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No cycling for me today. I had to drive to Mannheim and give a sales presentation to 25 disinterested insurance employees who had just endured 2 hours of powerpoint slides before my slot. Still, I like a challenge and in the end it went well. It rained all morning, so I wasn’t too upset about missing the cycling either.
Mannheim is about an hour’s drive away from home and is most famous for its port and industry. It is on the Rhine and is one of the largest inland ports in Europe. It was the world’s first inland container port and today employs 20,000 people. It was heavily bombed during the war, which is not surprising due to its industrial and strategic importance. Ariane’s father was born there in 1941 and must have spent many nights in the bomb shelters during his first 2 years. Mannheim was a sort of testing ground for the British bombing strategy. Things could have become even worse. Mannheim was picked out as a potential target for an atom bomb as part of the Mannhattan project. But in March 1945 US troops had already occupied the city – three months before the first atom bomb tests took place.
Just over 70 years ago, Ariane’s father and aunt were stuck in the back of an old Mercedes crammed with all the luggage the family could carry – leaving Mannheim and heading further East to see if they could stay with some friends. Their father was an aeronautical engineer but the factory in which he worked in Speyer had been destroyed at the end of 1944. Ariane’s aunt can remember that frightening trip seeing fleeing soldiers and civilians, prisoners-of-war, and everywhere people huddled around makeshift bonfires. Today it’s hard to believe it was only a lifetime ago my parents were being bombed in London and Ariane’s in Mannheim.
Ariane’s father and family were taken in by friends their father knew. They must have been fairly well off as they owned a “small castle” (just below this one: https://burg-gamburg.de/ ) further east near the town of Wertheim. Soon the war was over and Americans occupied the castle (which had previously been used by the Nazis). We stayed there ourselves a few years ago when Tante Christa (Ariane’s aunt) celebrated her 70th birthday. She has fond memories of the place and enjoyed growing up there. Apparently during the war the old castle had been shared by nuns and Nazis. One day I am going to write a screenplay about a clandestine affair between a guilt-ridden nun and a Nazi officer in the dying days of the war. I’ll get Stephen Spielberg to direct it. That’ll win an Oscar before anyone’s even seen it.
Times have changed. Mannheim is now a quiet city which, apart from the port, is probably most famous for… I’m not sure. It has a big indoor stadium called the SAP Arena. And Wertheim is now famous for… it’s large outlet shopping centre. Less dramatic, more peaceful and I prefer it that way.