The historically steeped landscape around the Odenwald, Bergstrasse, Rhine plain and the Palatinate forest has always characterised and influenced the cultural life of the region and its inhabitants. The discovery of "homo heidelbergensis" proves that the region around the Rhine and the Neckar belonged to Europe's earliest areas of human settlement more than 600,000 years ago. Lasting traces have been left through the centuries primarily by the Celts, Romans and Salians. The region came to be considered one of the cultural centres of Europe with the enlightenment and times of the Prince-Electors Carl Philipp and Carl Theodor, attracting famous figures such as Mozart, Voltaire and Schiller. During the Hambach Festival and the 1848 revolution, incumbent Baden and Palatine powers made a key contribution to the establishment of democratic ideals in Germany. The age of industrialisation was decisively characterised by pioneering achievements in the region such as the invention of the automobile and the tractor, or the practical usability of the Haber-Bosch process. Today, the region's polycultural heritage in its many varied forms is omnipresent and is upheld with pride.
- World cultural heritage
The region abounds with witnesses to a rich and eventful past, which continues to resonate through to this very day. Three world cultural heritage sites count among the most renowned of these:
- Imperial Cathedral in Speyer – The Speyer imperial cathedral is the seat of the Bishopric of Speyer and holds the rank of a papal basilica. One of the most significant historical architectural monuments of the Romanesque period, it is the largest preserved Romanesque church in Europe. The Kaiser- und Mariendom zu Speyer, to give it its full name, was added to the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage sites in 1981. As the burial place of Salian, Hohenstaufen and Habsburg rulers, the cathedral is considered a symbol of medieval imperial rule.
- Abbey of Lorsch – The Abbey of Lorsch is a former Benedictine abbey situated in Lorsch, South Hesse. Over 1200 years old, the site was an important centre of European culture in the Middle Ages and is today the only fully preserved historical monument from the Carolingian dynasty. It was declared a UNESCO world heritage in 1991 as one of the most important relics of pre-Romanesque architecture in Germany. The "Lorsch Codex", the oldest written source of history for hundreds of places in the region, originated here in the 12th century. This "land register" contains unique copies of documents and maps and is today kept in the Bavarian state archive in Würzburg.
- Upper German-Raetian Limes – The Upper German-Raetian Limes represents the section of the outer frontier of the Roman empire between the Rhine and the Danube, which at that time stretched for approximately 550 km. Today, the Limes is the largest European archaeological monument and second in the world only to the Great Wall of China. Constructed by Emperor Trajan at around the beginning of the 2nd century, the Limes runs in the Odenwald for about 80 kilometres from Wörth (on the Main) in the north to Bad Wimpfen (on the Neckar) in the south. In the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region, noteworthy Roman remains are to be found in many places including Adelsheim, Buchen, Mudau, Mosbach and Walldürn. The Limes has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 2005. It can be explored along several tourist routes by car, cycle or on footpaths. Much more can be learned about how life used to be on both sides of the Limes at the Roman museum in Osterburken. An exhilarating journey back in time to the day-to-day world of the Romans can also be experienced at the Terra Sigillata museum in Rheinzabern.
- Fortresses, castles, religious buildings
More than 150 stately castles, magnificent fortresses and imposing religious buildings characterise the townscapes and landscapes along the Rhine and the Neckar and are a testimony to the region's eventful history. In varying ways, they represent above all the era of the High Middle Ages and the impact made by the nobility. That castle ruins are not just picturesque postcard motifs, but today set the scene for a wide variety of cultural events, is amply demonstrated by venues such as Burg Guttenberg near Hassmersheim in the Odenwald (Europe's oldest bird of prey centre), Burg Trifels near Annweiler, Madenburg near Eschbach, the castle ruins at Hardenburg and monastery ruins in Limburg near Bad Dürkheim, Burg Hornberg near Neckarzimmern and Neckarsteinach with its four castles.
