Good Friday in Mainz
Friday, April 14, 2017
Today is Good Friday – the start of the Easter Weekend here in Europe. To North Americans, it’s probably just another weekend. But to Europeans, this long weekend is a chance to spend time with friends and family, away from the hustle and bustle of commerce and business.
And that means Mainz, Germany is shuttered like a ghost town today, as Viking River Cruises Viking Hild continues her Paris to the Swiss Alps river cruise tour with a stop in the city best known for the Gutenberg Moveable Type Printing Press.
The capital and largest city of Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate district, Mainz (mine-s) is home to about 200,000 people and enjoys a healthy, long-standing rivalry with its neighbour across the Rhine, Wiesbaden (wee-s-baden). Expect locals and tour guides to mention it frequently.
I was here last year, on another river cruise line, for a call on a similarly-quiet day: a rainy Sunday in mid-March. Sundays are, of course quiet days in many European cities, with the majority of shops shuttered for the traditional “day of rest.” Today, at least, is beautiful, with sunshine, blue skies and mild temperatures. But the fact remains: this weekend is not going to be great for souvenir shopping.
Chalk it up to one of those things you never think about when you book your trip: that in three to four ports of call, everything but cafes, bars and restaurants will be closed up for the Easter long weekend. I’m not a huge shopaholic, so this closure has been okay for me, and great for my bank account. But not everyone shares that same viewpoint: some are right annoyed that they can’t shop-till-they-drop.
Now, this is hardly Viking’s fault; this is just how things work in Europe. I actually found myself a bit caught off guard by the extent of the closures, and found myself Googling, “Easter Weekend Closures in Germany” as I sat in the main square of Mainz, sipping a cappuccino at a local café.
So here’s the lowdown: shops are closed Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. That leaves poor Saturday as the lone day of shopping – and that will be tomorrow, in Speyer, Germany. So once again, for the second time in as many years, no souvenirs from Mainz.
We did, however, get to take another fabulous included tour provided by Viking: a walking tour of historic Mainz and a visit to the Gutenberg Museum, where Johannes Gutenberg’s famous printing press, and many historic books, are kept.
I went to the Gutenberg Museum last year, and was disappointed by the unfriendly staff that seemed to delight in power-tripping visitors. I had never (and still have never) seen anything like it. The good news is that today, the staff were much friendlier, save for one lady that got really angry with one of our guests because she attempted to sit down on the staircase to rest herself. That is apparently verboten, and I watched as this staff member eventually bullied the guest into standing back up.
So I’m still not thrilled with the museum, but I am totally enthralled with what it contains inside: some of the earliest books made on a printing press. The care and detail that went into printing these books, many of which were as expensive when they first came out as a modern-day house would be today, were the ultimate status symbol. Most people lacked the ability to read, so these were for the nobility and intelligentsia of the day. But gradually, books became available to the masses, and Mainz became synonymous with Johannes Gutenberg and his moveable type printing press.
Mainz itself though is quite pretty on a sunny day. Much of the town was destroyed during bombing raids (33 in all) in the Second World War, but the cathedral was spared. In recent years, Mainz has tried to replace much of the ugly, utilitarian postwar architecture in the main market square with buildings that are representative of historic German buildings in different periods, and the result is both striking and unique. The beauty of classic Mainz once again shines through.
The city’s Café scene is also noteworthy, and I enjoyed a nice cappuccino at an artsy-looking place called Wilma Wunder. It’s about four doors down from the – forgive me – Pizza Hut, and I highly recommend it. Good food, great coffee and wonderful service.
Back onboard Viking Hild, we let go our lines and were making our way downriver once again by Noon. A full afternoon and evening of scenic cruising awaited us, and I can say that this scenic cruising has become my favourite part of this journey. My past Rhine cruises have always been northbound, and I’m finding the scenery on this southbound cruise is just fantastic. I have never spent so much time on the Sun Deck before. Today, I even gave up trying to read and just walked around, taking photographs and admiring the scenery.
Speaking of, you never have to worry about staying fit aboard Viking’s Longships. A jogging track is located on the aft portion of the Sun Deck, and 12.75 laps around is equal to one mile. I walked a few miles up there this afternoon, and found myself accompanied with a handful of other