Travelogue XIII: Didgeridoo auf dem Marktplatz

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30. September, 2014 I have trying to come up with the proper post in which to attach this picture, but in vain. So here it is by itself–a didgeridoo player sitting under a statue of St. Boniface, in front of the thousand-year-old cathedral in downtown Mainz. Bam. I find the juxtaposition delightful.

It seems like there is always something worth seeing in the marketplace. In the past few weeks, I have run across performance by an African band, a runway fashion show, someone blowing car-sized bubbles to the delight of about 30 small children, hundreds of people in Bavarian Tracht (traditional dress) drinking free wine from the local winery (said wine was only for the Bavarians, I was informed, after hopefully trying to procure a glass for myself), the local theater festival complete with an orchestra and people in full costume, and a lecture on quantum physics.

The vitality of it all is rather astonishing to someone who spent the first 22 years of her life in a tiny village of 800 people–lovely and real, indeed, but more sleepy than not.

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Travelogue XII: Mainzer Dom

640px-Gotisches_MaßwerkfensterIt’s no secret that I have some pretty significant ideological problems with the Catholic Church. But when it comes to aesthetics, I find it completely inescapable. No other religious tradition of my personal acquaintance does beauty so well. I’ve been in dozens of catholic churches across Germany, and the sheer power and loveliness of it all always takes me by surprise.

At the same time, though, I find the physical beauty of the buildings themselves deeply unnerving. This splendor, decadence, theatricality–it blurs the line between art and religion, between aesthetic and spiritual experience. I grew up in protestant New England, going to Sunday services in tiny white clapboard churches–functional, lovely in their own way, but entirely lacking in anything that might be described as gorgeous. There were no candles burning, no stained glass windows, no towering organ, no gothic vaults hazy with incense. Just straight-backed wooden pews, a piano, a plain pulpit–stark perhaps, but refreshingly straightforward, not plagued with questions about the role of decadence and art in religion. And somehow honest: the congregation is not wooed into belief by the power of beauty.

How different it is here in Germany, where I go to a mass in the Frauenkirche in Munich and think, This is as good as a Wagner opera. 

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The cathedral in Mainz is one of the most stunning I have seen, and therefore also one of the most unnerving. It is sprawling, visible from almost anywhere in the old city, and dates originally back to 975AD. The building has been restored and rebuilt dozens of times since them, and features architectural components from nearly every Western stylistic period of the past millennium. Outside, there’s the marketplace and dozens of cafes and a really good H&M–inside, a whole separate, echo-y world of vaulted ceilings and stained glass.

I stand inside the main sanctuary, and I think, Who built this thing? Who paid for it all, who mined all that red stone and brought it here? So many centuries ago, in a tiny town of just a few thousand residents, what motivated those in power to dedicate so many lives and so much money to the Church? These cathedrals are the ultimate Gesamtkunstwerke, really–equal parts piety and hubris, reverence and power, shaped by aesthetics, politics, Zeitgeist, music. As much celebrations of human creativity as places of worship.

Below, two of the entrances to the Mainzer Dom (Dom=cathedral).

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IMG_0608Inside. The main sanctuary. The painted side panels tell the story of the life of Jesus, with Latin descriptions underneath.

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IMG_0611Below, two of the many side chapels. The second chapel, with the very modern stained glass window, gate, and painting together with the traditional architecture, is a very common sight in Germany: after World War II, many churches were restored only partly to their original appearances, and thus feature this striking combination of old and new. 

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IMG_0597The amount of detail is staggering. 

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IMG_0600Alongside the focus on heaven and the Living God, the presence of death is heavily felt in the cathedrals I have been in. Skulls and skeletons are carved into many of the altarpieces and stone relief-work, and there is always a personified statue of Death somewhere. 

IMG_0605…But when the sun is out, the whole building is full of light. 

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Travelogue XI: Rheinufer in Mainz

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 16. September, 2014 I’ve never been much of a water person, but living ten minutes from the bank of one of the most iconic rivers in the western world is pretty dang cool. Mainz is built at the confluence of the Main and Rhine rivers, and the banks of the Rhine are lined with parks, walking paths, and restaurants on the water. In the evenings when the weather is nice, it seems like half the city is out riding bikes, drinking wine, walking dogs, having picnics on the cement steps that go right down to the river’s edge.

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IMG_0566The high-rent district is on the other side of the street.

IMG_0568There’s cool statues….

IMG_0570And bridges and the occasional cruise boat….

IMG_0580And my own tiny picnic, with Bergkäse and fresh bread from the farmers’ market and spacey German literature.

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Travelogue X: Farmers’ Market in Mainz

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9. September, 2014 It’s strange, to finally be in the place I’ve been trying to get to for the past two years. Strange and wonderful–to be able to unpack my suitcase for the first time in two months, to have a post-office box and a rental contract and a bicycle, to be able to go food shopping without having to ask for directions. What’s the line from John Denver? Coming home to a place you’ve never been before….

I’ve been slowly exploring the city, with the help of an old bike I bought last week and a free map from the bookstore. So far, the experience has been totally different from my various escapades in Berlin, Munich, even Kulmbach–no rush to see everything, to hit the touristy high-points, to get in and get out. This is where I’m going to be living, people. In Germany. I’m living in Germany.

That last sentence makes the most mundane of tasks–buying stamps, standing in line at the supermarket–seem somehow exceedingly adventurous and thrilling.

Expect a regular post on the city very soon. In the meantime, here’s the local farmers’ market, which takes place three times a week on the square in front of the cathedral.

IMG_0552Looking towards the market. The whole Old City is a Fußgängerzone–no cars allowed, just bikes. Also riding a bike on cobblestones takes skill, as I have quickly discovered….

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So many flowers…

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