Mannheim is located at the confluence of the River Rhine and the River Neckar in the northwestern corner of Baden-Württemberg. The Rhine separates Mannheim from the city of Ludwigshafen, just to the west of it, in Rhineland-Palatinate. The border of Baden-Württemberg with the Bundesland of Hesse is just north of Mannheim, and Mannheim is just downstream along the Neckar from the city of Heidelberg. Mannheim is the largest city of the Rhine Neckar Area, a metropolitan area with about 2.4 million inhabitants.
Mannheim is unusual among German cities in that the streets and avenues of Mannheim's central area are laid out in a grid pattern, just as most North American and Australian cities and towns. Because of this, the city's nickname is "die Quadratestadt" (the German word for "city of the squares"). One main route through the streets and avenues runs by a large eighteenth century palace, the Mannheim Palace. This former home of the rulers of the Palatinate now houses part of the University of Mannheim.
The civic symbol of Mannheim is der Wasserturm (the water tower), an old tower that is located just east of the city's centre.
Mannheim is also the location of both the start and the finish of Bertha Benz Memorial Route.
The name of the city was first recorded as Mannenheim in connection with a legal transaction in the year 766, surviving in a twelfth-century copy in the Codex Laureshamensis from Lorsch Abbey. The name is interpreted as "the home of Manno", where Manno is a short form of a Germanic name such as Hartmann or Hermann. Mannheim remained a mere village throughout the Middle Ages.
Early Modern Age
In 1606, Frederick IV, Elector Palatine started building the fortress of Friedrichsburg and the adjacent city centre (die Stadt) with its grid of streets and avenues. On January 24, 1607, Frederick IV gave Mannheim the status of a "city", whether it really was one by then or not.
After the rebuilding of Mannheim that began in 1698, the capital of the Electorate of the Palatinate was moved from Heidelberg to Mannheim in 1720. This was when Karl III Philip, Elector Palatine began the construction of the Mannheim Palace and the Jesuit Church. These were completed in the year 1760.
18th and 19th centuries
During the eighteenth century, Mannheim was the home of the "Mannheim School" of classical music composers. Mannheim was said to have one of the best court orchestras in Europe under the leadership of the conductor Carlo Grua. The royal court of the Palatinate left Mannheim in 1778, and just over two decades later, Mannheim was removed from the Palatinate and given to the Grand Duchy of Baden (in 1802).
In 1819, Norwich Duff made the following observations about Mannheim:
Mannheim is in the Duchy of Baden and situated at the confluence of the Rhine and Neckar over both of which there is a bridge of boats. This is the third town of this name having been twice burnt. The houses are large, and the streets broad and at right angles to each other, and is one of the most airy clean towns I have seen in Germany. It was formerly fortified, but the fortifications were raised in 1806 and gardens fill their places. There is a large chateau here belonging to the Grand Duke and a very good garden; part of the chateau was destroyed when the town was bombarded and has never since been repaired, the other part is occupied by the Grand Duchess widow of the late Grand Duke who was succeeded by his uncle having left only three daughters. She is the sister of Eugene Beauharnais [sic, in fact, she was his second cousin]. There is a cathedral, a theatre which is considered good, an observatory, a gallery of pictures at the chateau, and some private collections. About two km (one mile) below the town the Russian Army crossed the Rhine in 1813. Population 18,300.
Also in 1819, August von Kotzebue was assassinated in Mannheim.
During the climate crisis of 1816-17, which caused famine and the death of many horses in Mannheim, Karl Drais invented the first bicycle. The Rhine Harbour was established in 1828 and the first Baden railway opened from Mannheim to Heidelberg in 1840. Influenced by the economic rise of the middle class, another golden age of Mannheim gradually began. In the March Revolution of 1848, the city was a centre for political and revolutionary activity. In 1865, Friedrich Engelhorn founded the Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik (Baden Aniline and Soda Factory, BASF) in Mannheim, but the factory was constructed across the Rhine in Ludwigshafen because of Mannheim’s fears of air pollution. From this dye factory BASF, has developed into the largest chemical company in the world. After opening a workshop in Mannheim during 1871 and patenting engines from 1878, in 1886, Karl Benz patented the first motor car. He was born in Mühlburg (now a borough of Karlsruhe).
