Historic Highlights of Germany from A to Z
Mainz: city of Gutenberg and Germany's wine capital.

Mainz: city of Gutenberg and Germany's wine capital.

Mainz is famous for its university, its Roman heritage, its status as a media hub and regional capital, and its three most defining features: the Romanesque cathedral, the Gutenberg printing press and the Rhineland carnival. The people of Mainz have good reason to be proud of their city's history spanning almost 2,000 years. This rich cultural heritage incorporates a well-established winegrowing tradition, which only adds to Mainz's appeal.

For over 1,000 years the city's skyline has been dominated by one building, Mainz Cathedral. Towering majestically in its central location, the cathedral is one of the most important churches in Germany. Its foundation stone was laid in 975 AD under the aegis of Bishop Willigis. In its shadows lie the medieval and early modern quarters of Mainz. The hustle and bustle centres around the twisting, narrow lanes, with names such as Nasengässchen and Heringsbrunnengasse, as well as the many small shops, boutiques and cafés surrounding pretty Kirschgarten square with its romantic timber-framed houses and Marienbrunnen fountain. In the evenings, one thing is plain to see: Mainz is Germany's wine capital. Rheinhessen is the country's largest winegrowing region, and a generation of young vintners are proving that they have what it takes to achieve extraordinary feats year after year. Locals enjoy the fruits of the winegrowers' labours in cosy bars and taverns with pious names like Collection Box and Confessional. The Weinmarkt is one of Mainz's three major festivals. It made its first post-war appearance in 1946, with the French occupying forces contributing a remarkable 100,000 litres of wine as a conciliatory and friendly gesture. The city's other major festivals are carnival (we're on the Rhine after all) and Midsummer's Eve, a huge four-day fair that takes place at the end of June. Originally held in memory of Johannes Gutenberg, the fair today comprises a vibrant mix of music, traditional customs, variety entertainment, delicious food and, of course, wine.

In contrast to the lively old quarter, the view of Mainz from the banks of the Rhine is rather distinguished, quiet and almost somewhat austere. The city is dominated by two architectural periods: the modern age, as evidenced by the town hall, the Hilton hotel and Rheingoldhalle complex, and the Renaissance-Baroque with the Neues Zeughaus, the Deutschordenshaus and the Electoral Palace. According to some art historians, the unusually ornate, nuanced design of the Electoral Palace's facade surpasses even that of Heidelberg Castle – though locals in Heidelberg might think differently! Mainz also offers a wealth of fascinating museums. The Gutenberg Printing Museum and the Central Romano-Germanic Museum in the Electoral Palace stand out as the best in the city. The palace's pre-history and early history collections, along with those on Roman and early medieval history, are complemented by large restoration workshops that enjoy an international reputation – even Ötzi the Iceman, found in the Alps, has paid a visit. An even broader spectrum, from the Stone Age to modern times, is explored at Mainz State Museum, founded in 1803 with 36 paintings donated by Napoleon. The Cathedral and Diocesan Museum in the cathedral provides information about the history of the episcopal church and the bishopric. The Museum of Municipal History gives an extensive insight into the development of Mainz, while the Natural History Museum is the largest of its kind in Rhineland-Palatinate. The Kunsthalle Mainz art gallery rounds off the museum highlights in impressive fashion: the strikingly redesigned building at the former customs port is now encased in glass and even features a sloped exhibition floor on a seven degree incline. Of course, if you want to see the world from another perspective, you could just enjoy a glass or two (or more) of the fantastic local wines served in the city's bars and restaurants. But that's not a bad thing, remember. In Mainz, you're sure to be in good company.

City Highlights

Mainz cathedral is as much a part of the city as the Rhenish carnival. Rising majestically from the city centre, it is one of the most important ecclesiastical buildings in Germany. Built in 975 under the aegis of Bishop Willigis, this cathedral and episcopal church is at the spiritual centre of the diocese of Mainz. A thousand years ago, when the church was already under the patronage of St. Martin of Tours, faithful followers from the city would flock here. Attractions include the altar of St. Mary in the Ketteler Chapel with the schöne Mainzerin (beautiful lady of Mainz). Today, the adjoining collegiate buildings house the Cathedral and Diocesan Museum.

The Gutenberg Museum, an exhibition devoted to the history of printing, offers an insight into the world of the printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz.

Founded in 1900 on the 500th anniversary of the birth of Gutenberg, the museum is dedicated to his life and work. In this treasure trove of the printed word, visitors can explore various sections on printing technology, book design, commercial print jobs and bookplates, graphics, posters, paper and types down the ages. For an overview of the history of type and printing it is second to none. Highlights include the famous Gutenberg Bible, one of the most beautiful books of all time.

Mainz Carnival is referred to as the 'fifth season' of the year. Every year in February/March it means three crazy days and four nights of partying. Everyday life grinds to a halt in the city as people celebrate, dance, laugh and flirt – things are pretty lively from Carnival Monday through to Ash Wednesday. The 7km Rose Monday carnival procession on the Monday before Lent takes four to five hours to snake its way through the centre of Mainz, attracting more than half a million spectators every time. Mainz Carnival is an integral part of the city's history, a cultural phenomenon and a social event that has had a firm place on the festival calendar for centuries.

This gallery on the site of the city's bonded port stands high above everything else.

It was converted to designs by Berlin architect Günter Zamp Kelp and includes a prominent tower, 21 metres in height, that slants at a seven-degree angle and is covered in green glass panels. Mainz art gallery regularly hosts touring exhibitions on contemporary art. It has set itself the mandate not of building its own collection, but of presenting and helping people to appreciate modern art, in keeping with the times and in sometimes controversial fashion.

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