Strasbourg - The Tescos of Europe


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August 22nd 2011
Published: August 27th 2011
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Strasbourg – The Tescos of Europe



Waitrose or Lidl?

As you drive into Strasbourg the signs welcome you to “ le Carrefour de l’Europe”. As an ignorant foreigner I only know Carrefour as a major French supermarket chain.
Carrefour” actually means “crossroads” which is one way of describing the fact that France and Germany spent years fighting over Alsace before Strasbourg rediscovered itself as one of the first “European” cities.
The Alsatians {literally} seem to be quite happy just being Alsatians – the area has quite a lot of autonomy within France and even has a different social security system than the rest of France.




Strasbourg

I have a couple of days in Strasbourg and my host and guide, Kati, has taken some time off work to show me around.

After my more recent travel experiences I don’t want rush around the city trying to see everything in just two days. I’d rather just spend time a couple of areas of the city.
The city centre, the area enclosed by a series of canals, is quite small. It only takes about 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other and many people use bikes {the area being quite flat and the streets being quite narrow}.
The city is dominated by the impressive spire of the cathedral. For about 400 years it was the tallest spire in Europe and now acts as landmark so that even I find it difficult to get lost. At the time I visit the cathedral my camera isn’t working so I put off climbing the steps knowing that if I ever return with a working camera I would certainly want to climb the steps again. Also at the time of my visit the cathedral is the venue of one of two free son et lumiere shows in the city. So after sampling some tarte flambé and a locally brewed beer {not French lager!} we go to watch the show. This is a 15 minute show that runs continually on the main wall of the cathedral.


Even more impressive is the show using a combination of lights, music, water fountains, lasers and fireworks which is staged each year. This year it is celebrating the art of Tomi Ungerer as it is his 80th birthday.



La Petite France



At the far western corner of the city centre is the area known as La Petite France, one of the more picturesque parts of the city with its canals, medieval houses and narrow streets. I spend a morning just walking around this area.

Walking To Germany



The Rhine and the border with Germany is just a short distance from Strasbourg. A relatively new footbridge, the Passarelle Mimran has been built across the Rhine joining the two countries. As I understand it I think the bridge was meant to be opened by Angela Merkel and Nikolas Sarkosy in an historic gesture but it never happened {They were actually meant meet here for the NATO summit - that's the meeting that never happened} . I’m also disappointed that I have taken my passport with me to go to Germany and that there is no noticeable border!



European Strasbourg



Slightly out of the city centre are Strasbourg’s European institutions. The Palais De l’Europe, headquarters of the Council of Europe, is, I think, the oldest. I’m lucky enough to get a guest pass and be given a personal tour. I just about manage to resist the temptation to try out the Secretary General’s chair in the Hemicycle!
Next to here is the European Court of Human Rights, a place I have a particular interest in. Inside the building, I imagine, is mostly office space and meeting rooms but outside are a number of banners, protests and symbolic gestures. Unfortunately, at the time we visit, none of the people who have made their banners are actually there to explain their protests { – we do visit in the middle of a really hot day}. Kati explains that there are usually two hunger strikers there but the banners they have produced do really not explain their purpose to me. I return the next day hoping that I might find someone to talk to but again there is no-one there.



The final building we visit is the very impressive European Parliament. Less impressive is the fact that the European Parliament only meets for 4 days a month and that for 317 days a year the building is not used for its intended purpose. For the four days per month that the MEPs and their entourages are in town I think a hotel room in Strasbourg would be rather expensive!


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I've Got My PassportI've Got My Passport
I've Got My Passport

Where's the border post?
Hunger StrikerHunger Striker
Hunger Striker

Camped outside The European Court Of Human Rights
The European ParliamentThe European Parliament
The European Parliament

In use for just 48 days each year


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