Early 20th century and World War I
When World War I broke out in 1914, Mannheim's industrial plants played a key role in Germany's war economy. This contributed to the fact that, on 27 May 1915, Mannheim was the world's first civilian settlement behind the battle lines to be bombed from the air. French aircraft attacked the BASF plants, thereby killing twelve people and setting a precedent for the years to come.
When Germany lost the war in 1918, according to the peace terms, the left bank of the Rhine was occupied by French troops. The French occupation lasted until 1930, and some of Mannheim's most elegant houses were erected for the officers of the French garrison.
After the First World War, the Heinrich Lanz Company built the Bulldog, an advanced tractor, powered by heavy oil. As a result of the invention of the pre-combustion chamber by Prosper L'Orange, Benz & Cie. developed the world's first compact diesel-powered car at its motor works in Mannheim in 1923. In 1922, the Grosskraftwerk Mannheim (Mannheim large power station) was opened. By 1930 the city, along with its sister city of Ludwigshafen, which had developed out of the old Mannheim Rheinschanze, had a population of 385,000.
World War II
During the Third Reich, almost 2,000 of Mannheim's Jews were despatched for extermination. Air raids on Mannheim almost completely destroyed the city during the Second World War. Since Mannheim was an important industrial centre for Nazi Germany, Mannheim was heavily damaged during aerial bombing by the R.A.F. and the U.S. Air Force. In addition to bombing the important factories, the R.A.F. razed the city center of Mannheim with nighttime area bombing. Some sources state that the first deliberate "terror bombing" of German civilians by the R.A.F. occurred at Mannheim on December 16, 1940.
The Allied ground advance into Germany reached Mannheim in late March 1945, which was potentially well-defended by German forces, however, these suddenly abandoned the city and the U.S. 44th Infantry Division entered unopposed on 29 March 1945. There has been a large American military presence in the Mannheim area ever since (see United States military installations below).
1950s to 1980s
Rebuilding of the city began laboriously. Mannheim Palace and the water tower (Wasserturm) eventually were rebuilt and the National Theatre was replaced by a new building at a new location. At the old location there is a monument to Friedrich Schiller and the Zum Zwischen-Akt pub. The housing shortage led to the development of many new residential areas.
In 1964, the City Hospital (Städtische Krankenhaus) became part of the Neckar Faculty of Heidelberg University for Clinical Medicine in Mannheim. In 1967, the University of Mannheim was established in the city.
In 1975, the Bundesgartenschau (Federal horticulture show) was celebrated in Luisen and Herzogenried parks. A number of pieces of infrastructure were developed for the show: the telecommunications tower and a second bridge across the Rhine were built, the pedestrian zone was established, the new Rosengarten conference centre was opened and the Aerobus was installed as a temporary transport system.
A number of major projects were completed in the 1980s and 1990s: a planetarium, an extension to the art gallery, the new Reiß Museum, Stadthaus, a new May Market ground, synagogue, mosque, State Museum for Technology and Work, Carl-Benz stadium and the Fahrlach tunnel were opened.
Mannheim has lost many industrial jobs, although in the recent past the city was economically dominated by manufacturing. The city tried in the past to prevent the establishment of service providers by designating some locations as industrial areas. A prime example of the current trend is the construction of the Victoria Tower (Victoria-Turm) in 2001, one of the tallest buildings in the city, on railway land.
In 2007, Mannheim celebrated its 400th anniversary with a series of cultural and other events spread over the whole year. The 400th anniversary proper was in 2006, since Frederick IV, Elector Palatine laid the foundations of the Mannheim citadel, on 17 March 1606. In preparation for the anniversary, some urban activities were implemented, beginning in 2000: the building of the SAP Arena with access to the city’s new eastern ring road, the rehabilitation of the pedestrian zone in Breite Straße, the arsenal and the palace, the complete transformation of the old fair ground and the new Schafweide tram line. The concept of the anniversary of the city aimed at a diverse range of events without a dominant central event.