Strasbourg Stories and Tips

Strasbourg: The Heart of Alsace

Carousel Horse in Strasbourg Photo, Strasbourg, France

After a few hours in Colmar, I took the train 40 miles north to Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace and the heart of this famous region of Eastern France. After getting off the train and walking through the old train station whose exterior looks modern with its glass enclosure, I made the short walk to Le Grand Ile (Big Island) where old and new Strasbourg meet. Strasbourg, France is home to several squares or Places in Le Grand Ile that make this city of over 400,000 people unique. In one of these squares, Place Kleber, as I approached old Strasbourg, I came upon a huge fountain that several people were sitting around and their kids playing in it. Since the temperature that day had reached an abnormal 90 degrees F that first Saturday in May, I thought, "When in Rome. . .", and I took my shoes off and started wading around the fountain cooling off my legs and feet.

Strasbourg's history is an ancient one dating from Celtic and Prehistoric times, but the area wasn't successfully settled by the Huns and Franks until the 5th Century as Strazburg. For a long time, Strasbourg and Alsace were an independent province run by a guild of citizens wanting democracy for Alsace. Strasbourg didn't join France as a province until 1681 when it was annexed by Louis XIV. During this time the 1598 Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV via the Edict of Fountainbleu (1685) and French Hugenots were denied their right to practice their religion freely, but Alsace and Strasbourg were not affected by this. Strasbourg was the place where the French National Anthem, Le Marsaillaise was written in 1792 but Strasbourg was not immune to the damage to its churches and other buildings during the French Revolution and lost its status as a free city in 1794.

Strasbourg was siezed by the Prussians in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War and suffered serious damage during the Siege of Strasbourg on August 24, 1870. After the Franco-Prussian War ended, Alsace and Strasbourg were annexed to Germany and remained part of that country until the end of World War I in 1918. Alsace declared independence after WWI, but the 1919 Treaty of Versailles returned the province back to French control. To protect itself from future German invasions, France built the Maginot Line through Alsace and near Strasbourg, but it was no help and France fell to Nazi Germany in June 1940 and Strasbourg along with the rest of Alsace was annexed to Germany and its Jewish residents were expelled and later deported to concentration camps. Strasbourg remained in German hands until the French 2nd Amored Division under General LeClerc liberated Strasbourg on November 23, 1944 after suffering much damage due to Allied bombings beginning in 1943. Today, Strasbourg has been restored to its old glory and is it Grand Ile is a UNESCO World Heritage sight.

After cooling off in the fountain in Place Kleber, I reluctantly put my shoes on and left Place Kleber via a little fair with a beautiful carousel to continue my adventure into Strasbourg. It was great walking around the old squares looking at the many raised timber buildings dating from medieval times including the ones in Place du Marche aux Cochons de Lait (The Pig and Milk Market Square), where those little piggies went to market and farmers could sell their milk to the people of Strasbourg. Old and new mix in Strasbourg and the Ponts Couvert that are part of the Barrage Vauban are good examples.

Along the way, I visited a Fromagerie or cheese shop and checked out the cheese that is made on the premises and enjoyed a sample of one of the local cheeses before continuing on to Notre Dame de Strasbourg (more on that one in another journal) and Palais de Rohan. I bought an Alsatian flag in a shop along the way for my collection before heading to the train station via the streets along the Ill River and going back to Freiburg. But I will not forget my adventures in Strasbourg and would love to come back again to see more of this beautiful city that is home to European Parliament four times a year.

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