Strasbourg, French-German Fusion Alsatian City

Fusion of French and German cultures has been at the core of being a Strasbourgeois. That is what a Strasbourgeois would tell you―the cab drivers, merchants, and museum ‘gardiens,’ for instance. They embrace the idea as the way things naturally are.

This blended identity of the Strasbourgeois may defy attempts to resolve the question of what it means to be French. The French, probably more than many other Europeans, have been obsessed with a national identity. What does it mean to be French? How has being French changed in contemporary times? Etc. etc. The national pride of being uniquely French may be behind certain attempts to keep the language ‘pure’ and their cuisine unalloyed by foreign ethnic influences.

Strasbourg, the largest city in the Alsace region, is only five kilometers (about 3 miles) from the German border where the two countries share use of the Rhine river. Proximity would account for part of that blended identity. But travel, the internet, trade, and international politics have also figuratively shrunk our world. Culture is getting hybridized in most parts of the globe. Words from other languages like ‘weekend,’ ‘super,’ ‘stop,’ are now a part of the French vocabulary, uttered in that accent you might find either lovable or irritating, depending on your attitude to the French. And cilantro, mangos, and other exotic ingredients now commingle with cream and butter in the dishes of French chefs. Fusion, of one sort or another, is ‘in’ everywhere.

Being a Strasbourgeois is a rather remarkable state of being, when you learn that France and Germany had many past animosities and deadly conflicts (the world wars, for example). Conflicts that have passed Strasbourg several times from one country to the other―for instance, Louis XIV annexed it in the late 17th century, and Hitler repossessed it during World War II. The city’s liberation in 1944 returned Strasbourg to the French.

You see the blended identity of Strasbourg in the artifacts of a culture most obvious to tourists. In timbered buildings, for instance, with their decorated walls and intricately carved posts. Or in dishes like choucroute alsacienne, and flammerkueche (tarte flambée in French) on offer at brasseries, winstubs (wine taverns), and boulangeries. Or in French and German signs on streets and commercial buildings. Many Strasbourgeois speak German in addition to their native French.
 
 

 
 
The melange that is Strasbourg is what makes it a world class city. Today, it is officially one of the cities that make up a Eurodistrict:

… a grouping of cities working on cross-border projects and activities. It can either be partner of projects with its own funds, or project promoter with EU funds (for example Interreg). It implements cohesion policy in a concrete way.

Strasbourg also holds the distinction of being the seat of the European Parliament, where important business of the European Union gets thrashed through in modern offices designed by architects of international fame.

Despite its blended identity, the most famous landmark of this more than two-thousand-year old city is decidedly French. The sixth tallest church in the world, its Cathedrale de Notre Dame stands like a grande dame looking out for this hybrid of a city. It towers over and dominates everything in the Grand Ile. Locals claim you can easily see it from surrounding mountains and from the air. The Grand Ile, an island in the middle of Strasbourg’s city center, is a World Heritage site.

Notre Dame, Strasbourg by Benh LIEU SONG / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Strasbourg’s cathedral was built in the Gothic style, a French invention you see in France’s most famous churches. Of these, visitors to France are likely to see the cathedral at Chartres, and the Notre Dame and the Ste. Chapelle in Paris.

3 thoughts on “Strasbourg, French-German Fusion Alsatian City

  1. When I was still learning French back in 2005, there was this French guy from Strasbourg who happened to work at the French Cultural Center in an Indonesian city called Bandung where I spent my university years. He explained to me that his hometown is just 5 km by bike from the German border, exactly like what you said. It does look like a very interesting city, and its Notre Dame Cathedral certainly is a sight to behold.

    Like

    • ‘m curious. How much was Indonesia affected by the presence of the French in Cambodia or Vietnam or Laos? I’m about to publish a novel where the heroine goes to Cambodia on a Peace Corps assignment and one thing I had to research was the French presence in that country.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not much actually, because the Netherlands Indies (what is now Indonesia) was a lot more powerful than French Indochina. The British, on the other hand, left more conspicuous marks in some parts of the archipelago.

        Liked by 1 person

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