Copy of My Favorite International Cities - #14 - Mainz, Germany
First published April 6, 2022 and reproduced here by permission of the Morning News and SCNow.com.
Mainz, the capital of the modern German State, Rhinelander Pfalz, lies at the confluence of the Main and Rhine rivers and across the river from its sister city in Hesse State, Wiesbaden. It has a population of about 230,000 but lies in the Metro Region of Frankfurt (see companion article in this series). It’s a delightful city, redeveloped since World War II, with a busy river port and active government city, folded in the arms of the important German white wine industry growing on about 200,000 acres of Rhinelander vineyards. I have been there 7 times.
The city was founded by the Romans about 13 BC to help defend their German holdings and promote river trade. Originally named Mogonatiacum for which Mainz is the Latin/Celtic slang. Its political history basically tracks or parallels Frankfurt until the time of the modern German State. Trade, tourism, wine, communications, chemicals (BSAF), pharmaceuticals (Boehringer), auto parts, government and the US Military provide the backbone of its current economy.
Mainz and its region have become popular for Wine and Beer Garden pubs and a jumping off point for Rhine River tourism. Day trips up and down the Rhine in its region are great fun and have occupied us twice (I had to return since narcolepsy hit my first trip). Beautiful weather and great German white wine grace a day boat trip north and/or south on the River admiring small towns, old castles and vineyards along the way; and beware the siren music of the blond witch at Lorelei where so many river boats have floundered on the shallow shoals.
The premier tourist sites in Mainz include St Stephan’s Church Chagall windows and the Guttenberg Museum and complex.
Start in old town just down the hill from the government hill agency complex (its modern elevator is fun to ride), a modern mix of modern shopping complexes, the old apartments restored and its other buildings, make pleasant walking. The modern cement and glass City Hall is downtown.
The Guttenberg Museum demands about a half day. Johannes Guttenberg designed in about 1455 an improved moveable type printing system and thereby could print the Bible in much reduced time, and certainly much easier than coping by hand. He printed about 150 original Bible copies of two volumes each, of which 49 exist today; eleven are in the United States. One recently sold for just at 6 million dollars. The Chagall windows are as popular and famous as his 1964 UN windows or his print series of Jacob’s sons; the Mainz pieces were built in a series from 1970 to his death in 1998, extended by Charles Marq, in blue paints and demonstrating both Old Testament and New Testament themes. Lutheran pastor Klaus Mayer invited Marc Chagall as a Russian Jew to design and paint the pieces. Curiously, since World War II, Mainz has become the most Jewish city of the new Germany and Jews are once again in State leadership.
Other notable sites include the Roman-Germanic Central Museum, the Museum of Ancient Seafaring, various Roman ruins (there is a dig site just at the bottom of Government Hill on the Old Town side), other churches (memorial of St Christoph, Christ Church, St Martin’s (the Mainz Cathedral and Market Platz), St. Augustine’s and St John’s), several old gate towers, Parliament, the Electoral Palace and the Central Fountain.
The University of Mainz campus, important in German education since 1477 and rebuilt in 1946, is stunning and includes a major 25 acre Botanical Garden. Mainz remains an important European center for Jewish Talmudic studies.
The proximate Ramstein US Air Force Base is important to the local economy. The base is huge with about 60,000 Americans servicemen, not all air force folks, coming and going, and employing about 10,000 full time American staffers and about the same number of German employees. There was once a time when they allowed Shirley and I to drive all around the base as if it were its own city, and in fact, it is.
For many years Mainz was a focus of the State of South Carolina Department of Commerce, the South Carolina offices are in Munich, and thereby the state has obviously developed an excellent relationship with the Rhinelander Pfalz government, South Carolina officials visiting them and they visiting in South Carolina mainly Columbia and Myrtle Beach. Working to develop the connection with Mainz was Florence’s own Dr. L Fred Carter, President of Francis Marion University and past Executive Director of the powerful SC Budget and Control Board, absorbed into the SC Department of Administration since about 2015; he was awarded the Prestigious General Lucius Clay Award for German -American Friendship in 2004. Dr Carter was accompanied to Mainz by his delightful and dedicated wife, Folly, and youngest son, Luke, the event sponsored by the .International Federation of German-American clubs.
Despite multiple trips to Mainz, I have only been to a few local restaurants, mostly because I have usually been invited to government organized dinners and banquets, including once to a delightful wine center and vineyard, several miles south of town. Furthermore, Sandra Graham, Shirley’s Canadian girlhood friend, lived for many years in Mainz as a busy mezzosoprano opera star. On three trips I actually “bunked” up on government hill at one of their guest houses or stayed across the street at the Dorint Hotel. But I have been to Steins Traube and the Bellpepper, both excellent restaurants. The twenty five leading vintners in the Mainz region have important economic and political impact sponsoring local festivals the most famous being Johannlisnacht and Mainzer Weinmarkt. Far be it from a common American like me to say which Mainz white wine is “best.”