5 things to love near Mainz’s Cathedral Square

Mainz skyline | Photo by Holger Schué
Mainz skyline | Photo by Holger Schué

5 things to love near Mainz’s Cathedral Square

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

History and beauty loom large in countless German cities, and Mainz is no exception to this rule. There’s no need for a long and exhaustive tour to discover how these two assets mingle so magnificently. This short stroll through the capital of the Rhineland-Palatinate won’t set you back but an hour or two, although those who decide to linger won’t be disappointed either. Today we’ll be concentrating our attention on the area surrounding Mainz’s stunning cathedral. Our tour begins on the Liebfrauenplatz with our backs to the Rhine, facing the rear façade of this magnificent edifice.

Mainzer Dom | Photo by Karen Bradbury

Mainzer Dom:  this immense red sandstone cathedral is named in honor of St. Martin and is considered one of the absolute masterpieces of Romanesque cathedral architecture. A church has stood in this place since as early as 975 AD. Originally modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome, the cathedral looming high above us today reached its present form around the 14th century. Seven coronations of kings took place within its walls.

Although its interior is rather dark and somber, it’s worth stepping into, and there’s no charge to do so. The walls are lined with the tombs and symbols of the powerful Electoral Prince Archbishops and span a millennium. Those really keen on church history can check out the Diocesan Museum, whose collection of religious art includes the works of the Master of Naumburg, an anonymous 13th century stone sculptor whose pieces are regarded as some of the most important of the European Middle Ages.

Should time permit, pass through the crypt or allow yourself a stroll through the pretty and peaceful cloister gardens.

Nagesaule | Photo by Karen Bradbury

Nagelsaule: moving closer to the cathedral and to your left, you’ll see a curious pillar topped with an Iron Cross and surrounded by three smaller pillars. Look closely and you’ll see the designs on the central pillar are surrounded by thousands of heads of nails. Dating back to 1916, the monument was erected to raise money for injured soldiers and the families who suffered during World War I. Donations of one Reichsmark covered the cost of a square black iron nail, which was then hammered into the oak. The gold inscription translates to “In Times of War, Help Us God.” Other carved images depict military symbols and charitable works.

Marktbrunnen: making our way closer to the cathedral’s main entrance, we pass a colorful and elaborate well carved out of red sandstone. This gift from Albrecht of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Mainz, to the city’s residents in 1526 is considered one of the oldest and most beautiful Renaissance fountains in all Germany. The well not only supplied clean water, a valuable resource at the time, but carried a warning. As in other regions, a peasant uprising had been bloodily crushed in Mainz. One of the images carved into the well is that of a peasant falling backward while clutching a red rooster, a symbol of the rebellion. Other events having to do with the peasant’s rebellion inspire the well’s imagery and inscriptions. The depiction of a drunken peasant with a skull and crossbones above his head warns of the dangers of overindulgence.

Heunensäule: this massive sandstone column might look like it’s been guarding the spot for hundreds of years already, but in fact it’s only been there since 1975, the year the cathedral marked its 1000 year anniversary. One of seven columns discovered in hills near the city of Miltenberg am Main, it is speculated they made up part of an order to stonemasons of the region that was subsequently cancelled. One theory suggests the columns were intended for use in the construction of Mainz’s original cathedral.

Surrounding the 21-foot-high column is the work of the sculptor Professor Gernot Rumpf. The bronze casting tells of high and low points in Mainz’s history. Four types of headgear form the corners of a square. The helmet of a Roman legionnaire reminds us of the city’s founding in 13 B.C. A bishop’s hat speaks of the city’s religious importance. The jester's cap is a reference to the city’s carnival tradition, which itself is historically connected to the French revolution. The crown stands for the many kings and emperors who lived or passed through Mainz. Reliefs on the sides of the casting recall sad chapters in the city’s history. The city engulfed in flames beneath the Star of David is a reference to the pogroms that repeatedly destroyed the Jewish community. The image of Mainz in ruins recalls how the city looked after heavy bombardment in August 1942 and February 1945.

50th parallel North: Moving past the cathedral and toward the Mainz State Theater, directly in front of the Alex restaurant, metal markings on the pavement spell out “50. Grad Nördlicher Breite.” This marks the spot where the 50th parallel north circle of latitude passes. Other cities around the world at this same latitude include Brussels, Belgium; Prague, Czech Republic; Kharkiv, Ukraine and Medicine Hat in Alberta, Canada.

There’s so much more to see and do in Mainz, and the tour is only beginning. While there’s no bad time for sightseeing, there are occasions when it’s particularly lively in this area. A farmer’s market takes place here on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On Saturdays between March and November, local vintners serve wine at what’s known as the market breakfast. The “Johannisnacht” festival in late June celebrates Johannes Gutenberg, the city son famous for inventing a printing press with moveable type. “Mainzer Sommerichter” is a new bash on the calendar with stunning fireworks as its high point. With no small measure of good fortune, we just might be celebrating that come July 24-25. But if not, perhaps the Christmas Market will come to pass in 2020.

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