Castle adventures and city touring with Anja!
23.09.2007 - 26.09.2007 17 °C
Anja, my sister, came to visit us in Mannheim on Sunday, September 23rd. We hadn’t seen each other since her high school graduation in June, so I was quite excited to see her. I met her at the train station and we reunited happily. This blog will describe her visit and our trip to Heidelberg, but I will also describe Mannheim in general, seeing as I haven’t really said anything about it.
On Sunday night we went for a long walk in the area, but spent most of the time talking and catching up. It was great to be able to chill with my sister again and reminisce about our Manitoulin lives. We watched the movie Twin Towers, which is by far the worst movie both of us had ever seen. Please never watch it!
After my class on Monday we went downtown for some sightseeing and shopping. The public transportation is great in Mannheim: I can get on a tram right outside my door and it takes me to the main train station in 6 minutes, the university in 8 minutes and downtown in 10 minutes. The trams come every 10 minutes and are rarely crowded, always on time and pretty clean. The first place we checked out was my university. The university is in a baroque castle modeled after the famous Versailles, but it is said to be bigger than the Sun King’s castle. Originally a baron owned it and resided there, but the castle, along with 95% of Mannheim, was completely destroyed in the WWII. The outside was reconstructed according to the original plans, but it was decided that the university would be housed there, so the inside of the castle was outfitted with lecture halls, cafes, libraries and other university amenities. A large part in the centre of the castle, and the castle chapel was completely reconstructed, inside and out, and is now a museum. We visited the chapel and it is really quite impressive; a intricately painted ceiling watches over the large marble columns, the gold engravings and the exquisite altar. The rest of Mannheim is less than impressive and looks nothing like a typical German town because most of the buildings were rebuilt in the 50s and closely resemble any American building built then: square, concrete and depressive.
We visited another church in the city that boasts a 20 metre high altar, and is just breathtaking all around. We toured the Schiller Platz with the famous statue of the German playwright and poet Friedrich Schiller; the Paradeplatz with its pyramid fountain representing the strengths and powers of the perfect leader; the glass cube holocaust memorial and a very odd looking statue that could possibly represent a human heart. The last three sights all stand on one of Mannheim’s two shopping streets, which are both pedestrian only zones. The city itself is quite industrial, but you can’t notice this when you are downtown. The streets are lined with chic looking clothing stores, gourmet food shops, designer furniture places and colorful cafes. When the wind is right, a thick, rich chocolate smell invades the city from the chocolate factory at the edge of town. We shopped around and watched the people go by as we sat on a terrace and drank coffee. After a couple hours we got tired and went back home with one purchase each. After dragging Anja to the gym with me we watched Happy Feet and relaxed. This movie was much better than Twin Towers, despite the horrible technicolour that our DVD player played it in.
On Tuesday, Anja and I took a train to the small nearby town of Heidelberg. It is a city renowned for the being the birthplace of the first automated printing press, for its ancient castle, its well preserved and heavily protected ‘old-town’, the famous ‘Philosophenweg’ (Path of the Philosophers), its prestigious university and its American Army bases. We were interested in the castle and the ‘Philosphenweg’. The town was bigger than we had expected and quite modern looking, but that was because we were still in the ‘new-town’. A bus took us into the ‘old-town’ and we took a cable car up to the castle. This castle had been destroyed twice, first in the 1400s and then again in 1600s, but was rebuilt almost completely each time. It didn’t suffer any damage in WWII and today about half of it is still standing. The ruins were quite impressive and made you think of how people lived way back then. Lone stairwells and barred, broken down windows stared out at us from the middle of the thick, but crumbling walls. Inside the preserved part the atmosphere changed completely and lost its castle feel. It was still impressive, but I got the feeling I was in an old village square, rather than an ancient castle courtyard. The buildings surrounding us were tall and made out of brick, but the architecture styles varied immensely. One building had turrets and battlements, one had gothic style windows and gargoyles, and another had large arches and round windows. We explored the pharmacy museum which led us through the history of pharmaceuticals: the materials, the research and the dispensaries. The largest wine casket in the world was housed in one building and you could climb a winding staircase to the top of it! Engravings were etched into every surface of the casket and the stairs despite the security camera warnings. The gardens spread behind the castle and up the hill in ascending platforms. Walking on the first platform we found two moss covered pools with statues lying on rocky beds, safe from our reach in the middle of the pool. It started to drizzle, so we ran back to the cable car and descended back into the old town.
Once there we wandered through the crooked, cobblestone streets and entered a lively looking student pub to get some lunch. It was warm and cozy on the inside and smelled delicious. We both ordered bitter lemons and the special: a pasta dish with bits of pork and poppy seeds in a tomato sauce. The food was great and exactly what we needed. Warm and full we crossed the old brick bridge and headed up the ‘Schlangenweg’ (Path of the Snakes) to the ‘Philosophenweg’. The Philosophenweg is said to be the where the philosophers and university professors walk and come to great realizations. The Philosophenweg itself was quite disappointing, but the long steep path leading to it, the Schlangenweg, was quite interesting. A thick ceiling of tree branches and vines arched over the path and made it eerily dark and mysterious. Tall mold and moss covered walls closed in the path and created a damp, rotten smell, while dead leaves and slime covered the brick floor and made the rock stairs a dangerous affair. Every few minutes the darkness would give way to a sunny lookout point. We paused at one of these to soak up the sun and enjoy the splendid view below us. The castle perched on a hill to the left, the old town, with all its spires and clay roofs was right below us and the new town spread out to the right of us in a haze of modern buildings, smoke and factories. A thickly forested hill towered over both parts of the town and a wide river flowed along the valley floor, between us and the town. Once at the Philosophenweg, we trodded along, enjoying the sun and breathing in the fresh air. The only interesting thing on the Philosophenweg was an impeccably neat garden filled with colorful flowers and rare bushes.
The walk back down the hill took us through a rich subdivision with huge homes built into the hill and spectacular gardens surrounding them. Many of the houses had personal inscriptions of when they were built and by whom. Back in town we wandered through the shopping district for awhile and then got back on a train and went home. In Mannheim we played a couple of card games with Kyle and enjoyed our last night with a few beers. By the way, beer is so cheap in Germany! It is actually cheaper than bottled water and you get a 25 cent refund for each bottle you return! Most of it is pretty good too; it is stronger than Canadian and always comes in 0.5L bottles, so drinking two is like drinking four Canadian beers.
On Wednesday, before Anja left for Swizterland, we visited Mannheim’s landmark: the Wasserturm (water tower). It is by far the most beautiful water tower that I have seen, and probably the prettiest building in Mannheim. It was destroyed in WWII along with everything else, but got reconstructed and up until the year 2000 it was used as a water reserve. It is now a protected monument along with the castle I described earlier. It is a cylindrical tower that is 60m high and has a diameter of 19m, a pointed copper roof and a round, brown stone walls. Two winding staircases lead to a balcony half way up, which looks over the beautiful fountains on either side of the water tower and the surrounding park. The whole area is very pretty and creates a relaxed atmosphere, both in the day when the flowers bloom, and at night when lights illuminate the tower and the fountains. We sat on the edge of one the fountains for awhile and then headed to the train station. It wasn’t a sad goodbye because we knew that I would be coming to Swizterland to visit her in a couple weeks. We had a great time together, got a chance to reconnect and be silly sisters again. I am definitely glad that we get to be in Europe at the same time and hopefully we can go on another trip together somewhere.