Strasbourg Stories and Tips

Walking Grand Isle

Jean-Baptiste Kleber Photo, Strasbourg, France

A city for walking
Anyone wanting to walk around Strasbourg’s old town might divide his walk into three sections: the interior squares, the quays, and Petite France. This discussion pertains to squares and quays. Altogether, we spent six hours walking the island, and four of those involved narrow streets and colorful squares, with one half-hour time-out from walking to visit the Cathedral and another for breakfast. We found half-timbered houses, small monuments that reveal "Strasbourg style," and statuary that speaks the history of illustrious citizens.

From the Rail Station
Straight away from the rail station, we noticed metal tram tracks spread out on the mainland side and on the periphery of the island, too, so we made note that if we returned another time, we could use this modern public system to jump from site to site. We noticed the cars in different places all morning and were so impressed with them, we took this photo of a tram on one of the city’s colorful bridges.

Kleber Square
Our first stop was one of the largest squares in town. It is the scene of the outdoor market a few days a week and decorated with the statue of Jean-Baptiste Kleber (1753-1800).

He was Napoleon’s general in Egypt. Before that, he was in Alsace in the National Guard at the time of the Revolution. After proving himself worthy, he commanded all of Napoleon’s forces amid growing native hostility and was eventually assassinated. In Strasbourg today, he is honored with a Lycee, Kleber College, this square, a hotel, and many other place names.

Cathedral Square
We walked through a narrow street to find Cafe Broglie. This isn't necessarily the shortest distance between the two points, as we deliberately tried to keep to the narrowest passageways we could find in hopes of discovering the most ancient sites. From Cafe Broglie, another passage led us to Cathedral Square, set up with rows of chairs in front of a narrow timbered building, restaurant Maison Kammerzell, a woodcarver's masterpiece. All around the square, small, colorful hotels offer views of Notre Dame de Strasbourg, as well as antique shops and others.

So early, these were not open, but we gazed in windows. In the Cathedral, brass letters on a stone wall pay tribute to Americans who gave their lives to free Alsace in 1944-45. If there were other monuments on the square, we didn’t see them.

Let’s find a really colorful square!
Leaving Cathedral Square, we meandered into more narrow streets and looked for openings to more "interior" or hidden squares. We passed Klein’s Baeckelaed’l, a colorful Patisserie, the sign announces--a French word!--where the clerk said, "Zwei" when I held up two fingers. From there, we found an authentic-looking courtyard with tables being set out, and this was the birthplace of Paul Appel in 1855.

The sign above his door says, "Illustrious savant and great citizen."

He was a well-known mathematician who served as spy for France during Prussian occupation, and further reading reveals that he was on the same side of the Dreyfus affair as Emile Zola and used his fame as mathematician to publish criticism of the French government for its anti-semitism.

Take a rest!
Leaving that sunny courtyard, we happened onto a tiny darker, cooler spot with fountain and concrete benches, Place Saint-Etienne, where we sat and enjoyed our treats from the patisserie with the German flair. As we relaxed, business owners were sweeping their little spaces in front of their doors and setting out plants, so we watched their industry and felt glad to be on vacation. A little classical fountain with Pan and his flute (I think) was in such deep shade I couldn’t get a good photo. From Place Saint-Etienne, we took the shortest distance to Ill River and walked along the quays, almost half-circumnavigating the island back toward the rail station and past it to Petite France.

I wished I had a bicycle!
I’m sure they can be rented, but not so early in the morning. We would love to return and encircle the island several times. The quays are where the phrase "the beauty of Strasbourg" must have originated. Trees that look like weeping willow hang over the river and encase every scene with frilly greenery. Bridges aren’t as spectacular as those of Paris, but charming, and old mansions and schools present a picture of wealth with informal, loving artistry that is never pompous, just inviting.

We had started along the river on Quai Saint-Etienne. Names change often, but our course didn’t. We found an interesting statue on Quai Lezay-Marnesia. The Marquis of Lezay-Marnesia, Paul-Adrien-Francois-Marie (1769-1814), was a prefect appreciated by the people of Strasbourg for his agricultural programs and others that tended to promote health and well-being. He created the first Normal School for teachers in France and instituted compulsory vaccinations in schools. (Aha! Another humanitarian from Strasbourg!)

Alas, he was thrown from his horse and impaled upon his sword while returning from an inspection. His statue and quay are near Pont du Theatre.

Pont du Theatre and World Patrimony
Near this bridge would be a good place to look for theaters! The opera is near (a sign says), and the symphony, I have read, is second only to Paris’--there’s that comparison, again! In the pavement in the middle of the bridge is a marker indicating an ensemble of buildings particularly important to UNESCO, but the online description of the Grand Isle designation makes clear that it includes everything surrounded by the 2 branches of the River Ill (the entire island), which is described as "a district that is characteristic of a medieval town and illustrates Strasbourg's evolution from the 15th to the 18th century." Of particular importance are four churches and Palais Rohan, former residence of the prince-bishops on Kleber Square. That particular marker must refer to Palais Rohan, pictured here, but we admired all the buildings on the island side of Pont du Theatre.

Pont de la Fonderie
Near the next important bridge, we found a plague mounted on the side of a building and indicating that the Strasbourg Jews were tried and burned "pres de ici," near to here, in 1349. Across the street, we found this monument.

This was one year after the Black Death began (for which they were accused of poisoning wells), and their money was confiscated and all debts to them forgiven before they were burned on a wooden platform in the cemetery. This was their neighborhood in the days of the Imperial Free Cities of the Holy Roman Empire. Rue des Juifs or Jew Street is over 1,600 years old--one of the Roman roads.

Our "Reconnaissance Expedition"
A little further along the quay, buildings get older, beginning with the Foundry, and Petit France, district of medieval tanners, is close. We couldn’t miss that attraction! But we would have time only to skim the surface of it, too. We have yet to return to any of the places we’ve been in Europe, but these expeditions that cover a great deal of territory in a short time are great for discovering where we want to return. We’re anticipating becoming very "efficient" in planning and touring Strasbourg, now that we know our way around. One has to be efficient to make it around to a great percentage of all the important sites in this city. Next time, we'll look up Gutenberg and Louis Pasteur and find out more about that Rohan family, who figured prominently in Brittany, too.

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