Alsace Alsace

Knowing how close we were to the French border, mom had wanted to take the opportunity for me to add another country to the list of ones I’ve visited (now 21…). Then, as we were talking to our relatives, Joerg shared the difficult history Alsace has had since Germany and France had traded parts of the territory 4 times in 75 years (19th and 20th century). All I had previously known about Alsace (or Alsace-Lorraine) is the short paragraph on the WWII timeline that stated that Hitler had asked for the region and gotten it. Since Alsace is about 45 minutes from here, we decided to go there to “be in France.”

St. Martin's Collegiate Church St. Martin’s Collegiate Church

So this morning (8/1/13), we headed across the border. Normally, you need a sticker for France too, but our hostess assured us we would be fine without one. We navigated the perils of parking (free for three hours) and headed into Colmar, Alsace. After picking up information at the Tourist Information Center (and finding out we could have attended a traditional Soiree, complete with traditional costumes and dancing–but on Tuesday evenings…Alas.), we made our way towards the museum. But, we ended up passing some amazing sites along the way, and consequently never made it to the museum.

Last Supper St. Martin's Last Supper St. Martin’s

Alsace has an amazingly well-preserved old city, and it is great fun to just walk around and look at the old buildings. There are also a number of Cathedrals in the area. We chose to explore St. Martin’s Collegiate Church. This impressive building was built between 1235 and 1365 (according to the architect’s plans), though in the 1982 restoration, they were able to find remains of a church dating back to 1000. Additionally, this is a church, not a cathedral. Apparently, it was never the seat of a bishop, but was governed by a board of clerics. It did, however, become a cathedral for ten years during the French Revolution, but otherwise, it’s a church. This exquisitely ornate building has a beautiful portrayal of the Last Supper in one of its chapels.

Lunch Lunch

From St. Martin’s, we took a walking break to enjoy some French Quiche and some chocolate cake, to see if French pastries really stacked up to their Swiss counterparts. While we didn’t see anything as delectable as our Swiss rolls, both items were good. We have noticed that European cakes are drier than we make them in America. Nothing of the gooey goodness we’re used to from cakes and brownies, but still good. This particular cake had a layer of cake, a layer of cookie (that was interesting), another layer of cake, a layer of mousse, a final layer of cake and a coating of chocolate. Definitely good, but I still miss the gooey chocolate from home.

Synagogue Colmar Synagogue Colmar

Refreshed and rejuvenated, we set out to find Little Venice. We initially headed in the wrong direction, which I usually don’t mind as it affords me some otherwise missed shots. In this case it brought me in view of a Synagogue. Loving Jewish culture as I do, I had to go check it out. While I couldn’t go inside, what most interested me was a plaque on the front of the gate. This plaque, while in French, contains enough Latin based words for me to decipher the meaning. It is an homage by the French government to the Jewish community for the persecution that came from racism and anti-Semitism during World War II. Though reading the amount of persecution Jews in the area experienced, a plaque is a shallow gesture. Jews were banished numerous times from the city, yet still defended it when invaders came. They were blamed for tyrants’ take-overs and the Black Death. They were burned outside the city, and traders were forced to pay a toll and wear yellow badges in 1512 (foreshadowing of WWII).

plaque from the French Government Placque from the French Government

Interestingly, “Good King Wenceslaus” allowed banished Jews back in the city, where they lived peacefully for about a decade before his disagreements with them caused them to bear the tax burden for the fortress. One other piece on information I found online is that St. Martin’s actually has two sculptures on the church which are Judensau–a type of anti-Semitic artwork putting Jews in contact with pigs. Incredible that a church could justify carving this type of “artwork” on their building.

Gondola ride Gondola ride “Little Venice”

We eventually located Little Venice. This little area is located by the fishmongers’ district, which reminds me of Hamlet in which calling someone a fishmonger was an insult. The area where the Lauch runs through Colmar was nicknamed “Little Venice” because the houses there are right along the bank and accessible by water. Either way, it’s a quaint little area, far less crowded than the real Venice, and you can still catch a gondola and get a history of the city.

Finally, our three hours were drawing to a close, so we did not have time for the museum. I had learned from the tourist office that Voltaire’s house was in town. Having read Candide in college, I was interested to see where the writer had lived. We followed the map up to his house and found an rather forlorn looking building compared to the rest of the old city.

Voltaire's House Voltaire’s House

One interesting fact is that the house is located on the Jewish street in the city (Judengasse). Voltaire came to Colmar in 1753 to work on his “Annales de l’Empire” (Annals of the Empire), which I am not remotely familiar with. He boarded in this house with the Mayor’s wife (interesting phraseology in the documentation…) for three months and, despite criticizing it as half French, half-German, appeared to have a good time. He did have some difficulties with the Jesuit brothers who were against his writing–Having read Candide, I might agree.

Vineyards outside our flat Vineyards outside our flat

We retrieved our car and returned home to pack and prepare to head out early tomorrow. We took one last stroll around our beautiful lodgings to get pictures of the vineyards in the fading light of the sun. Tomorrow we head to another region to go castle-looking. More fun to follow!