Thursday, 1 February 2018

141 Mannheim Twinning

141 Mannheim Twinning
Why is Mannheim Quay in Swansea’s Maritime Quarter so called, and why does it contain a scale-model replica of that German city’s water-tower?  The 5-metre high replica, designed by Robin Campbell and carved by Philip Chatfield, is one tenth the size of the original.  An inscription states that it was unveiled on 9th August 1985, to mark the twinning in 1957 of the city of Swansea with that of Mannheim in south-western Germany. 
After the Second World War, Winston Churchill encouraged the custom of twinning towns in order to foster friendship and understanding between different cultures and former foes.  One notable example, as an act of peace and reconciliation, was when Coventry, having been heavily bombed during the war, was twinned with the German city of Dresden that had also suffered terribly. 
Mannheim is downstream from Heidelberg, at the confluence of the rivers Neckar and Rhine.  Unusually for German cities, Mannheim is built on a grid pattern, as New York City, hence its nickname “The City of Squares”, and instead of street names, letters and numbers are used.  The city’s civic symbol is the Mannheimer Wasserturm, a distinctive Romanesque water tower, which was completed in 1886.  It rises to 60 metres (200 feet), and stands in a park facing fountains and statues; having served as a reservoir and held the city’s drinking water, it is now merely a monument.  Though partially destroyed during the Second World War, it was subsequently rebuilt.  Mannheim’s most impressive building is the enormous Barockschloss, modelled on the palace of Versailles.  It was commissioned in 1720 and built in a horseshoe layout with a 440m-long façade.  Out of over 400 rooms, only the rococo library on the ground floor escaped serious war damage, and since rebuilding, the palace houses the University.
Mannheim is the starting point and the finish of the Bertha Benz Memorial Route of 194km (121 miles), which was opened in February 2008.  This scenic route commemorates the drive undertaken in 1888 by Karl Benz’s entrepreneurial wife Bertha (apparently without her husband's knowledge), in his newly constructed Patent Motorwagen, from Mannheim to her birthplace Pforzheim.  The one-way distance of 104km (65 miles) was far greater than any automobile had been driven at that time.  Karl Benz had a factory in Mannheim and is credited with producing the first petrol-driven automobile, before his company merged with that of Daimler in 1926 to form Mercedes-Benz.
In September 1982, members of the Swansea Skydiving Club were invited to take part in an air show to celebrate the 375th anniversary of the city of Mannheim.  Thousands of spectators gathered to watch parachutists from the twinned cities of Swansea, Mannheim and Toulon in France attempt to set a world record for the largest joined circle of free-falling skydivers.  But tragedy struck when a Chinook helicopter attempting an emergency landing crashed into a motorway: nine Swansea skydivers and another five people from South Wales were among the 46 killed.
The tragedy is not forgotten, for example Swansea Council’s January 2002 minutes report Gerald Clement, who had visited Mannheim for the New Year Festival, stating “11th September 2002 would mark the 20th anniversary of the helicopter accident in Mannheim when nine members of a Swansea Helicopter Club had been killed, and it was proposed that Swansea be represented at the ceremonies marking the anniversary”.    
Wales is a musical nation, and in 2007 a German newspaper reported that “the twinning of two towns is celebrated with a display of powerful singing” after a Gwalia Singers’ concert in Mannheim.  The twinning association chairman, a former prisoner of war in Britain, said “harmony and friendship are always positive whatever the circumstances”, and the newspaper added, “It was evident from the performance of the Gwalia Singers on stage that music in a united Europe really does surpass boundaries.” 
That replica water tower in Mannheim Quay is a reminder of the links with Swansea’s first “twin town”.                                                                                                            




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