Monday, 6 February 2017

The city of Strasbourg: a place of bridges, not walls

The city of Strasbourg is well worth visiting. For us, it’s particularly pleasant to be back here. We lived in the region for ten great years.

Today, we even popped by the war memorial, not because it’s particularly beautiful – it isn’t – but because it’s so rich in symbolism.

Not the most beautiful of memorials, 
but certainly one of the richest in undercurrents of meaning
The woman is Alsace, the province which has Strasbourg as its capital. In French, Alsace is feminine; in German, Elsass is neutral. There’s more to representing her as a woman that might at first seem obvious.

The two young men on her knees are naked because it would be painful to show them in uniform: they wouldn’t necessarily be wearing the same one. Alsace lost more men in World War Two than any other part of France, because the Nazis regarded the province as German, so young men were called up for service in the Wehrmacht and many died on the Russian front, wearing grey not blue.

That’s why the plinth reads “à nos morts”, to our dead, leaving out the usual words, “pour la patrie”, for the Fatherland. It would take far too much explanation if anyone asked which Fatherland they laid the lives down for.

It’s useful to stand in front of that monument. It’s a helpful reminder of what the European Union’s about. It isn’t really about the shape of bananas or the size of any one country’s contributions to the common budget. It’s about making sure we avoid ever engaging again in that kind of futile bestiality, dividing a province and even individual families. 

To say nothing of the entire continent.

Brexit specifically undermines the initiative to secure peace after centuries of war. That alone should be a matter of shame for Britain for generations to come.

There’s far more to Strasbourg than the war memorial, of course.

There’s Christian’s which has to be the best chocolate shop I’ve ever come across anywhere in the world. It’s just wonderful to pop in there for a hot chocolate, especially as the snooty waitresses always seem to make a point of letting me understand that I absolutely don’t belong there. I’m far too uncouth.
Oh dear, oh dear.
Not the way to behave – or dress – in Christian's.
We showed up in Christian’s this morning and covered the table with a computer and three phones, one of which was connecting the laptop to the internet. Neither of us was wearing suitable attire – neatly tailored jackets, a discrete touch of silk beneath them, or perhaps some fine creation in linen – and we were talking English. Absolutely the wrong tone. I always think that Christian’s would embody the spirit of Brexit perfectly, with its exclusivity and conviction of superiority, if it were translated into French. The difference, of course, is that at least Christian’s serves fabulous hot chocolate (I had Ecuadorian – magnificently spicy) whereas, if Brexit has any redeeming features, I’ve yet to discover them.

Another advantage of Christian’s is that it’s close to Strasbourg’s lace cathedral which takes the breath away even when you’re used to it.
Lace Cathedral
And then there’s the rive Ill (nothing sick about it, I assure you), for another form of beauty in the setting winter sunshine.
The River Ill at sunset
Ah, Strasbourg. Lynchpin of Europe. Jewel on the Rhine. A river now crossed near the city by four bridges (including a footbridge and an international tram bridge, would you believe), turning it into a link between two new friends, instead of a barrier between old enemies.

So refreshing when one lives in Britain, intent on turning the Channel once more into a Trump-like wall.

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