Cruising The Rhine: Day 2 – Mannheim And The Search For Baron Karl Von Drais

Mannheim is a fine city with much to commend it. An attractive focal point that is well maintained and popular with epic fountains that keep the kids – and ducks – amused:

A busy main thoroughfare with an interesting town centre built – and rebuilt in the post-war era – around a grid pattern with just numbers and letters to denote the location:

It even has statues – of the known and unknown – a wonderful shimmering green roof on top of its concert hall and flower beds full of colour:

So what has me frowning like Beethoven?

Well… you may or may not be aware that Mannheim was the birthplace of the bicycle. Yes, that humble object that is supposed to be the subject of this website, the bicentenary of which was celebrated only two years ago to great fanfare in the press – here’s the full story as delivered by Cycling UK for example – and in whose honour many passing cyclists on the EuroVelo 15 must doff their (cycling) hat. But there’s a problem…

Mannheim seems to have forgotten that it was here in early 1817 that Baron Karl Von Drais first demonstrated a two-wheeled mode of transport that resembled what we now consider to be a bicycle. He called it the ‘draisienne‘ for obvious reasons, one of which might plausibly have been that the good folk of Mannheim would not forget his name or his invention. But it does, sadly, appear that this is the case. The only reference – and it was a rather tenuous one – is that the bicycles for hire bear a symbol that might resemble Drais’ contraption:

I looked and searched; I visited the tourist office (but it was closed from 3pm on a Saturday), I went online yet found no streets named after the good Baron himself (perhaps not that surprising bearing in mind the system that has been adopted); just a distant school adopting his name. Even the Cicerone guide to cycling the Rhine made no reference to the great man. What was I to do? Only one thing remained; ascend the telecommunications tower and gaze towards Schwetzingen, the suburb of Mannheim towards which Baron Drais headed when he set off on that first cycle ride in 1817. The route is somewhere in the picture below…


Categories: Cycling, Photography, Travel

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