Arriving in Germany was, at first, like flying from England to England. Everything looked the same as home, from the weather to the buildings to the smell to the general feel of the place. Yet it was the first time I had gone from England to a country where it wasn’t hot, where the air didn’t smell completely different, where the language was one I couldn’t understand.
A family in Mannheim hosted me and my father for the weekend. They took us to some of the city’s tourist spots: the Wasserturm, Luisenpark, Mannheim Palace. In Leicester, we’ve got a clock tower that’s maybe about ten feet high to mark the centre of the town. In Mannheim, they’ve got the Wasserturm. It’s obsolete as a functioning water tower, and now stands as the centrepiece of the Rosengarten. The staircase splits to go around the tower as if embracing it, and then merges on the other side, where you stand watching water cascade over a series of steps and eventually run into a pool. At night, the fountains are lit and everything about the place is breathtaking.
The day we visited Skyline, a revolving restaurant at the top of a telecommunications tower, it rained and the sun shone, and I saw the biggest rainbow of my life. The view is thrilling; you watch an entire city play out its day in miniature, from boys playing hockey in a field the size of a table-mat to the mountains stoically bordering the city in the distance. Skyline leads you neatly down into Luisenpark, forty-one stunning hectares that are almost beyond description, where the lake is full of fish that come up to you, mouths politely agape, to ask for food.
From Luisenpark we went to stand still in a corner of the court at Mannheim Palace, a simple way to feel completely overwhelmed by grandeur. The palace itself (now partly a university) is elegant and immense, and its courtyard vast. It’s not difficult in the least to imagine it during the era of the Palatinate, when Mannheim served for a time as the Palatinate’s capital, and the palace was the home of Prince Electors. This was one of the last tourist attractions I visited in Mannheim; a perfect end to a brief, spectacular tour.
For the first time, for me, photographs felt completely inadequate a medium to convey how beautiful these places are. Heidelberg itself, turning red and gold and yellow in autumn, seems to defy my camera lens: I capture colours and forms, but never the reality of what I experience. It was at the Wasserturm that I realised that no matter how wonderful pictures are, there is always something missing: those bits beyond mere sight, beyond the four neat lines of a screen. And where pictures can’t do the sights justice, I feel my words do even less.
So, despite having been here for little more than a fortnight, I say this with confidence: make this your next holiday destination. It’s worth the Ryanair flight.