On Wednesday morning, May 16, 2012 we found ourselves in Mainz, another 2000 year-old city with a 1000 year-old cathedral. Mainz was a little different than the other cities we visited so far. Its cathedral isn’t as tall as Strasbourg’s and isn’t as large as Speyer’s but is still a magnificent structure. But Mainz also had another attraction besides its cathedral: the Gutenberg Museum. As always we separated into color-coded groups once off the ship. Our audio receivers were white and so we found ourselves in the group led by a local businesswoman named Erica.
Erica showed us around the old town pedestrian zone which consisted of two squares filled with gardens and fountains and sculptures and plenty of buildings, both old and new. And the oldest was the chief landmark of the Domplatz, St Martin’s Cathedral, also known as Mainzer Dom.
Construction began on the cathedral in 975 and most of what is visible today was built in the 11th and 12th centuries. But the church was damaged and rebuilt considerably over the centuries so that the final product which began with a Romanesque design also contains a smattering of Gothic along with a tad of Baroque.
Erica pointed out the sights along the main nave and chancels (yes, the church has not one but two chancels) and then led us out an exit door to a side vestibule in order to show us the cloister and its gardens. We heard a loud click as the last one of us entered the vestibule. We were locked out of the church and facing the doors to the cloister which were also locked. Erica immediately grabbed her cell phone and began to berate the church custodian for getting us into this predicament. After several minutes another door opened and we were able to exit the church but we never got to venture into the cloister. I took one picture, though, through the glass door.
We then proceeded to walk around the Cathedral Square (Domplatz) and Church Gardens (Kirschgarten) until we found ourselves in front of the Cathedral again. Erica noticed the church custodian hurrying away across the square and she blasted him again!
Then we came to the most interesting part of the tour, the Gutenberg Museum which was about a block from the cathedral. Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg was born and died in Mainz and his name and sculptures of him are all over the city. Even the old city university was renamed after him. Erica did not tell us, however, that Gutenberg was expelled from Mainz and lived most of his life elsewhere, including Strasbourg where he experimented with and finally completed his movable type printing press. He also went bankrupt after moving back to Mainz and he died a poor and forgotten man. A century after he died he was given credit for his stupendous invention and he then became famous — so famous that Time Magazine named him the most important person to have lived in the last thousand years!
We toured the exhibits which were spread out over several floors. One of the rooms displayed a number of old books including an original Gutenberg Bible. We were not allowed to photograph anything in this and some of the other rooms.
The tour ended with Erica demonstrating the production of a page of a bible from Gutenberg’s movable type machine. She picked one of our Canadian friends (Steve) to be her assistant and she told him off if he got too close or wasn’t fast enough. She also lambasted an Australian friend of ours who she caught nodding in the front row. “Are you sleeping during my lecture?” she asked. (George took no offense and laughed with the rest of us.) But she finished her presentation with a flare and proudly showed us the printed page. She then gave Steve the page as a souvenir for his troubles.
Erica got somewhat flustered when things didn’t go according to plan. But she was very knowledgeable and worked hard for her group. Toward the end of the day I told Dragan, our cruise director, that she was the best so far of the local tour guides with whom Avalon contracted. And at the end of the cruise my final assessment was that she was the best of all!