Photo Essay: Mannheim, Germany

Chris Wahl

My hometown: Mannheim


Mannheim is a city in the southwestern part of Germany, the third-largest in the German state of Baden-Württemberg after Stuttgart and Karlsruhe. Mannheim is among the twenty largest cities in Germany, with a 2015 population of approximately 305,000 inhabitants. The city is at the centre of the larger densely populated Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region which has a population of 2,400,000 and is Germany's eighth-largest metropolitan region. Mannheim is located at the confluence of the Rhine and the Neckar in the northwestern corner of Baden-Württemberg. Mannheim is unusual among German cities in that its streets and avenues are laid out in a grid pattern, leading to its nickname "die Quadratestadt" ("city of the squares").



The Past


The name of the city was first recorded as Mannenheim in a legal transaction in 766, surviving in a twelfth-century copy in the Codex Laureshamensis from Lorsch Abbey. It was completely destroyed a number of times in history. The latest major destruction happened during WWII. Air raids on Mannheim almost completely destroyed the city during the Second World War. Since Mannheim was an important industrial centre for Nazi Germany, Mannheim was heavily damaged during aerial bombing by the R.A.F. and the U.S. Air Force. In addition to bombing the important factories, the R.A.F. razed the city center of Mannheim with nighttime area bombing. Some sources state that the first deliberate "terror bombing" of German civilians by the R.A.F. occurred at Mannheim on December 16, 1940. It was comparable to the destructions of Dresden and Hamburg although much less prominent.


But there where great periods of wealth and art and importance as well. The National Theatre Mannheim was founded in 1779 and is the oldest "Stage" in Germany. In 1782 the premier of Die Räuber, written by Friedrich Schiller, was shown. Mozart spend quite some time in Mannheim. Important inventions were made in Mannheim ... Karl Drais built the first two-wheeled draisine in 1817. Karl Benz drove the first automobile on the streets of Mannheim in 1886. At his workshop in Mannheim he produced a lightweight three-wheeled vehicle powered by a single cylinder petrol/gasoline-fueled engine, first shown in public during 1886. This powered tricycle subsequently came to be widely regarded as the first automobile/motor car powered by an internal-combustion engine. Karl's wife Bertha Benz undertook the world’s first road trip by automobile from Mannheim to Pforzheim in August 1888. The Lanz Bulldog, a popular tractor with a rugged, simple Diesel engine was introduced in 1921. Karl Benz developed the world's first compact diesel-powered car at the Benz & Cie. motor works in Mannheim during 1923, Julius Hatry built the world's first rocket plane in 1929 and so on and so forth ... Not to forget the Mannheim Boy Sepp Herberger, coach of the German national soccer team 1936–1964 ("The Miracle of Bern", world champion with his team in 1954).


Below image was taken years ago and gives an impression how the city looked before WWII ... not a lot of buildings survived WWII but this is a lovely place that I really like. Presenting it in IR was sort of a natural choice considering that the image represents the past ...





The Present


I love my hometown ... really! Being on the road a lot I never felt the urge to move and live in other cities. But well ... the city planners are a bunch of idiots. Although I understand to a certain extent that bringing back functionality to a destroyed city is more important than having nice buildings it is rather questionnable why they still follow the approach of "ugly first". Most of the people living somewhere elese refer to Mannheim as one of the ugliest cities they know, but then again most of them only know it from the train station or short business stays. And I have to admit that it's hard to argue against it. You have to live here to know the nice places and there are plenty but very well hidden.


Below image is taken for this challenge from a 212.8 metre high concrete telecommunication tower with an observation deck at ~130m. It was a dull day which perfectly matches the impression of Mannheim that many people have. Actually Mannheim is only the bottom ~60% of the image. The white bridge is crossing the river Rhine with the city of Ludwigshafen on the other side. The hills on the horizon belong to the palatinate which is one of the most beautiful forest areas I know. In the middle of the forest are plenty of castle ruins to visit, good food and weird people that are fun to talk to (if you understand the local accent).





The Mood and the People


The original plan was to go out and do some street photography to capture the people living here but having extremely low temperatures (down to -10 which we are absoultely no used to) resulted in everybody (including me) staying home. Mannheim folks are mostly working class people. Honest, direct, helpful, rough and never ever false... just don't be rude or arrogant to them. Being so results in problems which is absolutely fair if you ask me. Friends of mine moved from Munich to Mannheim and in their first weeks they were stunned how people handle each other. I remember that she was amazed that people actually helped her getting the baby buggy in and out of the trains. She was used to being shouted at in similar situations in Munich :). We do have a mosque in Mannheim for at least 20 years and it never was a real problem (if you don't count the usual few idiots that just can't deal with other cultures). In the meantime Berlin is the capital of Doner Kebap but I remember times where people in Turkey told everybody that you get the best one in Mannheim... and so on ... and so forth ... the people here are just great ...


I am really sorry that I don't have a decent people photograph but in a way the photograph below (posted before, sorry) pretty much sums it all up. It's an industrial environment, no glamour or glitter, no fancy  stuff, very few hipsters, no obviously nice and sweet places ... but if you dig deeper you find the honest and down to earth beauty of it everywhere.




I know photographers who make wonderful images of a lovely Mannheim but well ... the above images are more on the honest side of it ...

2 people like this


Interesting narration, Chris.

One has to live in a place to understand the place's soul, its people. What might appear to a fact paces traveller as just an industrial town, might have a ' soul ' far better than the most touted touristy sites.


stay well.

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Thank you Faris!

4 hours ago, faris said:


One has to live in a place to understand the place's soul, its people. What might appear to a fact paces traveller as just an industrial town, might have a ' soul ' far better than the most touted touristy sites.

this is very very true ...

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Nice stuff Chris...


I like the last the best... reality and beauty coexisting... nice ecapture...



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Nice story Chris. I was stationed in Germany for two years in the 80s. Although I can't remember Mannheim precisely, I visited almost every major German city. There are places like this in the US also, very straightforward and such. Some cities are artful, others not. I guess diversity makes you see how different things can be, and in my opinion, diverse settings help w/ creativity (with me, anyway). 

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