Mainz: Christmas in Gutenberg’s City

I’m pretty sure I would never have visited Mainz were it not for my Rhine cruise. I knew the name but, honestly, that was about it.

Our visit to the city was really a guided shore excursion. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at what an attractive place it was, with its mixture of half-timbered dwellings and grander baroque edifices—just what an American visitor wants to find in Europe.

© Landeshauptstadt Mainz

But what every put Mainz forever on my personal map was discovering that its most renowned citizen was Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of printing with moveable type and father of the world’s most famous bible. Bibliophilia is in my blood. My father was a dealer in rare books and I grew up surrounded by the things. Then, an early marriage to an English bookman substantially deepened my appreciation of the historical and aesthetic side of books . . . but back to Gutenberg.

I don’t believe our group did the whole Gutenberg tour—although there is one—but we certainly went to the Gutenberg Museum, where we saw at least one Gutenberg Bible (the museum has two), witnessed a demonstration of 15th-century printing, and—you get the idea. For me it was really exciting.

Now should you decide to do a holiday Rhine cruise, I should let you know I’m not even sure if Mainz is included on any of the current itineraries. But if it is—or if you decide to go there not in conjunction with a cruise—then let me tell you about the Christmas market highlights.

The St. Nicholas Market is held in front of St. Martin’s Cathedral. There are about 100 stalls, so it’s quite substantial. One of the main attractions is a life-size nativity scene carved from limewood, which is apparently unique in Europe. There’s also a monumental 36-foot-tall wooden Christmas pyramid peopled with historical personages from Mainz’s past (including guess who). A second market—the Mainz Artists’ Advent Fair—is held in the Rathaus on the second weekend in Advent.

And every weekend there are live concerts by brass ensembles and holiday choirs on the stage next to the nativity scene.

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