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.
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.
Venice gets everywhere. Hamburg is just one Venice of the North. There's well over a dozen Venices of the East. There's a Venice Beach in California. Venezuela is Spanish for "Little Venice". And here in the Alsace, Colmar has its own little Venice, like London and Bamberg. But Colmar, with its half-timbered buildings, steeped roofs and crooked, leaning walls is more like little Strasbourg than little Venice.
Colmar crams in the tourists like nowhere else in the Alsace. It probably has more tourists than Strasbourg, but the old town is a fraction of the size. The whole city is rich on tourism. The beauty of the city, and it is beautiful, is reduced by the strings of tour groups marching in front of the sights, posing for pictures, and filling up every available space. The tourists also attract the usual mix of beggars and misfits.
It's well worth a visit, though. Walking the compact old town you will be falling over a hundred fantastic examples of Alsatian architecture, all untouched by bombs unlike nearby Strasbourg, and lovingly preserved for the tourists who flock to the city at all times of the year. The Little Venice quarter is also outstanding, although as little as you might imagine a little place in a little town like Colmar.
St. Johann Vorstadt
St. Johann Vorstadt is another district of Basel worth to see. It is sort of the pendant to St. Alban, albeit not as picturesque and of totally different ambience.
St. Johann also has a city gate, one of the three remaining. This one was built 1370-80 and looks pretty similar to St. Alban city gate IMO. Other architectural delights are the old townhouses along the street with the same name as the district. On a walk along St.-Johanns-Vorstadt you'll pass the Baroque Reinacher Hof and Erlacher Hof, the "lazy maid fountain", classicistic Formenter Hof etc.
If you have some more time you might consider a walk through St. Johann park to the dock of the cruise ships or a visit of the Anatomic museum (Pestalozzistr.).
The Botanical garden operated by the Basel University is a very nice green and peaceful oasis in the bustling city. It is located next to Petersplatz and Spalentor city gate. Access from each side. The garden is open daily.
Founded in 1589 (at a different location, though) it is one of the oldest of its kind. There are several greenhouses and plants/trees outdoor. Any time of the year *something* is in bloom. Particularly nice is the Tropical greenhouse where they also have some birds that sing all the time.
- Family Travel
Adult Education Center (VHS)
The official name of this institution is the "Volkshochschule beider Basel" or "Adult Education Center of Both Basels" -- meaning that it serves the two cantons of Basel-Stadt (the city) and Basel-Landschaft (the surrounding countryside).
Originally there was only one canton for both, but it was divided into the "half-cantons" of Basel-City and Basel-Country after a revolt that took place in the Basel countryside in 1833.
Of the twenty-six Swiss cantons, Basel-City is the smallest in area, being only 37 square kilometers.
VHS, Kornhausgasse 2, CH-4003 Basel
Scriptorium Rhysprung is an old-fashioned workshop of calligraphy, just like the one of a professional writer in past centuries who worked with quills, parchment and ink. They sell both calligraphy items and artisitic writings.
This little shop is actually well on the beaten path but often overlooked. No one I spoke to had noticed it. It can be found in the street from the old bridge up Münsterberg, close to the Rhine and the bridge, in the half-timbered house on the corner of the lane that leads up to St Peter's church. It is one of those many little surprises Basel is so rich of.
The shop has rather short opening hours but even when it is closed, a glimpse through the windows is worthwhile.
closed on Monday
Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday on request
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
This is the church the bronze art historian Rudolf Riggenbach is explaining: Leonhardskirche.
The first church was built around 1060/1080, the crypt is still there. After the earthquake of 1356 which destroyed most of the Romanesque church, a gothic basilica was erected. Around 1480 it was turned into a hall with three naves of equal height. Steeple and choir are remnants of the Romanesque church.
Ask Rudolf Riggenbach about more details...
The church is situated on top of the hill above Barfüßerplatz and dominates the silhouette you see from that square. To reach it, take one of the small streets uphill and keep left when you reach the crest. The whole quarter with its old houses is a hidden gem.
- Religious Travel
- Historical Travel
Rudolf Riggenbach, the Bronze Art Historian
In the square in front of Leonhardikirche I noticed the life-size bronze statue of an elderly man with beard and belly, who is looking up to the church facade. Position and gesture immediately made me recognize the colleague: this must be an art historian who is explaining the architecture of the church...
