I grew up in a military family. I lived in Mannheim, West Germany on a military base from the time I was 12 until just before my 16th birthday. It was here I truly discovered the freedom of biking and most of my biking scars are from falling off my 12 speed Huffy during this time.
Mannheim is on the Rhine and is the turn off point to continue east along the Neckar and on to the Danube. It is a large industrial city and was completely flattened during World War II. It’s main claim to fame is that the city is laid out and numbered as a chess board. Tourists don’t come to Mannheim. While it was never a specific plan to come here, it was on the route and I was interested to see it twenty years later.
Memory is a strange thing and often a liar. I don’t recall it being so non-descript. It is primarily a city of immigrants of industry and feels impoverished. Is this new? Or was it always the case? I recall it as exciting, vibrant, and above all else, interesting. I had never lived in a city with streetcars. I had never been somewhere where everyone spoke a different language. I had never had so much freedom. I loved looking at everything. I could not say that now. I did not make the trip out to the outskirts to look at the base and its conversion to non-military uses or to look at my old high school. I could not think of a reason to do so. Instead, I explored a bit of the gay life of the city and went on to a terrible camping platz on the edge of the city.
Perhaps we mix up experience and place in our memories because it is easier to disentangle the positives and negatives when you can pin them on a place and separate out the confusing world of people. My kid sister is a few years younger than me and was excited that I was coming through Mannheim. I tried to find a postcard for her, but could not.