Growing up so close to the Pennsylvania Poconos, Stroudsburg is a name I am quite familiar with. However, over here, Strasbourg is all the rage. I think within our first month here I had heard of the French village and that their Christmas market was one of the best. The only problem was with my knowledge of Stroudsburg I couldn’t for the life of me pronounce Strasbourg correctly. I hope I haven’t sounded too out of touch when talking about it over the years. Being so close, many Americans from the bases here visit Strasbourg, and I would venture to say that most of them come away in awe. It has been on my list for sometime and with Elaine visiting, I finally made it there.
When Elaine and I were talking options for day trips, I offered Strasbourg. About 10 seconds later she said we had to go thanks to a quick google image search of the town. It is known throughout the world as the home to the European Parliament, but also as a German Black Forest fairy tale town plopped into French culture. Looking around is like turning the pages in the Brothers Grimm. Half-timbered buildings colored with brightly painted wooden shutters, bountiful floral arrangements on every window. Cobblestone walkways free of automobiles and littered with café tables. And circling the middle, the oldest part of town known as la Petite France, the Ill river, and I am afraid I have to pause right there for a second.
As I was looking up the name of the river I was reminded exactly why research is useful, important, and helpful- even if for a laugh. I assumed, as you may have, that the nickname, la petite France, was coined patriotically because of the gorgeous architecture and ambiance, but I was wrong. The oldest part of town, essentially an island in the river, caught its nickname from a hospice that was there in the fifteenth century to cure syphilis… which in German, at the time, was referred to as Franzosenkrankeit, “French disease”. Well, doesn’t that take some of the beauty and charm away!
Regardless of its filthy past, la Petite France is just as many had told me. One of the most beautiful places in Europe. It was just what we needed to round out Elaine’s last day in Europe with us. Simply beautiful.
We knew that we were only interested in wandering around that portion of town, and weren’t expecting to need more than a few hours, so we actually planned our visit to Strasbourg as a stop on our way back from chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg, a restored castle not too far away from the city.
The castle was built in the 12th century, destroyed and rebuilt many times over the years due to location. It has an excellent view that stretches for miles across prime wine country, land that went back and forth from French to German possession repeatedly. Finally, after the 30 year war it fell to ruin until Wilhelm II of Germany purchased and restored the castle in the early 1900’s. The restoration was meticulous and well documented. Throughout the tour you can see photo and even video of the work being completed which was quite interesting. The architect took great caution to base his work off of archaeological finds, onsite ruins and historical research to make it as accurate as possible. At its completion it was immediately turned into a Middle ages museum with the focus on the German presence in the Alsace region.
As you can see from the Germanic eagle painting on this dining room ceiling, the German Emperor Wilhelm II focused heavily on German connections when restoring the castle. For years it was actually considered fashionable in France to “sneer” at the castle because of these Germanic themes, but today historians have concluded that reconstruction is “interesting” which isn’t much of a conclusion is it. They won’t say that it’s completely accurate, but they do give the architect a lot of credit for how accurate it is… more so historians find it interesting for the showcase it provides of Wilhelm II’s romantic nationalist ideas.
All that being said, the castle is absolutely massive, and I would venture to say it is the largest I have visited. I can absolutely affirm that it was also the highest castle I have been in with simply incredible views of Alsace. I don’t think Brock enjoyed it much… but he did enjoy running around the courtyards and inspecting the cannons.
When we finished our descent down from the castle we felt very French and popped into a bakery for a baguette as a snack. We just sat outside the village church and took it all in. Brock watched the excavator that was demolishing the house across the street, Elaine and I were just taking in the architecture and commenting on how this tiny little town was EXACTLY what we dreamed France looked like. We may have also sung a few lines of Beauty & the Beast and hoped Belle would pop out from a bookshop.
I realize I say this a lot, but please, if you come to France, make sure to spend some time in Alsace. It is gorgeous. Larger towns like Strasbourg, and smaller villages alike are filled with architectural beauty that is all consuming. Yet again I was reminded that I do not need the “must see” vacation destinations in Europe. It is the places off the beaten path that are where I form the best memories. Au revoir!
P.S. less than 2 weeks till Fil is home and still no dates booked for the big move happening in less than 2 months