Ingrida and I are in Mannheim. It was a dual purpose trip: see my cousin and take Ingrida on a date.
The handy synergy comes from the fact that Jamie is in a show, Holiday on Ice, exactly the kind of thing that Ingrida loves.
So we checked into the Cruise Cafe Hotel Mannheim, a little three star hotel just a five minute walk from the central commercial district of Mannheim. The hotel has a lot going for it and a few drawbacks; the drawbacks are minimal and I highly recommend the place. It was €99 for two nights plus two nights of parking for two people, or the equivalent of €25/night per person - about £19/night per person. For those of you reading in the UK, this was a three star hotel, not a backpackers hostel. And that price comes with a free buffet breakfast every day. It goes beyond good value, actually; it was amazing.
They didn't have room service, so we ran out of wine on Saturday night and Jamie had to sneak off and blag a bottle of whiskey off a mate - and we had no mixers except peach nectar - but at this price, I'd be churlish to complain about the fact that the bar closes at one a.m.
Here's one oddity: there was a doorway that lead to nothing in our room.
Of course, our room also had a fridge, a stovetop, a pot, a colander, a spatula, one set of flatware and ample space to set up for a long stay, so it would be a great base for exploring Mannheim, just don't try to walk out onto the balcony, because it's not a balcony, it's just a three story drop.
Mannheim itself feels delightfully relaxed and was comparatively clean. The streets had a few dots of gum on them and occasionally you'd see a cigarette butt. That's it. It was the cleanest place I've seen outside of Scandinavia, coming in pretty close on the heels of Uppsala for cleanliness (nothing touches Trondheim, the world's cleanest city, where I felt bad wearing my boots outside, for fear that I was trudging dirt all over their pretty Norwegian idyll).
In a touch that I found simultaneously an example of German organization and idiosyncrasy was that the streets are all lettered and numbered instead of named. Our hotel was on C7. The main drag is D1. It is an incredibly efficient system; the letters run north to south, the numbers east to west. You not only know where you are in respect to your hotel but have a good idea how far you are. On the other hand, it is the sort of thing my cousin Caitlin might call "adorkable."
The tram system was exactly on time every time we used it and immaculate; perversely, this made me bitter about the rail system in Britain, which now seems so shabby as to be a disgrace to the third world, let alone a rich first world nation like the UK. I can't speak for all of Germany, but Mannheim has it right.
Since trams are coming to Edinburgh, I'm interested in how they work. Certainly, they worked well in Mannheim. There are a number of key differences between Germany and Edinburgh, though, that I think will have to be addressed. In Mannheim we saw a demonstration of neo-Nazis. They were more polite and I felt safer walking past the demonstration back to my hotel than I do walking from Haymarket to my home on Queen Street after taking the late night train back from Glasgow. Neo-nazis aren't my favorite people in the world, but it was enlightening to me that they were less threatening than the neds who keep kicking in my door. Edinburgh will have to address this problem if it wants people to use the trams. Police and a couple of very public, humiliating arrests of the undesirable elements who disturb the public would go a long way towards discouraging the anti-social behavior - which would in turn encourage common folk to use the public transport.
In the center of Mannheim there's some kind of monument. I have no idea what it's for, but it was cool looking, so I took a picture. You can see it below as well, at the end of D1. Note how the trams run on the street. They actually work remarkably well. I hope that Scotland has learned from the lessons of places like Mannheim but I suspect not.
Friday night, we drove down from Frankfurt. We arrived at the hotel at 0230 Saturday morning - and stayed up talking to Jaime until 4 o'clock. Naturally, one of the first things we did Saturday morning was find a cafe. This place, down D2, had absolutely magnificent coffee. Although their English was as good as our German, we still managed to negotiate our purchases with considerable alacrity. Caffeine deprivation and their desire for our business were powerful motivators that worked to our mutual benefit.
The coffee here was fantastic; best latté I've ever had. The name of the place was either Bäckerei or Coffee to Go. This was based on the idea
The only person who wears as much pink as Jamie is Rachael. Jamie says: "I don't normally wear this much pink." Below is a picture of her and Ingrida in front of the fountain in Mannheim city square. One of the interesting things for me is that the sun managed to perfectly catch the lens coating and made a rainbow flare that crosses the entire photo. It's not what I was looking for, but it would be nearly impossible to reproduce.
Ingrida and Jamie look so cute! If only I could have taken the picture while they were sitting in a field of bunnies, with butterflies resting on their fingertips, hummingbirds and swallows flitting about singing. Jamie had to head off to her first performance of the day, so we were on our way to the tram stop.
Ingrida and I were standing next to the fountain in the square in the middle of Mannheim. I put on my best German face, trying to look like my stern ancestors from Mecklenberg.
After hanging out in the city centre, having the world's best coffee and then seeing Jamie off, we went shopping. By accident, we found a German farmer's market. It was filled with brown bread, cheeses, sausages, fruit and vegetables - and since we were staying in a room with a kitchenette, we bought enough for our supper. One of the best finds was Normandy butter, salted with Fleur de Sel de Camargue. We spread this on massive chunks of sourdough rye and happily munched the afternoon away. We bought our bread from the stand below.
We bought cherries, plums, oranges and Sharon fruit from the place below. The fruit was uniformly of a high quality, though the cherries were strangely bland.