Before the conference resumed, there remained the matter of the city tour to which we gave ourselves after half an hour of sparkling wine and soft pretzels. In due order, the city representative slipped through the events room door to collect us for the early afternoon visit. Once back out through the maze of exhibition spaces and garage stairwells, the city representative split the group between a middle-aged woman and an older gentleman, the second of whom was to see our safe passage through the streets and squares.
Our guide, balding but sporting a short, bristly white beard, braved the gusts in little more than a windbreaker and spoke in a French not untouched by his native German. This came out, in particular, in his stilted pronunciation of more advanced architectural terminology which he would not otherwise employ in more mundane conversation with visitors. Still, he carried out his task and rote repetition and handled inane questions with aplomb. He had evidently spent some time on the circuit, given the ease with which he rattled off the list of buildings razed during the Allied bombing campaign, largely on the night of February 27th, 1945. He acquitted himself just as well in reciting the dates at which both rebuilds and new builds had been raised in the years after.
Our tour inevitably led us before the city’s thousand-year-old cathedral from where archbishops had maintained their spiritual and temporal rule as one of seven Kurfurster, or Prince Electors, within the Holy Roman Empire. Only with the Empire’s wane and Mainz’s transformation into democratic republic, stillbirth though it might have been, did the last cracks show and then splinter the administrative work of centuries. Though outwardly of red sandstone and fitted with several drum towers, the cathedral inwardly resembled others which I had set foot in. Dead, stone archbishops looked on our seated group from chapels and nooks while the guide recalled for his listeners that a cathedral presented a neverending worksite, a sort of architectural open sore which never fully healed.
As the guide fielded questions, I quietly rose from my seat at the rear and stole away to examine the cloister, indicated by a nearby sign. Passing through a wooden door of considerable heft, I found myself in a typical Gothic cloister: covered walkway surrounding a square court, at its center a stout well, geometric footpaths running between archways and hedges. The place projected the enforced calm that one expected of a cloister, and I took a seat in one of the windows to bask therein. It occurred to me after a moment more that the sandstone here was of a deeper hue, the red more saturated, than that found in the cathedral’s exterior, as if the few visitors had lacked the numbers necessary to sap the stone of its natural color or, alternatively, the cloister, being a later addition, had established a parasitic relation with the cathedral and, over the years, drawn the cathedral’s color out to its own benefit.
The group found me there, some minutes later, still contemplating the walls and swept me along in its wake.