Saturday, July 13, 2013

Chapter 26: Mainz, City of Gutenberg

Last weekend (I've been lazy about blogging) we drove for about an hour northeast to Mainz, the city of Gutenberg. Our son Michael had told us glowing things about the place from his stays in Germany, and it is an interesting city, especially if you like history. The most prominent landmark of the city is the magnificent Mainz cathedral of Saint Martin and Stephen which still dominates the skyline.
Cathedral of Saint Martin and Stephen (Mainz Cathedral)
As you can see from the photo, we arrived on market day, and the main squares were covered with open air produce stands. It was a sunny, warm day, and the streets were teeming with visitors and locals browsing through the market, packed into stores and relaxing in the cafes. It wasn't until the merchants took down their market stands later in the day that we got a clear view of the Stadtmitte (downtown) layout.
Stadtmitte market day 
First, we took in the cathedral. We have already seen plenty of beautiful churches, and Mainz is uniquely beautiful and historically significant in the history of Europe. It was the site of important coronations, not just of German kings ("German" is actually a later Romantic nationalist concept), but several Holy Roman emperors, the kind that could call the entire continent out to a crusade. The church's architecture is mostly Romanesque, not as ornate as the later Gothic style, and it doesn't house the incredible windows of a church like Metz, but its dimensions are vast with high domes that afford a gigantic soundscape. In fact, we were lucky to arrive for a free organ recital by Jonathan Dimmock, who plays for the San Francisco Symphony. I'm usually not that fond of pipe organ music, but in a space like Mainz Cathedral, the effect is thrilling.
organ of Mainz Cathedral
interior of Mainz Cathedral

After visiting the cathedral, we walked across the square to the Gutenberg museum. Mainz is the city where Johannes Gutenberg started printing bibles with movable type and changed the world. The town square has a statue dedicated to him, of the old, fatherly looking bearded man holding a book. In fact, no one knows what he really looked like. He invented the printing press as a young man, and the style of the day was clean shaven, so the portraits we usually see are probably total fictions. That aside, the museum is well worth the couple of euro it takes to get in. The exhibit is not just about Gutenberg, who they've only devoted part of a floor to. The rest of the four storey building is about the history of print, mostly movable, but also engraving and calligraphy. And it's not just about European print. There are sections on Asian printing techniques, Islamic calligraphy and even ancient Egyptian and Babylonian engraving. And yes, there's even a wall of contemporary graffiti! The collection is impressive, and the detail in many of the ancient books is astonishing. Of course, the museum houses several Gutenberg bibles, and includes lots of information on how they were made and the early combination of mechanically printed text and hand-inked illuminated flourishes.
Offices of the Gutenberg Museum (previously a palace and later a grand hotel that housed Mozart and Goethe)
Replica of Gutenberg's press. The museum staff conducts demonstrations of Gutenberg's printing process at regular intervals.
From the museum, after some lunch, we walked along the old streets and discovered some more interesting looking churches that were closed. Further down, toward the Rhine (which we never caught sight of while we were there), we visited a free ancient maritime museum that houses several reassembled Roman ships that have been discovered in the area by archaeologists. If you like ship stuff like I do, this is a really fascinating place. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures. They requested that we not photograph anything. We will certainly return to this city. There was plenty that we were not able to see, and it's located near us. I've been wanting to see examples of rococo architecture, and I was thinking we might have to visit Bavaria or Austria for those types of buildings, but Mainz has several grand rococo cathedrals. We just didn't have a chance to see them, and one was closed.
Entrance to Augustiner Kirche (closed roccocco church that we will have to visit later)
Mainz is only a short distance from Frankfurt. We had originally toyed with the idea of visiting both cities in one day, but there is simply too much to do in each one. We will briefly see Frankfurt next Friday when we pick up our son Michael and Victoria. They have been staying in Berlin these last couple of weeks and will be visiting us in the south for a while. Michael studied in Frankfurt at the Goethe University and knows the city well. I'm sure we will visit there during his stay, as well as Freiburg, where he also lived as part UT's study abroad program. We are very much looking forward to having Michael and Victoria with us for awhile. We miss our family!

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