Just across the river from Mainz is the city of Wiesbaden, one of the oldest spa towns in Europe. The healing qualities of the hot springs here have been enjoyed for over 2,000 years. In the 19th century, Wiesbaden became the unofficial summer residence for Kaiser Wilhem II, and the town was much beloved by the Russian nobility and the wealthy. It continues to be a city of prosperity. We headed to Wiesbaden to see “Magisches Kaleidoskop”, an evening of contemporary dance pieces by Stephen Thoss and Jiří Kylián at the Hessisches Staatstheater. The theatre, like the theatre in Mainz, has dedicated dance, theatre, opera and symphonic companies and an extensive and impressive season.
The Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden was built in 1864 on behalf of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
It isn’t often you get to have pre-theatre drinks in a room like this. Magic Kaleidoscope was filled with fabulous thought-provoking and funny pieces. At least we thought they were funny. How can an audience not laugh at men dancing Mozart in large funny dresses?
Back in Mainz, the next morning was market day. We were thrilled. A market is a great bond between people, and whenever we have been in a town on a market day, we’ve felt a strong kinship with the locals. A shared love of food.
The Mainz market was full of the huge lettuces we’d come to love in France and Italy, mounds of cheeses, sausages, breads and pastries. There were piles and piles of white asparagus, just in season. We had some delicious coffee and made a few purchases – a rhubarb pastry, a couple of buns, cheeses, a sausage, freshly marinated artichoke hearts – creating an impromptu picnic lunch.
We walked through the old town of Mainz, through squares surrounded by half timbered houses.
One of the landmarks that we wanted to see in Mainz was St. Stephen’s church. Originally built in 990 atop the highest hill in the city, the current church was completed in 1340. In 1978, the artist Marc Chagall created 9 new stained glass windows for the church. The windows depict scenes from the Old Testament and were created as an attempt at German/Jewish reconciliation. The whole church is bathed in soft, mottled, luminous blue light.
It was a very holy space.
Although there was still lots to discover in Mainz, we decided to investigate a couple of nearby towns along the Rhine. A short train ride took us to the town of Bingen, a small working town on the edge of the River.
The name range a bell with us because of its connection to the 11thcentury mystic Hildegard von Bingen. Hildegard established several monasteries in the area and did some of her most important work here. There is a good museum in Bingen dedicated to her and her works. We took a quick walk around to town to see the castle, the Basilica of St. Martin, and the “Mouse Tower” (Mäuseturm) on an island in the river where, legend has it, the cruel Archbishop of Mainz, Hatto 2, was eaten by mice. Just like a Grimm’s fairy tale.
From Bingen we took a short ferry ride across the Rhine to Rüdesheim, a wine-making town recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Rüdesheim is apparently one of the largest tourist draws in Germany and even on a dull and rainy day, the town was filled with tourists, mostly Korean and Chinese, stocking up on Rhine wine. A sign on a wine distributor’s shop told us (in English and Chinese) that they could ship their wines to your door in China from their Chinese factory.
Rüdesheim is a pretty town with cobbled streets and a funicular to take you up the hillside to the Niederwalddenkmal monument. The monument, commemorated in 1883, represents the unity of all Germans. At 38 meters high, it towers over the surrounding vineyards.
We didn’t journey up the hill. We could see from a distance that the monument was covered up for restoration. It would be worth the trip on a sunny day, when you could enjoy walking on the surrounding forest paths.
From Rüdesheim we continued our trip down the Rhine, heading back to Mainz by boat. Seated out on the deck in the drizzle, we enjoyed wine made from the vines we were passing.
The world slowed down as the loud speakers on the boat played a bit of oompah and muzak. Towns along the Rhine glided past.
We arrived back in Mainz to be greeted by Trish and Alex, on their bikes. We tucked ourselves into a very local Weinstube (wine bar), the Weinstube Specht, where we ate huge and generous plates of schnitzel, potatoes, herring and fresh apple strudel. We sat talking late into the night, wishing we could stay longer. It had been a whirlwind tour of a small corner of Germany, one in which our eyes and taste buds were opened.