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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Splendid Afternoon in Mannheim


Reiss-Engelhorn Museum

Forget gruesome pictures, the ticket is scary enough

Too inviting to resist

Big, tasty cappuccino

Rich coffee, amaretto, and whipped cream

            We hopped a train, sat back, and made a pleasant journey to Mannheim, one of Germany’s nicest cities.  Well over 300,000 souls call it home. It’s big, but spotlessly clean.  Unusual since it’s right across the Rhine River from the home of BASF, the biggest chemical company in the world.
Mannheim is not a new city, far from it, but during the Second World War, because the city was an irresistible industrial target, much of the grand old metropolis crumbled under the explosive weight of tons of bombs.  The city has been remarkably rebuilt and fortunately not all the beauty was erased.  One landmark, which has come to symbolize Mannheim, is the tall, art-deco water tower, or Wasserturm.  You can’t miss it, sitting downtown, in the center of Friedrichsplatz, surrounded by an open expanse of gardens and fanciful fountains.
            We visited Mannheim for a specific purpose. We were on our way to the Reiss-Engelhorn Museum to view one of the current exhibits, Schädel Kult, roughly translated as Skull Worship.  The exhibit covered every aspect of human skulls, from the first Homo sapiens, to the jungle tribes who captured, killed, decorated, transformed, honored, and used skulls to enhance their firesides.  Extensive exhibit. I learned more than the faint of heart (and I put myself in that food category) would ever want to know.  It wasn’t just the tribes of the South Pacific and the Amazon who developed skull cultures.  The Southern Germans and the Austrians did their share of painting the skulls of their ancestors right up until the early 20th Century.  Even today requests to “Gimme grand-pappy’s skull” are reported.
            But there is one thing the morbid part of my brain has always wanted to know.  How do you shrink a head?  I imagine teachers look at little Johnny and wonder the same thing.  The teacher’s next thought: how in the name of heaven can I pack readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmatic into such a small space?  I stand before you as a success story.
            In the Schädel Kulk exhibit, I discovered the answers to my burning question.  Briefly, and without fear of regurgitation, here’s the how- -and the skull has nothing to do with it.  First, remove the head from the body and the flesh from the skull.  Knives work best, steamrollers worst.  Next, scrap the inside of the head flesh and sew up the holes, like the eyes, the mouth, and that big gash you slashed in the back of the scalp.  Then, fill the human balloon head with very hot water, which causes it to shrink a bit. After that, fill the head balloon with hot sand and watch that beauty reduce to something you can carry in your pocket and chat with on lonely nights.  Decorate as desired.  Wonder why Martha Steward hasn’t covered this?
            That skull worshiping is powerful stuff and with dusk urging us on, it was time to explore coffee and pastry shops.  We found the perfect location to satisfy our drooling, caloric-lust on the circular avenue surrounding the water tower. Dolceamaro has it all.  Intimacy.  Spectacular bar.  Cozy corners. Wonderfully rich coffees.  Superb desserts.
            We did our best bohemian imitations, well, as bohemian as you can get speaking English, when everyone around you is wearing berets and switching from German to Italian, and goodness knows what else.  To hell with ‘em.  We can still impress people in Georgia.
But, I still have a question.  Do you think that that hot sand trick will work on my waistline?


  1. I feel so smart now that I know how to shrink a skull....just need to find a victim!

  2. Hey, Princess, you would have loved the coffee shop!