(This post is about 2 weeks late. Please excuse my tardiness)
Not quite French, but not German either, Strasbourg is a mix of both cultures. Since Claude (my host dad) was making the journey to Strasbourg to see his mom and son, he offered to give me a lift. We left Montpellier at midnight and arrived around 8 am. Julie and I slept in the car, but Claude made the entire journey. He told us that when he was in the army (which was obligatory for all men up until the 80s) he used to drive a supply truck, so he learned some tricks for staying awake in the car. 1) Sleep beforehand. 2) If you get tired, just pull over; it’s better to be a little late than to crash 3) Don’t eat before the trip and 4) If you’re desperate, eating apples helps you stay up. I still can’t believe he makes this journey once a month.
Once in Strasbourg, after enjoying part of a Kougelhopfs for breakfast, Julie and I took our time exploring the city. It’s not that big. To give you an image, during the first one and a half hours, we had walked around the entire city about 3 times just getting oriented. We know it well now. Because everything is relatively close, we also walked to Cronenbourg, the namesake city of Kronenbourg beer.
Making beer, according to our guide, is a mix of science and art. There are four basic ingredients in beer: cereal, hops, yeast and water. The specific percentages and types of cereal and hops used give each mark of beer their own distinct flavor. While the Kronenbourg factory is no longer in Cronenbourg, we had a chance to look at some of the original machines.
There’s no way I can cover the process of beer making in this post, but here’s a short overview:
Start with the malt with hot water.This is mixed together. Here the starches are converted into sugar. At this point there is no alcohol. This is then filtered and the sweet liquid is put into the copper kettle featured below and boiled. Here the hops is added that gives beer its distinctive bitter flavor. As the water leaves, the liquid becomes sweeter. Now that the solution has sufficient sugar, it is cooled and the yeast is added for fermentation. After the yeast converts the sugar into alcohol it is pasteurized to stop fermentation and bottled.
And of course, at the end of the tour there was a degustation de la biere. Kronenbourg, 1664, Grimbergen, Wel Scotch, and Carlsberg are all under the Kronenbourg parent company. It’s interesting that even someone like me who has never had beer before in the States can pick up on some of the subtle differences in flavors and aromas in the different brands when told what to look for.
The first night Julie and I had a picnic dinner in Petite France. It was really beautiful. This quartier is known for its half timbered houses, bridges, and water.
Along with Brussels and Luxembourg, Strasbourg is a hub of the European Union. It is considered the capital of legislative activities while Brussels and Luxembourg are the executive and judiciary capitals. Below is the Palais des Droits de l’Homme.
One of the best parts of Strasbourg is just being among the buildings. They have everything from the very modern UN buildings, to more traditional Alsatian buildings pictured below. Most of the historic city center’s buildings are built with the traditional colombage style (even if they were built after this method was no longer used elsewhere).
On Saturday, Claude and his son, Florian, took us on a short tour of Alsace. First stop: Kaysersberg. This quaint medieval town is known for its wine industry. The hilly terrain allows grapes to grow on the slopes and thus are exposed to more sunlight. This gives them the distinctive tastes characteristic of the region. We tried a few different Pinot Gris from very dry to sweet, almost like juice.
I’m not sure what the deal is with Storks in Alsace (the region that contains Strasbourg), but they’re everywhere, literally and in print. I think it might be like a “state bird” like Wisconsin’s robins. In any case, this one has a pretty nice nest going on.
Riquewihr was the second stop. More pretty buildings…
Eguisheim is named as one of the most beautiful cities in France. It’s not hard to see why. Again, you can see the colombage houses. Also, while we were walking down the street, we heard an older woman speaking Alsacian. Julie and I remarked how at first, we could almost understand her. Then, as our ears tuned in to try to interpret what she was saying, it sounds more German.
On the way back to Strasbourg, we passed through Colmar. This is the hometown of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the artist who designed the Statue of Liberty. In his honor, there is a giant (plastic) Statue of Liberty (replica).
Sunday morning Julie and I got up early and walked to Germany. By the end of the three days we had walked 40 km, so this was really only a small feat of the feet…
We also happened to be in Strasbourg the first Sunday of the month when all museums are free (this is true throughout the entire country). Caroline said good things about the Musee Alsacian. It had exhibits of traditional Alsacian houses, costumes, toys, and explanations of traditions and festivals. While it was interesting, I’m glad I didn’t have to pay to get in.
Dominating the landscape is the Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg. It is a typical Gothic cathedral both inside and out. Started in 1015 and completed in 1439, it is easy to see the immense amount of work that went into creating this impressive cathedral.The spire is 142 m high.The color of the facade comes from the pink sandstone. Depending on the time of day, it seems to change colors. Stained glass windows on the inside from the 12th and 14th centuries served to educate church goers of the time. The organ is really a sight to be seen.
During WWII, young men from Alsace were drafted to fight for both German and French forces despite being a French city. Sometimes this meant that a soldier would be shooting against his neighbor. For this, Alsacians harbor some animosity against the Germans. The plaque below is in the Cathedral thanking the Americans for liberating France.
Inside, the Astronomical Clock is housed. This Renaissance piece features a parade of the different stages of life as well as the apostles before Christ every day at 12:30. We weren’t there at that time, but Claude says it’s pretty cool. Front and center, you can see the Pillar of Angels representing Judgement.
The observation deck is 66 m or 350 steps. Yes, we went up it. There’s a magnificent view of the city from the top. On the way down, Julie got hit on by the guy behind us. She pretended she didn’t speak French. Unfortunately, everybody speaks English. As hard as it was going up, going down seemed to take a lot longer.
The next museum was the history museum. If you have time in Strasbourg, I recommend this museum. It’s fairly interactive and really interesting. It details the city’s long complicated path from being German > Independent > French >German >French > German > French (I think I covered all the transitions).
Perhaps Strasbourg’s most famous inhabitant, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1434. This is one of the first books printed using his movable type machines. Following the culture of the time, the first books were religious, either bibles or other texts.
The Eglise St. Thomas is a bit particular in Strasbourg. It is the only hall church in Alsace and is considered the cathedral of Lutheran Protestantism. Due to the span of its construction, the church has features of Gothic and Baroque architecture. Inside the church, the Mausoleum of Marshal Maurice of Saxony is housed. This monument was commissioned by King Louis XV and designed by the royal sculptor. Maurice of Saxony was a soldier who fought during the war of Austrian Succession from 1744-1748. The woman in the sculpture represents France trying to dissuade Death from taking him. The man leaning on the club is Hercules who represents the hero’s strength. The eagle, leopard, and lion sprawled to the right of Hercules represent Austria, Belgium, and England, symbols of the defeated nations.
The St. Pierre le Jeune that is seen today is the third church built on this site. The first was dedicated to St. Columbun; the second was a romanesque church for a chapter of canons. The name “Young St. Peter” was given to distinguish it from St. Pierre (le Vieux) that already existed. The building that is seen today was originally finished in 1320 but many additions and modifications have been made in the years since.
Below is the Cathedral St. Paul. It is a Lutheran Church built in the Gothic style. We didn’t go in, but it’s pretty nonetheless.
We went at the right time because the Magnolia trees and pansies were blooming throughout the region
Certainly a region different than Languedoc Roussillon, Alsace has its own character. Literally between two cultures, the Alsatians were proud to create their own.