The electoral residential palaces in Heidelberg, Mannheim and Schwetzingen are representative of the heyday of the Electoral Palatinate, which advanced to become a centre of European culture during the regency of Prince-Elector Carl Theodor in the 18th century. Today, Heidelberg's imposing castle ranks among Germany's most popular places of interest for tourists, thanks also to the German Pharmacy Museum accommodated there. Mannheim Castle is Europe's second largest Baroque palace complex after the Château de Versailles and today houses the University of Mannheim. Its unique gardens are one of the reasons why Schwetzingen Castle is considered a potential candidate for admission to UNESCO's list of world heritage sites. Hambach Castle near Neustadt an der Weinstrasse hosted the Hambach Festival in 1832, and is also referred to as the "cradle of German democracy" on account of its symbolic character.
Among the most distinguished religious buildings, beside the world cultural heritage sites of Speyer Cathedral and the Abbey of Lorsch, is the Imperial Cathedral of St. Peter in Worms. This also bears the honorary title of a papal basilica and is a further testimony to the Romanesque era. Every summer it forms the monumental backdrop to the Nibelungen Festival. The synagogue and "Heiliger Sand" cemetery in Worms belong to the most significant sites of Jewish history. Both originate from the 11th century. The Heiliger Sand is thus regarded as being the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe.
The Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region is home to more than 200 museums. Only the bare number is an indication that the rainy days in this sun-spoilt area are far too inadequate to keep up-to-date with the richness of the museum exhibitions on offer. It is therefore well worth considering making an excursion to the treasures of the region even when the weather is fine. In any case, the varied and vibrant museum scene introduces both the local inhabitants and tourists to cultural assets from all eras and places of origin. And the short travelling distances within the region allow Roman artefacts as well as a space shuttle to be admired in a single day.
There is an entire kaleidoscope of cultural history awaiting discovery, from prehistoric times, passing through antiquity on to the Middle Ages and the Baroque and Romanesque eras, right through to the modern age and the present. Marvels include the world's oldest fluid wine, aged at around 2,000 years old, the "Golden Hat of Schifferstadt", the prompt books from the premiere performance of Schiller's drama "The Robbers", and one of the largest works of art by Miró to be found anywhere in the world. The latter forms the exterior facade of Ludwigshafen's Wilhelm Hack museum and is characteristic for the townscape. The museum houses one of the nation's largest collections of modern art from the 20th and 21st centuries.
Other leading collections are accommodated in the Mannheim art centre (paintings and sculptures from the 19th to the 21st century), the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer (local cultural history through to the 20th century), Heidelberg's Electoral Palatinate museum (art and cultural history from the 15th to the 20th century), the POLLICHIA museum in Bad Dürkheim (natural history), Villa Ludwigshöhe near Edenkoben (works by the Palatine impressionist Max Slevogt) and the Erkenbert museum in Frankenthal (municipal history). The Nibelungen Museum in Worms, with its interactive multimedia show, is dedicated to the world-renowned saga.
The Reiss-Engelhorn museums in Mannheim count among the finest anywhere in Europe. With over one million exhibits spread around more than 11,000 square metres, the complex in the midst of the "city of squares" is the biggest of its kind in southern Germany. The extravagantly designed special exhibitions from the fields of archaeology, world cultural history and photography are a centre of attraction for hundreds of thousands of visitors and never cease to be a topic of conversation. Hugely popular are also the technological museums in Speyer and Sinsheim with their unique shows about the landmarks of automobile and aviation history. The Technoseum in Mannheim puts technical and scientific achievements of the past, the modern age and the future into the limelight.
- Theatre and Cinemas
"Curtain call!" is the cry at more than 110 theatres and cabarets throughout the region. As the country's oldest municipal four-theme theatrical venue, Mannheim's national theatre can look back on the longest history. Shortly after it opened in 1782 it caused an uproar with the legendary premiere performance of Friedrich Schiller's "The Robbers", paving the way for success for both the theatre and the playwright. Today, the Theater im Pfalzbau in Ludwigshafen and Heidelberg's municipal theatre also enjoy national renown. The "Chawwerusch" in Herxheim, recipient of many prizes, as well as Mannheim's "Schatzkistl" and the Prince Regent theatre in Ludwigshafen, count among the region's most popular folk theatres. Film fans can choose from over 40 different cinemas throughout the region. The spectrum here ranges from modern multiscreen chains to IMAX theatres and charming repertory cinemas.