One day in Mannheim
Through the curtains, the spire of Konkordien Church struck an imposing silhouette in the golden morning light. After a fitful night’s sleep my brother and I had been awakened by an unexpected phone call from Room 145. “Your sister wants to spend quality time with you two at the salon,” my mother said, “It’s her wedding day.”
Manu, one of the groomsmen, was in the lobby to chauffeur us to our next destination. I asked if he had the jitters. “Me? I’m not nervous. I feel good!” Piling into the car, we turned and sped past the grey expanse of Marktplatz, its cobbles now filled with a bustling weekend market. The previous day we had dined at Meydan, one of two Turkish restaurants opening out onto the square, opposite the recently repainted Altes Rathaus (old town hall) and St. Sebastian’s Church. Alongside the countless cafeterias selling döner kebap and bakery counters piled high with delicious Anatolian pastries, Meydan was indicative of a thriving immigrant community.
Mannheim’s cosmopolitan feel coexists with a storied history evident in the Schloss, the 18th century Elector’s Palace, and other landmarks within the downtown area. Among Germans, Mannheim has acquired the nickname die Quadratestadt, “City of the Squares”, the result of a Baroque grid plan not found in most European cities. “Mannheim is laid out like an excel spreadsheet,” my father would say, referring to its unusual numbering system. Since 1811 the city centre has been almost entirely devoid of street names, with blocks marked by labels such as F5, Q4 and L10.
The makeup and hairdressing salon stood just outside the quadrate and across from the Wasserturm, an Art Nouveau water tower that is the undisputed symbol of the city. Stopping a few paces from the salon’s glass doors, Manu sat at the wheel, looking concerned and ever conscious of the time. “Maybe you should go inside to ask how long it will take.”
I mumbled my sister’s name and was pointed down a corridor tacked with photos, thank you cards and magazine clippings, faced by racks of gleaming merchandise. Peering through an open doorway revealed a mirror-lined wall with three large sinks, and I almost gasped. My sister sat calmly by the window, her makeup and elegantly coiffed hair lending her the appearance of a royal princess.
The young Turkish stylist – with a closely-cropped beard and an easy smile – drifted leisurely around the room in his black vest and jeans. I watched, mesmerised, at the patient dexterity of his hands as he combed through the delicate curls, fastening several clips to keep them in place. Manu’s question had been quickly forgotten, and soon he too would join me inside the salon, waiting in awestruck silence.
Later on I wondered if the enormity of the occasion – and the sight of his glowing, fairytale bride – would be enough to make the groom cry. He eventually did, and standing just behind the maid of honour, I felt my own eyes well up with tears.