|While sober Euro-bankers swarm into nearby Frankfurt, Mainz is immersed in Fastnacht, the carnival season. |
The city's population of 200,000 more than doubles for a fancy-dress street party and the spectacular Rosenmontag parade on February 20, when sweets and other goodies are thrown from floats. In the weeks before, local troupes in elaborate costumes throng the streets, playing piccolos and glockenspiel.
Mainz stretches along the Rhine at its confluence with the River Main. Coloured street signs provide instant orientation: blue for streets parallel to the river, red for those at right angles (it is said to prevent late-night carousers from getting wet). The Old Town extends south of the massive Dom (cathedral) along the attractive pedestrianised Augustinerstrasse that leads to a Roman theatre. The train station is not much more than a kilometre west of the Dom. Quiet cobbled lanes, comical statues of Fastnacht and Virgins peering down from niches reward random explorations on foot.
Take a view
Because Mainz is built on a hill it is easy to gain elevation to survey the city's roofs and spires, for example from Kupferbergterrasse or the Zitadelle. To appreciate Mainz in its riverside setting, it is best viewed from the railway bridge across the Rhine. Romantics might be tempted to add a "love lock" to the thousands of inscribed padlocks fastened to the metalwork of the bridge before throwing the key into the river.
A wonderful farmers' market takes place every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday in the shadow of the Dom. It provides the most photogenic food shopping experience. Dozens of varieties of potato and apple are sold, with most labels prefaced "Deutscher" to indicate home-grown provenance. Long, brown salsifies are piled up next to fat pomegranates, and the egg stall is presided over by a fierce cock.
Shopping streets and lanes fan out from Marktplatz. If the cheery chocolateries and novelty shops along Augustinerstrasse are not sufficient, head for the Römerpassage, a small precinct with some trendy shops. Underneath, the artfully lit remains of a Roman temple dedicated to Isis can be visited for free. This was discovered only 12 years ago when the area was being developed.
Lunch on the run
The farmers' market has great take-away vans selling specialities such as Leberkäsweck (meatloaf on a bun), wurst with senf (choice of sweet or spicy mustard) or Fisch Brötchen (herring and bread), from €2. Finish with a pastry topped with toasted hazelnuts from the bakery stall and a coffee or hot chocolate from the converted old Citroën van called Caffee Moguntia.
Take a hike
Most Mainz residents have walked or cycled the Three Bridges Walk dozens of times. This two-hour circuit heads south from the city centre along the broad riverside path favoured by joggers and cyclists towards the railway bridge.
The section on the other side is far from scenic, but grit your teeth, bear left when you come off the bridge and carry on to the second bridge over the Main and into the peaceful neighbourhood of Kostheim.
Sticking close to the water you pass a shallow bay where water birds congregate.
Carry on back to the Rhine and pause at the Dom Blick Terrasse & Biergarten for a reviving drink or bite to eat. Before climbing up on to the Theodor-Heuss road bridge back to the city centre, look under the bridge for skilled wielders of spray cans who endlessly re-decorate the massive concrete arch with high-quality graffiti.
Dining with the locals
In the tranquil upper part of Mainz, the regional kitchen of Heinrichs at Martinsstrasse produces dishes several notches above schnitzel and sauerkraut. Slide into a comfortable banquette in this warmly lit restaurant and, perhaps after asking the waiter's advice, order something from the blackboard such as goose rillettes with gherkins for €9.50 or roast meat in burgundy.
To join a younger, zippier crowd, the brew-pub Eisgrub-Bräu at Weisslilien- gasse 1a is the place to sample Mainz specialities such as Spundekäs, a cream cheese, onion and garlic dip, along with a glass of drink.
Go to church
Like most of the churches in Mainz, St Stephan's with its Gothic cloister was badly damaged by Second World War bombs, then meticulously rebuilt in the 1960s. Stunning stained-glass windows by the artist Marc Chagall, primarily in shades of blue, lend the church a watery, ethereal light.
Comfortably corporeal angels figure in the windows, including one who hovers above the prophet Jeremiah, both reading a book – quite apt in the city of Gutenberg.
A walk in the park
The Rosengarten is a pleasant destination, despite the absence of roses in winter. The gardens lie between the ramparts under the Citadel and the somewhat featureless Volkspark, and provide access to the railway bridge walkway.
Out to brunch
Try the Café Codex in the Gutenberg Museum at Liebfrauenplatz 5 for Sunday brunch between 10.30am and 3pm. The basic buffet brunch costs €9.50 while the all-you-can-eat Frühstücksbuffet is €13.50. Beyond the buzzing bar, tables for two overlook the attractive museum courtyard where you can adjourn once the temperature climbs. Free Wi-Fi accompanies your Bircher muesli or pancakes with syrup.
The Gutenberg Museum tells the story of the city's most famous son – Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press – and how movable type revolutionised western culture. Displays on three floors include the precursor of the Kindle, a small portable "girdle book" carried by medieval pilgrims. The most precious object is one of fewer than 50 surviving Gutenberg bibles, printed in the 1450s. The museum is open 11am-5pm on Sundays, 9am-5pm Tuesday to Saturday; admission is €5.
To delve further back, the free Museum of Ancient Seafaring has painstaking reconstructions of late Roman ships excavated from the Rhine's muddy banks in the 1980s. Catch the half-hourly bus 28 from the Rathaus to the centre of historic Wiesbaden, arch-rival of Mainz and "on the wrong side of the river".
In its heyday as a 19th-century spa town, grand buildings were erected to house its thermal attractions. Take a swallow of the hot sulphurous water in the Kochbrunnen fountain. Still in pursuit of Wiesbaden's past glories, take a short ride on the funicular which opened in 1888 and still operates using water as ballast. The reward is an arresting view from the top of the Neroberg hill over trees and red roofs.