Our visit to Mainz, Germany, was the whole catalyst for this trip to Europe – it was our annual trek to the Bookcrossing International Anniversary Convention.
Before it was announced that the 2019 convention was to be held in Mainz, I had never heard of this city. That’s a little bit embarrassing to admit, since I am an avid booklover, and I really SHOULD have heard of it. Mainz is where the invention that makes all those books possible was invented! But more on that later….
We arrived into Mainz after two bus legs from Luxembourg City. We were about an hour later than we were meant to arrive, and had only about an hour before we were meeting one of our Australian friends for dinner. First though I wanted to pick up a SIM card, since I had so far been unsuccessful at getting one. That didn’t change! I went into a Vodafone store to be told there were no more pre-paid sim cards available in the whole of Mainz. I couldn’t believe it! we then went into the T-mobile store, to find about ten people waiting to be served by one person and only 15 minutes until closing time. I gave up!
We quickly checked into our accommodation. We had splashed out a little and were staying at Hilton Mainz because when we looked at the prices months ago it was relatively affordable, and it was only a stone’s throw from the convention venue.
The hotel is located on the banks of the Rhine River and has lovely views.The rooms were typical of any big-name, four star chain hotel. Very comfortable, clean, with all the usual amenities. I’ve stayed in a lot of these places, and this one had no distinguishing features – either good or bad! – to make it stand out. We were really only there to sleep, not having any meals there or using any of the facilities.
I don’t recommend this hotel if you want to park a car – parking was €25 per day, even if we just wanted to park our rental car for a couple of hours before we left! We chose to park on the street!
Bad weather had been forecast all day, but it had actually not been too bad. This changed and a storm blew up as we were meeting our friend for dinner. As we were looking for a particular restaurant that specialised in traditional German “flammkuchen”, sort of like pizzas, the wind started blowing, there was lightning and thunder, and soon big drops of rain started to fall. We ducked into the first restaurant we saw, which ended up being an Italian place called Da Vito, where we all got a delicious meal and managed to stay dry.
(As it works out, we had walked straight past the place we were looking for, but were too busy chatting after not seeing each other for months and we missed it. Whoops!)
In the morning we were up early and at the train station by 8am. We were meeting up with some of the other “early arrivals” for the convention and taking a day trip up the Rhine. This whole trip was done on public transport and would be easy to replicate if you are looking for a relatively inexpensive day out while still exploring the region.
The first leg was a local train from Mainz to the small town of St Goar (also called Sankt Goar). This is a touristy little town that sits on the banks of the Rhine. Like all good European towns, it has it’s own castle, with Burg Rheinfels sitting up above the centre. We were there just as the shops and cafes were beginning to open for the day and saw some interesting shops for local crafts and popular souvenirs, like beer steins and cuckoo clicks. There is also the “German Doll and Bear Museum” in town which is popular with visitors but it was not my thing, so we instead retreated to a warm cafe for a coffee.
Next we jumped on a local ferry to start the trip back down the Rhine. The view is all lovely little towns, castles on the hills and vineyards on impossibly steep slopes.
We got off the boat at Rheinstein Castle. This castle, built in the early 14th Century, was almost immediately discarded and was pretty much in decline from then on. In the 18th Century, it was acquired by Prince Frederick of Prussia who renovated it and it became the favourite castle of both him and his wife Princess Louise. The castle is now privately owned, but open to the public. Much of the castle is set up as a museum with rooms as they would have been during Prince Frederick’s time.The owner gave us a brief rundown on the history and then we had a quick look around. Unfortunately we had arrived a little late, so didn’t have as much time as planned.
I was intrigued by a steel cage hanging over the Rhine from the top of one of the towers. Apparently this was where the castle’s owners over the years put people when they disagreed with their opinion. It gave them some time to think about their stance while enjoying the stunning views over the area! I’m fairly sure most of them soon changed their minds.
Back on the boat we continued making our way up the river back towards Mainz. High up on the banks of the river was a huge statue, a cable car leading up to it and people milling all around. No one I was with at the time knew what it was, but a bit of Googling later revealed that this was the Niederwald Monument. it was built back in 1871 to commemorate the unification of Germany. It is over 10m tall and the main figure is Germania, who is said to be the personification of Germany.
The huge monument can be reached by cable car from Rüdesheim, which was our next stop. Here we had two choices of activities – wine tasting, or the musical instrument museum. It will be no surprise to hear that I went for the wine tasting!
