Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Oh – I thought Strasbourg was in Germany"

Yeah - well, quite often it is!

The borders have certainly ebbed and flowed across Alsace under the gravitational pull of competing empires for centuries.
Somebody born French in Strasbourg in 1869 would have become German in 1871, French in 1918, German in 1940 & French again in 1944.
I like to think that that is all over now, thanks to Europe, but no doubt that thought would have seemed just as valid in Roman times…

A lot of things in Alsace seem as much German as French even today.
The local dialect, still very common in many villages & especially amongst the older generation, sounds like 75% German & 25% French.
The traditional half-timbered houses, smartly maintained & brightly geraniumed, look more like Germany on the other side of the Rhine, than France on the other side of the Vosges.

Many of the official buildings & showpiece squares date from the German period in the late 1800s.
Notably "Place de la Republique", including the Prefecture, Strasbourg National Theater, the huge University Library & the ex-Emperor's Palace.
Or the impressive University Restaurant building, proudly labelled "Germania" then "Gallia" then "Germania" & now "Gallia" again.

In Place de la Republique is Strasbourg's poignant war memorial dating from 1936 (French period) but dedicated simply to "our dead" without reference to either country.
It shows a mother (Strasbourg) with her 2 dying sons, one turned towards France & the other towards Germany.

Parting thot: "Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean." - Dag Hammarskjold

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