Strasbourg: The city of roads
January 1, 1970
by Vanja Kukrika
Located in French province Alsace, with its amazing concentration of architectural jewels and gastronomic offerings, in Strasbourg „the eye is never bored“.
When a person travels somewhere for the first time and the purpose is business instead of pleasure, it can be potentially stressful. In my case, I had three day agenda, the plane ticket to Strasbourg, and very limited time to even google what to see there. Nevertheless, I will never forget the moment I arrived in the city. At Sunday’s dusk in the middle of November last year, the bus stopped in front of Grand hotel, situated five minutes walk from the city center. The streets were almost empty, looked like most of its citizens were enjoying Sunday afternoon siesta. Despite of all, there was something about the Strasbourg. Could it be because of its geographic position and history? One thing is sure, it possessed charm of a gentleman with good manners, which assured me to find time to explore it.
Strasbourg-more than 2000 years old, developed from Roman settlement named Argentoratum, then being renamed to Strateburgum „city of roads“, and finally in 842 got its today’s name. Nowadays, is a part of France, but in the past, it belonged to Germany. Considered as a symbol of reconciliation between two countries, no wonder why it is chosen to be one of EU administrative places. With that kind of background, Strasbourg is definitely a place where you can improve your diplomacy skills and career.
The city center called Large island, classed like Venice or Prague as a UNESCO world heritage site, is small enough to be crossed on foot, and its connected with the rest of the city with 20 bridges named Ponts Couverts on French.
I started my city trip very first day from the Kathedrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. The construction of the cathedral started in 1176 and completed in 1439. With its 142 metres spire this was the highest building in Christendom until 19th century. The excursion to the extreme point of the spire was allowed until the last century. What is more interesting, according to locals, famous writer Goethe liked to greet the sunset from its high platform. Because I am afraid of height and it was cold with no Sun that day, I stayed on the ground, but I kept painting picture in my mind of Goethe enjoying his afternoons. Somehow the past was much more romantic than a present.
Close to the cathedral is another building that attracts tourists. Kammerzell house is largest and most decorated of all half-timbered houses in Strasbourg. The facade of this mansion contains seventy-five windows whose sculpted frames depict different characters from the bible and mythology.
While exploring the narrow streets around cathedral full of souvenir shops, bars and restaurants I spotted La Courde Gourmande shop- basically biscuits store. Yes, I confess, I am sugar addict. Note, this store is not so cheap. One biscuit costs nearly 5 Euro, but I couldn’t resist, so I bought chocolate, almond and lemon biscuits which were delicious. And not just biscuits, I recommend everyone to try their macaroons, cheese, and wine. Delicious mulled wine which you can buy on the street, kept me warm, during my tourist walks.
On my second day in Strasbourg I visited Petit France. Although the oldest and most charming part of city, this former tanners’ quarter has nothing patriotic nor romantic in its name. Not in a million years I would have guessed that, at the end of 15th century, in this quarter was a hospital for patients suffering from the „French disease“-syphilis, which was spread by the troops of Franz I. Although the hospital no longer exists, the name remained. Today, tourists, including myself, are taking selfies in front of picturesque houses and making plans in which restaurant they will eat, and many of them have no clue about turbulent past of the quarter.
But, Petit France along with other city attractions is perhaps best to explore from the boat which I did. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day so taking photos from the boat wasn’t much successful. My only disappointment in Strasbourg goes to poor luck with the weather during the visit. Maybe I could give myself an excuse to come back one day in a springtime, just to have make-up exam.
GUTENBERG AND MARSEILLAISE
I am sure that people who had more luck with climate enjoyed visiting spectacular Palace Rohan, St.Tomas’ Church, St. Paul’ Church, various museums and Place Gutenberg. Indeed, in Strasbourg Gutenberg invented principle of printing with movable metal characters. Thanks to him, the world is better place with all those printed books and shared knowledge. And another fun fact is that in this city Rouget de Lisle, a Lieutenant in the Rhine army, first performed Marseillaise-the French national anthem-in the salon of the mayor back in 1792. The song, among others, spread to battalion of volunteers from Marseille. This battalion performed the song in Paris, and that is how it become famous.
Although Marseillaise is French national anthem, I spend the most of my time listening Ode of Joy at The Palais de l’ Europe – the seat of the Council of Europe. Placed in the European Quarter in north of the city, The Council was the first international parliamentary assembly in history, with its objective to achieve a closer union between European states respecting Human Rights. Most visitors including myself, are inspired with flags of all the countries belonging to the CoE raised in front of the building. I was lucky enough to be participant of the World Democracy Forum, which is being held every year for a three days. More than 300 people discussed about education systems in democracy -are they equipped to teach young people to value diversity or do they entrench social and cultural divides (www.world-forum-democracy.org)
It is important to mention that along with New York and Geneve, Strasbourg has a privilege of hosting the headquarters of international organisations without being a state capital. Of course, apart from the EU Quarter where institutions are placed, I haven’t seen bunch of dead serious people walking down the city, which is good, but, because of the nature of my visit, I haven’t met many locals, which is pity for me. Again, this city is so charming and deserves to be visited when you want to have romantic getaway, not just for the purpose of a business trip, but not in November, obviously.