23 MAY 2019: For both wine and history, Mainz is the place to visit in Germany. One of the country’s oldest cities, it was founded by the Roman commander Drusus around 13 B.C.  A member of the global network of Great Wine Capitals, it’s the capital of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and a fine base for travelling to most of Germany’s wine regions. In the city centre are several attractions of major importance.

From my Hyatt Regency hotel room in Mainz I had a lovely view to the Rhine River where I watched people strolling by, river cruises docking and sun-worshippers stretched out on the riverbank or sipping wine on outdoor patios. Between my hotel and the water was pedestrian only and the promenade continued for kilometres in both directions to Mainz’s Neustadt in the north to the railway bridge at the southern limit of the city.

The hotel was just a five minute walk to the Mainz Römisches Theatre train stop named for the Roman theatre in which ruins it sits. Once the largest theatre north of the Alps with a capacity of 10,000 spectators, it was used as a stone pit for centuries and then covered and forgotten. The fortress looming above on the hill was built in the mid-1600s. It wasn’t until 1999 that the theatre was excavated and partly preserved.

The train station had another great feature: it was a stop for regular express trains to and from Frankfurt airport, just 25 minutes away. Getting to Mainz from Canada couldn’t be easier. Getting around Mainz from my hotel was also a snap. Out one side was the riverside promenade and out the other were streets that led to the historic centre.

One of the most important sites in Mainz has to be St. Stephen’s church. It attracts more than 200,000 visitors annually from around the world. The reason is fascinating. During the Second World War bombing raids destroyed some 80% of the city centre and the church was not spared. The reconstruction and the restoration of this Gothic church however brought its revival.

St. Stephen’s is the only German church for which the Jewish artist Marc Chagall (1887-1985) created windows. Monsignor Klaus Mayer contacted Chagall in 1973 and persuaded him to create a window as a sign for Jewish-Christian attachment and international understanding. In 1978 the first Chagall window by the then 91-year-old, "Vision of the God of the Fathers", was fitted in the East choir. A further eight followed, six for the East choir and three in the transept.

Chagall, who became an honourary citizen of Mainz, completed his final window shortly before he died at the age of 97. Charles Marq, whom Chagall worked with for 28 years, later created 17 more modest windows for the side aisles. Blue light shines through the stain glass to the church interior and it’s said angels and other biblical figures move ethereally in this light.

In the centre of the old town, opposite the state theatre is a statue of the city’s most famous resident, Johannes Gutenberg. About 550 years ago he invented printing with type made by using a casting device and the printing press - which perfected the art of book printing. This invention was a quantum leap for society, changing it much the way the internet has done in today’s world. Time Magazine declared Gutenberg the “Man of the Millennium” in 1998.

The nearby Gutenberg Museum houses printing implements, old presses and typesetting machines to bring to life the history of letterpress printing. Important printed works from the 15th century to the present showcased in the museum include two copies of the world famous 42-line Gutenberg bible. The bible marked the start of the "Gutenberg Revolution" and the age of printed books in the West.

There’s a good choice of wine taverns serving authentic regional cuisine with a fine selection of local wines in the old town on streets such as Augustinerstrasse and Jakobsbergstrasse, but I went back to the promenade past the marina lined by spiffy new apartment buildings to the Bootshaus. This river side restaurant has beautiful views and serves modernized German classics such as veal schnitzel with bacon potato salad, cream of asparagus soup and currywurst (sausage with curry ketchup).

Surrounding Mainz is a world of wine. To the south is the Rheinhessen, the largest of Germany’s 13 wine-growing regions, to the north is the Rheingau, to the west the Nahe and northwest the Mosel. With the exception of Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen in the former East Germany, all are reachable in under three hours drive and much is within two hours.

Most of Germany’s vineyards are planted on slopes or steep hills topped by protective forests that check the wind, and almost always near a sun-reflecting river – primarily the Rhine and its tributaries – which helps temper the climate. The scenery is instagram ready.

As to the wines, there are grape varieties and styles to suit everyone from dry to sweet, light white to big red and still to bubbly. There are thousands of wineries in Germany. Wines of Germany in their search category lists 2,329. The German Wine Canada site suggests contacting the regional wine boards for producer suggestions.

Most wineries offer tastings and wines to purchase, while others have restaurants, cellar and vineyard tours or regional products to purchase.

Prost (cheers) and Zum Wohl (to your heath).

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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