If someone would ask me: “I only have one day in Germany, and I want to understand as much as possible about that country; where should I go?”
I would answer Mannheim.
I am in Mannheim today for one day, and as a German, I must say: This inconspicuous city in the southeast of my native country is so typically German.
So here is what you can learn about Germany while visiting Mannheim.
Population: Mannheim is a small big city with a little more than 300,000 inhabitants. Many cities in Germany are about that size. Eighty are between 100,000 and one million people (Mannheim ranks 21), only four cities have more than a million (Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne).
Urban architecture: The typical urban architecture in major German cities are post-war buildings. That is the consequence of the many air raids in World War II. Mannheim is a case in point. Air raids completely destroyed the city centre. After the Second World War, a lot of living space was quickly needed. The appearance wasn't important. That is understandable. What is less understandable: The architecture of the later decades fits in too well with what was already there (I guess anyone who has ever been to Sweden will have problems with German urban planning).
German industry: Industrialisation in Germany came late compared to England, but all the stronger. Even today, Germany is still a heavily industrialised country. So is Mannheim. The first motor car was built and patented in Mannheim in 1886 by Karl Benz. It was the first practical automobile put into series production. His company Benz & Cie. based in Mannheim, was the world's largest automobile plant of its day (later it merged with Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft to form Daimler-Benz, which produces the Mercedes-Benz among other brands). Before, in 1865, Friedrich Engelhorn founded the Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik (Baden Aniline and Soda Factory, BASF) in Mannheim. BASF has developed into the largest chemical company in the world. Still, BASF and Daimler-Benz (now just Daimler) are among the largest industrial employers in Germany.
Culture: The figure of more than 80 opera houses in Germany is unparalleled anywhere else, as is the number of premieres. And it is not only operas but also theatres, exhibitions, performances. The cultural offer in Germany is enormous in small big cities like Mannheim. There are 1,300 performances a year in the Mannheim National Theatre alone. Additionally, you can discover around 30 museums and galleries, experience more than ten international festivals and enjoy thousands of cultural events.
History: Despite the great destruction in WW II, the past is often very present in German cities. In Mannheim, it is first of all Mannheim Palace, one of the largest palace complexes in the world, and the second-largest in Baroque style after Versailles. These days, part of the palace is used by the University of Mannheim.
Migration: Even if you rarely think so, Germany has been a country of immigration for a long time. In total, 44.7 per cent of all Mannheim inhabitants are of foreign descent. The top five non-German nationalities in Mannheim: Turkey, Italy, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania.
Mobility: The car continues to dominate the cities (that is, of course, the case in many cities around the world). German cities - often rebuilt after the Second World War - have wide motorways. That is why the majority of Germans still commute in their own car. There have never been more registered cars in Germany than today (with almost 48 million cars). Mannheim is also an automobile city.
Only one thing is unique in Mannheim.
Its streets and avenues were planned by architects who laid out avenues and streets in a grid pattern (comparable to the structure of Manhattan in New York City), leading to its nickname Quadratestadt. The squares are numbered from A1 to U6 instead of street names.
By the way, Mannheim's city marketing tells us: "In conversation, you will quickly notice that, despite their square city, 'Mannheimers' are anything but square heads."
I can confirm that.
Some impressions of my visit to Mannheim today.