Mainz? If you’ve never heard of Mainz, you’re not alone. It’s not Berlin or Munich, but what you’d call either a big town or a small city, easily covered on foot, sitting on the banks of the Rhine with plenty of character and history. And an over-achieving Bundesliga team; 1. FSV Mainz 05.
With some forward planning, you can grab return Ryanair flights between London Stansted and Frankfurt-Hahn for £40. Sure, like some Ryanair destinations, it’s probably closer to Madrid than Frankfurt, but buses to Mainz Hauptbahnhof, the main train station, generally match incoming flights, take 70 minutes and will set you back €13.50.
Germany’s football association is yet to announce timeslots for all of this season’s matches – between Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoons – but Mainz’s home weekends have been locked in.
Mainz loves its little team, which only reached the top flight a decade ago, after almost a century of toil. Operating on a modest budget, they finished seventh in the league last season.
Pre-match, join the sea of red and white at the Hauptbahnhof waiting to catch free shuttles to Coface Arena, built in 2011 to match the club’s growing ambitions. A paltry €13,50 buys you a spot in ‘S-Block’, a standing area behind the goals with the most active and vocal home fans, who sing, chant and dance their way through the 90 minutes.
Even if you don’t know what they’re singing, it’s a fun atmosphere and, unlike venues in England, you can enjoy a beer while watching the action.
Barring visits by big guns such as Bayern Munich, you can usually buy S-Block tickets at the gate or, with a bit of help from Google Translate, secure them before leaving home.
Not just a football town
Originally a Roman stronghold on the Rhine, ruins from Mainz’s formative era can be seen around the city, namely a theatre discovered during the construction of what’s now Roemisches Theater train station.
More recently, between 1795 and 1930, the city was occupied by the French, and iPhone users will find it listed as ‘Mayence’ in the weather app.
Mainz was bombed extensively during World War II, but some buildings survived, including St. Martin’s Cathedral which celebrated its 1,000th birthday in 1975. The Dom serves as the hub of a picturesque old town featuring several other churches, dashes of baroque architecture, parks, museums led by one dedicated to Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the movable printing press, shops and cafes.
Every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, locals flood the central squares for Farmers’ Markets, while Christmas Markets are held from late November.
Mainz is famous within Germany for its annual Karneval, essentially a city-wide party taking place on 14-17 February in 2015, but you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to evening refreshments year-round. The vibrant scene ranges from tiny, local-frequented pubs in backstreets to cheap student bars and clubs blasting schlager, German pop.
Just don’t expect steins.
More than beer
While Mainzers flock to the Rhine with portable barbecues and supermarket beers every summer afternoon, Mainz sits in the heart of Germany’s primary wine-growing region, Rheinhessen.
With over 3,5000 growers in the area, festivals and markets are common throughout the year, and pop-up stalls around the city showcase a host of unique, seasonal wines such as autumn’s Federweisser.
For locals, Saturday morning at the markets generally involves a sneaky weinschorle, a white wine and mineral water combination, to go with their breakfast fleischwurst. Even in the depths of winter.