.

At the heart of the city is the Mainzer Dom with a market place around it. Here too is the modern Gutenberg museum, in which we spent an interesting hour for €3 apiece. Chris was thrilled to find a very old book, one of the first printed, a translation into 15th century German, of Boethius' The Consolation of Philosophy. Upstairs was, among other things, an exhibition about the history of newspapers. We saw some manually written ancient Bibles, and, of course, the exhibits relating to Gutenberg and his followers. In a side gallery, empty of visitors except for me, I found a lot of information about Chinese, Korean and Japanese printing inventions. It's not often realised in the west that the Chinese had been printing words on paper 400 years before the Europeans! Bi Sheng was the first inventor of the printing press, not Gutenberg.

Demonstration of Gutenberg's equipment

We zigzagged about Mainz, retracing our steps a good deal, which didn't matter, and from time to time, like the local people, went to sit by the Rhine. On the Friday evening we had a full moon that shone on the barges sailing downstream to Rotterdam or upstream to Basel, if they didn't turn left into the nearby mouth of the Main. We slept at the Hotel Hammer, exactly opposite the Hauptbahnhof, which turned out to be a surprisingly quiet location, even with our window open. On arrival, Chris was told to spin a home made Glücksrad (wheel of fortune) which he did so well that we got 30% knocked off the price of our room.

Bridge across the Rhine at Mainz

Cyclists am Rhein

Adenauer Ufer

Mainz Hauptbahnhof, as seen from our hotel, Saturday morning

No comments: