Saturday, May 14, 2011

Georg and Gutenberg

Hair on end, breathless, sweating and perpetually behind time, Georg gave us an entertaining tour of Mainz this morning, after we had awoken to find ourselves floating on the Rhine. Here again the central city is largely reconstructed after 80% being destroyed by the British in daylight air-raids in 1944. Georg didn't seem to bear a grudge. "Eighty percent destroyed means twenty percent survived," he said philosophically, taking us to see the 1000 year-old cathedral and the Altstadt where tall half-timbered houses lined winding cobbled lanes where the new leaves on the trees hid tuneful thrushes. No cars again in this big pedestrian area, which made for a relaxed feel even though it was busy with shoppers, posers and football fans winding up for the big game this afternoon against St Pauli from Hamburg. "Pirates!" said Georg.

The Farmers' Market was on in the town square, the fruit and vegetables clean, bright and shiny and arranged with military precision; and a big fat rooster at one stall sat obediently on top of a cage and never moved, despite being free to take off if he'd wanted. The cathedral was busy, too, with a choir and orchestra rehearsing for a performance and filling the building with music that took half a minute to die away when they stopped. Round behind it, a busker opera singer was working through the crowd-pleasers - Nessun Dorma, la Donna e Mobile - and further along the lane an elaborate living statue was done up as a metal fountain with actual spouting water.

We went to the Gutenberg museum to look at one and a half original Bibles and hear how poor Gutenberg, son of the city, was rooked out of the fortune he should have made from putting together other people's ideas to enable printing, the first media technology: "the Bill Gates of the fifteenth century." He died bankrupt and nothing remains of his workshop or even his body ("despite 1945 providing the perfect conditions for archeology"). Just a world full of books.

This evening it's the christening ceremony for the boat with champagne smashed over the bow by some Australian celebrity (Lisa Wilkinson - who she?) followed by a gala dinner and partying. Better get girding my loins.

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