Pilgrimage for a book lover

Gutenberg Museum

Gutenberg Museum

We take so many things for granted that we don’t realize how different life would have been in the absence of those things. One such thing is a piece of printed paper. As one who has been reading with an insatiable appetite since the age of three, it was no less than a pilgrimage to see the birth and work place of the man who revolutionized the world by inventing the printing press -Johannes Gutenberg.

This time, my wanderings took me to Mainz  (pronounced Maa-inz), a city in the Rhineland Palatinate (Pfalz) region of Germany. My information about this place was only as a city of historical importance due to Roman settlement, which later was also an important part of Christian politico-religious presence in Germany up until the middle ages.

So I was on a train on my way there on a sunny Spring Saturday, with the plan to see some ruins of the Roman times, the Dom (big Cathedral) and a few small churches, and if time permitted then some museum and then relax beside the river Rhine.
After managing to figure out the most economical way to be there, I chose a regional day ticket – the DB Rhineland Pfalz ticket. The “fern” bus was about 3 times cheaper but then it’s schedule gave me only about 5 hours in the city. If one plans to stay overnight there, then the bus is a good option.
All set with some strawberries and chocolates in my bag, I was on my way. The Regional train which is usually red, was white this time and seemed new. An hour or so long pleasant journey with beautiful sights on the side later, I was at my destination.
Now came the difficult part – there was no tourist information center at the train station! I wish I could tell them that the city center is not where everyone reaches first!
Anyway, thanks to the wi-fi at the  Starbucks, I learnt from some helpful soul on the internet, that from the DB info counter (who seemed quite uninterested in giving any info), I could at least get a map. I took that and made my way out. And as always, I had no clue which way to go even with the map in hand. Then I looked around, asked a lady the way to Altstadt  (old town) and just started. During my brief look at the net, I had also read that everything was within walking distance and the signs on the corners were helpful. That was indeed true.
So I proceeded and found the sign pointing to two places of interest – Temple of Isis and Magna and St.Stephen’s church that has the Chagall windows. I took the road to the temple.

Romer Passage

Now it can be a bit tricky to find the temple as who would expect to find it inside a mall? Yes, you read it right – this temple is inside a mall called the Romerpassage as it was found while digging the foundation of the mall. So after making like two rounds of the mall inside and outside, finally I had to ask a shopkeeper and she told me to go towards the other end of the mall on ground floor but not go out.

Isis Heiligtum

Isis Heiligtum

And it was there, like any normal shop, to my left! I could get the English brochure there and learnt about the cults of Isis and Magna Mater, two goddesses from the Roman mythology. There is no fees for the entrance but you can donate some money for the upkeep. The guides there seemed to be volunteers and looked quite enthusiastic about the place but spoke only German. But the English brochure was quite extensive.

Once out, I wasn’t sure where to go next. There was a church outside the mall which looked impressive but I couldn’t find a way to get inside it.

Falafel Platter

Falafel Platter

Then I went in circles trying to find the falafel place that I had seen on my way to the temple. This made me see the top of the Dom and a red colored building between the alleys. I went towards the Dom after having a satisfying lunch of falafels at that cute shop on Lotharstrasse called “Mister Falafel”. The tagline was “Vegetarisch kann so lecker sein” which means “Vegetarian can be so delicious”, which is like a fact of life for someone from India but can be unbelievable for most people from Europe! See my platter for yourself.

St. Quentin's Church

St. Quintin’s Church

The red colored building was another church St. Quintin’s – but I couldn’t find a way to get inside that one either.

By the way, in between I found that the batteries in my camera had died and hence, I was left with my phone for taking the pictures of that lovely place. I must say, I am not disappointed. I wouldn’t underestimate the prowess of my phone anymore, especially if there is sufficient light,like it was on that day. All the pictures in this post are from that “day saviour”!

And then finally I reached the cathedral – St. Martin’s Cathedral. It being a Saturday, there was a weekly market in the space around the cathedral which was buzzing with activity and with aromas wafting across the square. I love this tradition of holding markets around the cathedrals/city centers, which has continued over the centuries.

WP_Mainz Dom

Saturday Market at the Cathedral

Model of the Cathedral

Model of the Cathedral

Since I couldn’t get the complete picture of the magnificent cathedral, I took the one of the model instead, which will give an idea of the cathedral’s impressiveness.

And then suddenly, there it was – the Gutenberg Museum, which wasn’t part the plan. There was a square outside which was filled with people enjoying the sun and having coffee and other drinks. But I went inside instead and when I came out after spending almost 3 hours inside and when they said it was time to close, the square looked completely different – with people only passing by, no sign of chairs, no drinks, no chatter or laughter anymore, almost as if I had dreamt the whole thing (thankfully, pics are there to prove I wasn’t dreaming.). Anyway, inside the museum, I learnt a lot about the first printing press, how to type was cast, which book was the first to be printed – the Holy Bible if you were wondering. The audio guide on an ipod was quite useful and it helped me understand most of the things said by the person giving a live demonstration of printing with the replica of Gutenberg’s printing press. I wasn’t clear about whether one is allowed to take pictures inside the museum or not, so I refrained. But I am now guessing that probably it wasn’t allowed only for the vault which contains the first copies of the Bible printed by Gutenberg. The museum also had exhibitions on the printing in the East – China, Korea, Japan – the technique was invented before Gutenberg and was quite similar but seemingly didn’t make it to the West.

Having had a wonderful time there, I proceeded to the beautiful riverside. Spent some time there watching the ships and the birds and then decided to call it a day. My original plan of spending time in the Roman ruins was completely overwritten by the discovery of the Gutenberg museum. But I am not disappointed. Probably this is how it was supposed to be.

I was tired and wanted to eat something. Bought a lemonade and chips from Rewe and found that a bus was going to Wiesbaden, which C had told me is another lovely city. So I just boarded that bus which unexpectedly went on a circuitous route and took quite a long time to reach Wiesbaden, although it is close by to Mainz. I started to walk towards the old town there but felt exhausted somewhere in the middle, so just took the bus to the train station and boarded a train back to Mainz from where I had the connection to Heidelberg. May be that place is to be explored some other time. Who knows?

Until next..

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