A little late on writing this up, but I couldn’t leave it out… The last daytrip from a few weeks ago was to Strasbourg, France, about two hours away. After eating crêpes and drinking wine at an outdoor café, we followed a guy with a big “Free Tour” sign for a pretty decent two-hour circuit of the city. Here are the things that stood out the most to me:
- A culture of being outdoors: Unsurprisingly (only because I had seen a handful of French foreign language films in elementary school), the spacious town squares and parks were full of people enjoying the beautiful spring weather. Pedaling by on bikes, chatting at outdoor cafés, passionately arguing in the street, and lazing in the grass – I would say the people here definitely know how to live. Surprisingly, smoking was not as common compared to what I’ve seen in Germany.
- Adaptable people: Some of the older Strasbourg residents have had their nationality changed four times in their lifetime. Once upon a time Strasbourg was a German city, then became French, then German again, and then ultimately French again. This, of course, necessitated many changes, including the language people were required to use. Today, the people of Strasbourg mainly speak French but, fortunately for us, many also speak German. I ordered three rolls in French (pointing, with “Trois, s’il vous plaît”) at a bakery and was then immediately lost when asked a follow-up question in French (which turned out, naturally, to be “For here or to go?”). At the epitome of the French and German cultures colliding, I saw a lady eating a pretzel and drinking a glass of wine.
- Controversy over Gutenberg: Johannes Gutenberg, a native of Mainz, Germany, had lived in Strasbourg for a period of his adult life. A gap in the records of his life occurs around the time that he created his world-famous printing press. Of course, this also coincides with the time that he moved back from Strasbourg to Mainz, so both cities claim to be the birthplace of the printing press. Our tour guide pointed out, however, the fact remains that the press was invented in Germany either way, as Strasbourg was then a German city.
- Charming neighborhood with an obscene history: Petite-France is a small area of Strasbourg of narrow streets winding between old wooden lattice-beamed houses alongside a canal. The delightfulness of the quiet neighborhood, once a center for tanneries, is marred only by how it received its seemingly innocent name (literally, “Little France”). In the days of Napoleon, many French soldiers returned home with syphilis, which they termed “the madness from Naples” but which the rest of the world called “the madness from France.” This area of Strasbourg was home to a hospital specializing in syphilis treatment, for which it was not-so-charmingly named Petite-France.
All in all, Strasbourg exceeded all my expectations for what I thought a French city would be like. As it turns out, I think Strasbourg is well worth visiting again, particularly now that spring seems to be here to stay.