Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mannheim - The City of Squares

If you’re looking for charming, old world Germany, you’re in the wrong place.
But, don’t let its well-worn modern façade fool you. Once you take a closer look you’ll find a youthful city with a thriving arts scene, great shopping, several fine museums, plenty of green space and a magnificent Baroque palace.

Known as the “City of Squares” or “Quadratestadt” in German, the city’s chessboard grid layout, created over 400 years ago by Prince Elector Friedrich IV, is rather unique in Germany. Also distinctive is that the inner city streets have no names. Blocks simply consist of letters and numbers, like A4 or Q3.

For a quick visit, take the short walk from the station to Friedrichsplatz and see the landmark Wasserturm, a beautifully designed 19th century water tower with a small park, both featuring intricate art nouveau designs.

From here you can see Mannheim’s National Theater, said to be the oldest stage in the world still hosting performances. Mozart, who met his future wife in the city, conducted in this theater on a return visit.

Mostly modern architecture houses the various shops that fill the streets on the way to Paradeplatz. Here you’ll find Stadthaus N1, home to several restaurants, cafes, and shops, as well as the city library.

Making your way back towards the station you’ll come to city’s crown jewel, Schloss Mannheim, the second largest Baroque palace in Europe. Completed in 1760 as the residence of the Prince-electors of the Electorate of the Palatinate, its size was meant to highlight the importance of the electors in the Holy Roman Empire. Inside the rooms showcase two periods and feature beautiful tapestries, Second Empire furniture, and the former apartment of Stéphanie, Grand Duchess of Baden and adopted daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte.

These are all recreated rooms with one exception. Behind a curtain and glass on the ground floor you can get a peek at the Electress Elisabeth Augusta’s rococo library room, almost completely preserved in its original condition from the 18th century. It’s a real treat and further proof that, in a city that could so easily be overlooked, you’ll find a few gems if you’re open to it.

Mannheim’s strategic position on high-speed rail lines means you can zip to Frankfurt in under an hour, or go directly to Paris in 3 1/2 or Berlin in 5 hours.