Over the Rhein River from Mainz lies the city of Wiesbaden. While they are next to each other, each city is the capital of its respective state: Mainz, Rheinland-Pfalz and Wiesbaden, Hessen. And the residents of each strongly feel that their city is better and that everyone else lives on the wrong side of the river. Yesterday James and I took a break from studying for our driving tests to further explore Mainz and then introduce ourselves to downtown Wiesbaden. Actually this also helped us review the street signs we had been learning and was much more interesting than reading the tedious manual (James literally fell asleep one day reading about traffic laws). Among the signs we saw was the Residential Area sign that indicates streets where pedestrians have priority over vehicles. It’s much cuter than any street sign I’ve seen in the U.S.: a stick-person adult and a stick-person kid kicking a ball back and forth next to a house with a car in the background.
We had first taken a pleasant but uneventful walk to Mainz Oberstadt, a mostly residential area a little further out than the shopping and cultural centers of Mainz I had visited before. There were some nice parks filled with trees and falling yellow leaves. On the way back we saw an old-fashioned looking train that was used for tour groups driving just ahead of a modern street car.
Next it was over the river to investigate downtown Wiesbaden on a comfortable thirteen minute train ride. At €5.20 roundtrip, it was about comparable to a weekend-rate trip on DC metro. My first impression of Wiesbaden was that it is a larger and more populated city than Mainz, with wider but fuller streets. The tall-towered Marktkirche cathedral loomed over Wiesbaden’s almost-ready Christmas market. Wiesbaden’s Christmas booths are painted light blue and topped with yellow stars or moons, setting them apart from Mainz’s unpainted wooden barrels and sheds. Most of the Christmas markets in the area start next week and remain open for about a month.
I thought the highlight of downtown Wiesbaden was the Kochbrunnen, or boiling fountains, in Kranzplatz. Wiesbaden has long been known for its sodium chloride hot springs which you can see erupting from several sources in this town square. Because the outside temperature was about 5°C (40°F), billows of steam rose continuously off of the water, which reaches 66°C (almost 151°F). The water is clear but when the minerals in it reach the air it appears yellow and leaves a red residue on the stone fountains. From Kranplatz, the spring water is directed to be processed at Kaiser-Friedrich spa and then on to other parts of the city. It’s used to heat the city hall and other buildings, and is believed to have health benefits for various ailments. James and I felt and, of course, tasted the water. As you might expect, it has a salty taste and left a rusty residue on our hands.