Indeed, he is.
Dr. Rudolf Riggenbach (1882-1961), nicknamed "Dingedinge", was a renowned monument conservator who managed to save and preserve a lot of cultural heritage in Basel and elsewhere. His guided tours were famous, he must have been some kind of 'original' in town. A few years after his death, the statue by Peter Moillet has been put up. "Dingedinge" is back to Basel!
More about him (in German): Biography
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
Water for the city
Monks and citizens of Basel created a canal to divert water into the city. From Münchenstein - which means 'Monks house' to St-Albans Vorstad you can walk along this St-Albans Teich (dyke) (or the other way, but this way you do not have to climb). You can start at the Botanical Garden (Tram 10, Grün 80) or from St. Jakob (Tramline 14). There are two ugly points: when crossing the high way by a tunnel (and train). On the way you can visit the gardens of a former 'house'. The track is marked with these small yellow signs.
Drive along the Rhein to Laufenburg
From Basel, after walking the lovely sights of Basel's old buildings in the old town centre and along the river, I took the road that takes you over the Rhine which then follows along the Rhine crossing the border from Switzerland into France and then into Germany all in a matter of a few minutes!
About an hour or so along the Rhine you will look down from the high road and river banks over lovely Laufenburg.
Laufenburg is a lovely old town on the Rhein with the Rhein actually running right through the middle creating a natural border between Switzerland and Germany. These days everyone just walks across the bridge at will between the two countries or to the other side of town! The old border controls are still there but passports arent checked and each side of town flies its country's flag.
I stayed a night in the old town centre and woke to beautiful views of the sunrise over the river beside my hotel and the quaint old houses that my view looked over to on the other/Swiss side of the river.
- Historical Travel
- Adventure Travel
- Road Trip
Dreiländereck (Three Countries’ Corner), marked by a futuristic rounded steel-and-glass building. This is the Restaurant Dreiländereck (061/639 95 40), a pricey and rather soulless place for eating, but not bad for a riverside coffee and bun. Just beyond the restaurant, on the very nose of the spit of land is a tall, slender sculpture pointing the way west across the Rhine (the other bank is France), north to the German customs shed 50m away, and south into Switzerland
To to France by... tram (streetcar)!
Basel is one of only two places on the Earth where you can travel to another country by tramway (streetcar). Take the tramway Nr 10 near the main train station in the direction of Rodersdorf. The tramway leaves the city and travels across countryside (nice views!). Then it crosses the border and arrives to the French village of Leymen.
You will see the village on your right and forest on your left. Behind the forest, you can find ruins of a castle (Château de Landskron) that you can visit.
You can also have a walk around the village. Follow Rue de la Gare down to the town hall/school, than go back and visit the church. Leymen is nice Elsass vllage, you'll enjoy this small walk (30-45 min).
Inportant: normally, the border is open and there are no controls. But random controls can steel be executed, so if you don't want to get into trouble, don't go to Leymen without documents that allow you to enter France!
- Castles and Palaces
Take a boat: the Baslerdybly (and others)
This is something I only discovered recently. Basels prominent river the Rhine is not only something to look at.
Except for the Ferrys (Fähren in swiss german) that cross the river, there are bigger boats or ships that can take you up and down, make special dinner cruises, sunday brunches and you can also rent them for your party.
Very romantic and certainly something not everyone does.
In the picture you can see the ship "Baslerdybly" (dove of Basel) that we rented for a birthday party on a sunday. They offered Apero and service personal as well as a trip up and down the Rhine. Great views!
This is something special for a nice evening.
Their offers you can find on the homepage of the Basler Personenschiffahrt (see link below).
Unfortunately it is only in german.
Price examples: Sunday Brunch: ticket SFr 15.-, brunch: 38.-
Captains dinner: ticket SFr. 20.-, dinner: 4 course meal 57.-
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Food and Dining
Its a guided tour. Takes 1.5 hours
They only take 25 persons and it may be a little pricey, but interesting.
You will have a closer look (and explanations) to the fountains in Basel. There are a lot of fountains dating from various periods.
On the tour from the Fischmarkt to the St. Albantal you also learn about the water supply in old Basel.
On this site you find information about all the fountains in Basel (only iin German, sorry):
- Historical Travel
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