Mannheim: it surprised us!

Travel isn’t about ticking off beautiful places; it’s about gaining new experiences, stepping outside your everyday world and seeing things from a different perspective. So for my village-reared country kids, Mannheim was a source of wonder and amazement.

We awoke each morning to azure blue skies, a nascent sun casting reflections on the glassy water and the sound of parakeets calling from lofty branches.

A tropical paradise? Hardly. This is Mannheim, a gritty industrial city in south-west Germany. In February.


Mannheim is probably not high on the typical tourist’s “must-see” list for Germany. Whatever elegance and beauty it once had was largely lost to WWII bombs, leaving even Lonely Planet to concede that:

“Surrounded by factories and heavy industry plants, Mannheim (…) isn’t Germany at its prettiest”.

Worse still, any tourists who do venture into this corner of the world will almost invariably be drawn to nearby Heidelberg, Mannheim’s prettier, bookish elder sister. But looks aren’t everything and, anyhow, we’d visited Heidelberg before. So we decided – quite spontaneously  – to check out Mannheim instead.

And we absolutely loved it.

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Being the second-largest city in Baden-Württemberg, the centre of the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan area (population 2.4 million), a thriving university city and the location of many multinational corporations, Mannheim has an unexpectedly cosmopolitan air. An aura of creativity and innovation is tangible throughout the city’s streets and parks: the city lays claim to being the birthplace of many famous inventions including the car, the tractor and – much more importantly – spaghetti ice cream.

The city is also home to Mannheim Palace (the city’s innovative nature does not appear to stretch to the naming of its monuments), the second largest baroque palace in Europe, after Versailles.

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If you are wondering why you have never seen a photo of Mannheim Palace before, it is simply because it doesn’t fit into any photograph, not all of it anyway.  Its facade stretches for almost 450 metres, and it contains six hectares of floor space. Six hectares…that’s 60,000 m2, almost twice as big as Vienna’s famed Schönbrunn (to which it bears a passing resemblance) and larger even than Windsor Castle. In a rather brilliant statement of one-upmanship, the architects of Mannheim Palace even ensured that their creation had one (yes, one) more window than Versailles, a fact that will surely be useful when playing the palaces and castles edition of “Top Trumps”.

Nearby, the glorious baroque interior of the Asamkirche wowed even our usually church-weary kids. We spent a good half hour inside simply admiring the ornamental detail and glorious light.

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But the truth is that the best part of Mannheim for us wasn’t the sights, but how it felt. Growing up in a small rural village in Luxembourg, the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Mannheim was a rather novel experience for our kids.  They could probably have happily whiled away the entire day simply idling by the Rhine, watching the boats chug their way up and down in the name of economic progress.

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I read somewhere that Mannheim is two-thirds green space, and whilst I can’t find any authoritative proof of this, it certainly feels that way. Several hours were spent simply climbing trees and goofing around in the parkland buffering the palace from the Rhine.

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It was in this park – just adjacent to our brilliant youth hostel – that we encountered the colony of ring-necked parakeets. First spotted by bemused locals in the 1970s, quite how these little green invaders from India ended up on the banks of the Rhine remains a mystery, but it is assumed that they escaped from a private collection. They may have added a splash of colour and an exotic soundtrack to our Mannheim experience, but I didn’t forget to point out to the kids that these are an invasive species that really shouldn’t be here at all. That said, they are kinda cute…

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But best of all was another colourful “invasive” addition to the landscape – the graffiti (or should I say “street art”?). In our little hilltop village in Luxembourg, local delinquents occasionally spray-paint rude words on bus shelters, but we have nothing quite like this:

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Even more interesting (for us) was the juxtaposition of graffiti with urban infrastructure such as flyovers and subways (again, we simply don’t have this at home). At the risk of sounding näive, this really was a new and bewildering world for my kids, an unexpected source of wonder and amazement.

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But we know, we know… we hardly scratched the surface. Mannheim is a buzzing, thriving metropolis with many more treasures to discover, secrets to unearth and experiences to give. We’re already looking forward to visiting again to discover more of this surprisingly fascinating city.

Daisy the bus visited Mannheim in February 2017

(c) Jonathan Orr 2017

Oregon Girl Around the World
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Author: daisythebus

Father-of-four based in Luxembourg. I write about "off the beaten track" travel adventures with my family. Expect to read about nature, outdoor activities, the arts, authenticity, and alternative ways of discovering the world around us.

26 thoughts on “Mannheim: it surprised us!”

  1. The Asamkirche looks astonishing – I love that silhouette shot of one of your children inside it. The light, the colours, it simply looks stunning. I have said this before and I’ll say it again – I love your writing. So light-hearted, funny, engaging, and packed with information too. Well done!
    #FarawayFiles

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Isn’t it great when a place really surprises you like this? I love how children can find adventure and novelty everywhere they travel be it countryside, city, beach or museum. #FarawayFiles

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I´ve seen so many awesome German cities but here should admit Manheim was never on my bucket list. And it´s just the best part about exploring – finding less touristic and more authentic places – and as you say “seeing things from a different perspective”. Never heard of the Mannheim Palace (wow the second biggest in Europe!), Asamkirche looks beautiful! Thanks for sharing, can´t wait to visit one day

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  4. You know what? You’ve just proven how much more authentic a travel experience can be when you take the family. It forces you to find places to let them run and climb, and this city seems to really be a perfect place for this and relaxation. I LOVE that there are so many green spaces, and the Rhine is always a sense of wonder (as is the street art). What a great holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. While Mannheim is much bigger than Copenhagen – we do live IN the city in an apartment here and so we often seek the opposite when we travel and explore. We crave the country. At least I do. Ask my teen and he may disagree. But keeping a balance and affording new landscapes is a great way to expand kids horizons. Love it! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

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    1. Not sure if Mannheim is bigger than Copenhagen. The 2.4 million figure is for the “Rhine-Neckar” metropolitan area which includes numerous other neighbouring cities such as Ludwigshafen (just over the river) and Heidelberg. 😉

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  6. What a wonderful find. My favourite places are those that offer a wealth of different experiences. From your photos and description, Mannheim reminds me a bit of Bristol in the UK. I’d love to try the spaghetti icecream! #FarawayFiles

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  7. Given I lived in Germany for a year, I love castles and I love trivia, I can’t believe I have never come across Mannheim and it’s astonishing palace. I think that deserves a visit on it’s own – what a fabulous discovery. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, sorry, I guess I sometimes over-do the trivia 😉 But, like many others, I had simply never heard of Mannheim Palace before and am slightly amazed that something on this sort of scale isn’t better known. If it was in Vienna or Munich it would probably have millions of visitors a year. Poor old Mannheim 😉

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  8. It’s great when somewhere surprises you and exceeds your expectations. I’ve never heard of this town so I’ve learned something new! Great photos. #CityTripping

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  9. Love reading about non typical days out. I probably wouldn’t rush to visit Mannheim but it sounds perfect for a slightly alternative place to visit. I’m trying to think of a similar UK city to compare it with but failing on that one! (

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t think of a similar UK city either… One of the things we liked most about Mannheim is that it is very German. This isn’t some pre-packaged, carefully managed tourist experience of Germany, it is the real thing, and ultimately there is a certain satisfaction in exploring it and discovering its quirks and wrinkles. Thanks for reading!

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