Rüdesheim is in the Rheingau wine region on the banks of the Rhine and is best known for it’s Rieslings and the occasional Pinot Noir. We did a tasting at Georg Breuer, in a wonderful old cellar that has been used to store wine for centuries. We tried four different wines and I would happily drink any one of them again. In fact we bought a couple of bottles to give to some friends who were hosting us in a few days.
We all make our way to the train station to get the train back to Mainz – only to find out it had been cancelled and we had to wait an hour for the next one! I was surprised as I thought trains always ran much more regularly in Europe.
It was a bit of a strange journey back, the train seemed to reach the end of the line and we thought we’d missed our station somehow. Then it reversed, and stopped where we were meant to get off. Unfortunately a small group of our people missed the exodus and ended up in Frankfurt instead. Whoops.
Back in Mainz, dinner had already started, but we more than made up for it by totally over-indulging in food and drink at Eisgrub-Brau, a German beer house! Let’s say I felt like need to eat for a week – the meals were huge! (A sign of things to come over the next few weeks!) And the beers were even bigger! Luckily, I don’t drink beer…
First up the following morning we took a tour of the Gutenberg Museum. After all, we are a group of people interested in books, and Mainz is the place where Johannes Gutenberg invented his famous printing press, so we had to go and learn about it.
Unfortunately our visit was too short to really do the place justice. The tour only covered a small portion of the museum, and we had to leave and move on to our next tour afterwards rather than linger to enjoy it properly. Of course this was partially my fault for choosing to do the next tour. If I ever get back to Mainz I will visit again to have a better look around. The tour did give up a demonstration of how the original printing press worked, and we got to see things like the type and the different tools for setting the page.
We also got to see a couple of different versions of Gutenberg’s Bible. Yes, they were all printed the same, but the trend was to then embellish the bible with illustrations or coloured ink which was done by hand as commissioned by the owner. Originally there were around 180 bibles printed, today there are 49 known copies left. Not bad for a book that is around 565 years old!
There were very few photos allowed inside – and the security people were really onto it, so you will have to use your imagination as to how beautiful these old books were .
We went straight from the museum to a two hour walking tour of Mainz, which would have been great if it wasn’t raining almost the whole time. It got to the point where I was so cold my fingers and toes were completely numb and I wasn’t enjoying myself at all.
Mainz has some incredibly important historical sites that I hadn’t expected. The Mainz Cathedral was built by the person who at the time was second in the Catholic Church only to the Pope, and he built his cathedral to reflect that, so it’s an impressive building.
That’s not the only notable church in town though. St Stephen’s is famous for it’s amazing stained glass windows done by the well know Marc Chagall. The windows were created as part of the restoration of St Stephen’s after it was severely damaged in WWII. Chagall was in his 90s when he started work on them and was never to see them finished and in place in Mainz.
There are lots of statures of Johannes Gutenberg throughout Mainz. The first Gutenberg Statue in Mainz was only erected in 1837. He was pretty much ignored until the 1800s, only then did people start to realise exactly how significant his invention was.
And strangely enough, he didn’t actually look like any of his statues! No one actually knows what he looked like. The first known pictures of him were 100 years after his death and entirely made up, so this common image is not actually him. To start with, he would not have had a beard as they were not popular at the time. You can see by the latest statue of Gutenberg in Mainz that the ideas of his appearance has changed as he is no longer depicted with the long beard.
After the tour we wandered through the farmers markets near the main cathedral, picking up a few things for a late lunch. It was cold and wet and I was trying to balance my desire to try every single thing I could with my desire to get inside and be warm for a while. I saw some of the most unusual cheese I have ever seen on one of the stands. Some were yummy, others, not so much.
Our remaining time in Mainz predominantly consisted of the Bookcrossing Convention as it began in earnest later that afternoon. It’s a hard thing to explain the goings on for the next 48 hours, because mostly it is just socialising! There are sometimes a few local authors that come to share their lives and work, but really, there’s not a lot of serious stuff that goes on. We swap a whole pile of books, sharing them as much as we can with the local communities too.
For dinner Saturday night we ate at Haus des Deutschen Weines which was delicious and I would happily recommend. Here I got my first taste of spargel, the local white asparagus that is in season at this time of the year. It is to be found everywhere, and the locals go crazy over it. I can see why.
As the convention came to a close at lunch time Sunday, we were packing up and off on the next part of our trip – spending a few days with friends and exploring the Black Forest area.
Overall, Mainz was a city that appears to have a bit of everything and is well worth a visit for a couple of days. Our visit was hampered by the rain (I will be saying that a lot this trip!), but I can see summer here would be lovely. I hope to return one day to enjoy more of the Rhinegau region wines and the have a better look at the Gutenberg Museum.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.