When the French re-occupied Alsace after World War 2 in 1918, barely 2% of the population spoke French. They spoke Alsatian, a German dialect, which many still speak today. It's a German city, in France. You can see it in the architecture, the faces of the people, the surnames, the pork heavy dishes and now, after suppressing the language for many decades, in the dual language street signs. Underneath the eaves of Strasbourg's many Alamannic half-timbered buildings you'll read signs like Rue de Chat (Katzengas), Rue de la Monnaie (Muenzgass) and Rue Brulee (Brandgass). It's not just the proximity of Germany that lends Strasbourg a Germanic flavour - if the maps of Europe followed logic the city, like the state, would be in Germany.
The result is one of the best preserved medieval German city centres - and it's right here in France. And it's not, as many believe, the result of Strasbourg being spared Allied bombs. Although it was considered a "friendly" city, its occupied status meant that it was bombed 13 times, mostly by Americans. The medieval core, including the Cathedral, was devastated. What saved Strasbourg relative to German cities was the Marshall Plan. France got more money more quickly than Germany and had less rebuilding to do. While the Germans raced to build cheap and fast accommodation for the millions of homeless, the French had the luxury of rebuilding their most beautiful cities.
And Strasbourg is stunning. The city centre - an island in the diverging river Ill - is a concentration of teetering centuries old buildings with roofs that taper upwards like a narrow wedge of Munster cheese. The wood framed buildings tumble across the bridges, spilling out onto the other side of the river and making for grand walks along the Ill, under iron bridges bedecked in flowers, drawing you to the inevitable centrepiece of the city: Petite France. Here you will find no little France - that name is centuries old and derives from the disease of syphilis that was once treated here. Instead you will find Strasbourg at its finest, and that means German architecture like nowhere else on the planet. Three slivers off the Grande Île striking out into the onrushing waters of the Ill, a crush of houses pressing against the water's edge, threaded by cobbled streets and wooden bridges, and a series of three medieval guard towers to frame the city's iconic cathedral.
A beautiful city, a historic city and now a very international city, home to the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. The Germanic culture and architecture has been transfused with Gallic style and gastronomy. You can visit Strasbourg and enjoy the best of both worlds.
Basel is an ancient city - older probably than the castle the Romans built upon the rise on which the city's cathedral now stands. It's an international city - standing at the tri-nation border of Switzerland, France and Germany, it has a long tradition of multinational operations and agreements. It's station was the first international station in the world, and was joined, unusually, by train stations operated by the French and German railway systems. It's also been the site of many international meetings and witnessed a number of important international peace treaties.
It remains international and multicultural, with a third of the population being foreign and a mix of French and German voices in the air. Yet at the same time it's an unmistakably Swiss city. The streets are sparkling clean, the wealth of the city exudes from every building, and everything is very expensive. The old town, flanking the river Rhine, is beautifully preserved and the highlight of any visit.
Mulhouse has made the most of its industrial heritage by building not one but two of the greatest vehicle museums in the world. The Cité de l’Automobile has an enormous collection - around 520 cars in all. Its sister museum, the Cité du Train, has exhibits spread out of 6000 square meters. If all that isn't enough you also have Electropolis - the museum of electricity.
It's not that Mulhouse hasn't got an old town, it's just very small and not a major attraction. It's not an ugly city, just a functional one. It's a place where work gets done and you won't find many tourists outside of the museum. It's sometimes called the French Manchester, but the French Cleveland or French Kaiserslautern would be equally apt.
It was a surprise to spot this farmyard through an open gate, standing in the city center, along rue des Marchands. It does not seem to be a farm anymore but, given its condition, it must have been used until not very long ago.
Colmar is not only half timber houses (they have even very modern building!) but nevertheless, it was amazing to discover in the old city center an Art Nouveau houses standing oddly between half-timbered houses.
Have you ever bothered to look at Shop signs?
Here in Colmar they form part of the historical street scenes. Not only the buildings itself are old and worthwhile to see, but also all the small details.
Have you ever heard of Hansi?
When you are in Colmar or any other touristic place in Alsace, you can by his handdrawn street scenes as postcards everywhere. Look closely and you will discover, that some of the Shop signs were designed by him.
The statue (1888) of Bartholdi depicts Johann Roesselmann, who lost his life as successful defender of Colmar of 1262 in the war with the Bishop of Strasbourg.
The fountain is located on a small square south of the old town, where Little Venice meets the Grand Rue. Very charming. Enjoy the peaceful place.
Jean Rapp was one of Napoleon's Generals. He suffered 22 injuries. Born as son of a doorkeeper in 1771 he died as Count and General in 1821.
His monument is to find at Place Rapp, west of the old town.
This fountain is a work of Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi (1864). The fountain was destroyed by the Nazis in 1940 and reconstructed in 1958.
The statues at the four corners depict four continents. Armand Joseph Bruat (1796 - 1855) was admiral and commander of the French Pacific Fleet. Born in Colmar he died after a glorious victory in the Krim War.
The "Fishermen's quarter" is located right between the Tanners quarter and Little Venice. Fishermen and -merchants sold all sorts of fish and seafood here until mid 20th century.
Again very picturesque, colourful timber-framed townhouses. They were restored 1978 - 81.
"Quartier de Tanneurs" (Tanner quarter) is a particularly charming area of Colmar. As the name indicates it was home of the tanners in former centuries. Most of the originally preserved timber-framed houses were built in the 17th/18th century.
1968 - 74 the quarter has been restored. Looks much nicer since then, but unfortunately many people could no longer afford to live there and so the social structure of the quarter has changed.
Although picturesque it made quite a "dead" impression on me.
The creativity of human beings is amazing. Who would have thought to communicate this message in this way. I don't know what street it was on, but I saw at least one other example. It seemed to help keep the beaten paths relatively clear.