German shepherds walk alongside French poodles. Mugs of beer sit next to glasses of wine. Order and rules mix with a love of liberty and that ever so laissez-faire way of life.
Alsatians seem to have taken the best of both German and French cultures and mixed them into a charming region just on the border, full of half-timbered houses where artfully prepared food is served. Currently Alsace is a French region but its nationality has changed back and forth between France and Germany at least four times in the past hundred years, giving it a uniquely blended culture both tidy and elegant.
Over Labor Day weekend we visited the city of Colmar, about an hour south of Alsace’s largest city – Strasbourg. Colmar’s smaller size makes it all the more quaint and charming. Walking around the city itself was definitely a highlight, particularly with a visit to the Marché Couvert (covered market). For only a few euros, we even toured the canals of the Lauch River by boat.
And while Colmar may be a relatively lesser-known French town, at least one of its former residents is certainly widely known, particularly to Americans. Among many other works, sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty. We found a mini version of the famous statue in a traffic circle on the outskirts of town.
I didn’t love the Bartholdi Museum in Colmar, as it was a bit old-fashioned in its gallery design. But I did enjoy seeing plans and photographs of the Statue of Liberty’s construction as well as the design process of the Lion of Belfort, a similarly famous and larger-than-life sculpture dedicated to heroes of the French Resistance against Prussia in 1870. Also of interest is that the museum is actually located in Bartholdi’s former home.
Naturally, we also spent an afternoon tasting Alsatian wine. The Alsace wine route is lined with vineyards and makes up part of a pilgrimage trail to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Most of the wine styles in Alsace have German names (many that we see in the Rhein region in Germany) and are classified as AOC according to French quality control regulations.
What else is there to see in Alsace? Our visit wouldn’t have been complete without a stork sighting, as this is the very symbol of this region and can be found all over building decorations and souvenirs. We spotted several and heard their clickety-clack chatter while walking around among the narrow cobblestone streets of Eguisheim, near Colmar.
En route home, we stopped to visit the medieval Castle Haut-Koenigsbourg, still in Alsace but at one time restored by Wilhelm II to define the western-most boundary of the German Empire. There is plenty to read about the castle’s many centuries of history along a self-guided tour. And really a visit here would be worth it for the beautiful mountainous views alone.
A pretzel from the castle shop completed our trip to Alsace. Au Revoir & Aufwiedersehen until next time, Alsace!