Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Mainz would like us to award Johann Gutenberg the title of Man of the Millennium. They certainly have a case. Few can lay claim to so radical a transformation of society as the man who invented printing on movable type. Prior to this invention, books were laboriously copied by hand, with all the attendant mistakes and omissions which that involved.
The time that it took made books expensive and rare. Not many people learned to read and access to information was mainly restricted to the rich and powerful. The clergy told people what The Bible said and the nobles in their capacity as magistrates told people what the law said. They naturally interpreted the words that they read in their own favour.
Printing began an information revolution that led quite quickly to the beginnings of freedom of thought and speech. In Mainz they show you the sort of press on which Gutenberg worked. It still looks painfully slow and the characters that he used were an attempt to reproduce as accurately as possible the learned script of his day, which is extremely difficult for a modern reader to decipher. Nevertheless, here it was that it all began.
In other respects there is fragmentary evidence of Mainz's important history, since most of the medieval city that remained was destroyed by wartime bombing.   An exception is the fine half-timbered square (left) close to the cathedral.  The Romanesque cathedral itself was damaged, but has been restored. There are still traces of Roman rule, including a monument to the celebrated general Drusus.
By contrast Mainz has a great flowering of modern architecture and some interesting stainless steel statuary.