Dwight Peck's personal website

Views of Strasbourg in 2011

Long weekend getaways series

There's not enough work at the moment to make it worth sitting around waiting for more to drop over the transom, so we're off for a four-day exercise in gawking at half-timbered buildings.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Strasbourg -- the old town

The lovely train from Gland to Strasbourg, "changez Bâle", and a couple of chapters got through in our books. 3 March 2011.

The Strasbourg rail station in the mid-afternoon . . .

. . . in what appears to be a cocoon;

or a dirigible blimp.

We're crossing over onto the island of the Old Town, surrounded on all sides by the River Ill.

Now we're marching smartly eastward down the Grand Rue -- we've booked at the Hôtel de la Cathedrale, so naturally, as a first step, we're looking for the Cathedrale.

Getting closer. Argentoratum was a frontier military outpost in Roman days, but hit its stride as a merchant and trading city, poised on a number of important trade routes (thus its present name) across and along the Rhine, in the early 12th century. It became an imperial free republic in the 15th century, and an early hotbed of Protestant mischief in the 16th.

Kristin senses "cathedral" and picks up our pace. The independent Republic of Strasbourg was annexed by France in 1697, by Germany in an awful paroxysm of teutonic bombing in 1870, by France again in 1918. And by Germany again, in 1940. And, following destruction by the "allies" in August-September 1944, back to France, and a major (very successful) rebuilding and clean-up.

Bingo. Cathedral.

Looks like one of its spires fell off. Now we're looking for the eponymous hotel.

Bingo. Hotel Cathedrale. Well spotted!

We were very pleased with this place -- inexpensive (at least in the off-season), commodious, friendly and helpful, tastefully done up within, and as "centrally located" as it's possible to be without being an archbishop.

The view out the front door of the hotel

Best of all, we're ten meters from the famous Maison Kammerzell, the 16th century Rich Merchant's mansion and shops, built in 1571 and sold by grocer Kammerzell to the cathedral directors in 1879 and a bit "renaissancized" in the 1890s.

A block away, in the Place Gutenberg, a modest funfair -- one of at least six we saw round the city. An excellent use of the public spaces.

Old Strasbourg is crisscrossed by a handful of streets with tram lines, with constrained automobile traffic through some arteries, but probably a third of it is wholly pedestrian.

Kristin bolting in to make a reservation for dinner. With a specialist's eye for menus, she can spend half an hour free-associating about her dinner order. My life is simpler ("choucroute garni alsacienne").

In old Strasbourg, you always know where you are. The Strasbourg Grand Île is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes an entire city centre.

We're in the Cathedral de Nôtre-Dame now. Very nice, very red and sandstoney -- the 'Big Red Angel'. On top of burnt-out predecessors, this Romanesque basilica was started in 1015, then improved through the 12th and 13th centuries, and more or less completed by 1365. An excellent spire was added to one of the two belltowers in the early 15th, and the other one just sort of never got done.

That lonely spire was the tallest structure in Europe for about half a millennium.

The famous Astronomical Clock. You can see it anytime, and you can see and hear it move around a bit every quarter hour, but if you want the Full Show, you need to queue up outside at 12:30 every day, pay your entrance fee, get jostled in, and watch the angels, shepherds, apostles, and devils prance all over the thing.

These are some of the little things that parade all around whilst it gongs. The clock was built over quite a few years in the mid-16th century (to replace a 14th century less ambitious predecessor). Mathematicians, architects, watchmakers, painters, furniture makers, everybody got a hand in it.

Death rules at the quarter hours, but Christ totally dominates on the hour. At noon, the apostles trot round and salute the boss, who then mechanically blesses the assembled onlookers.

The Strasbourg clock was perceived by the new scientists of the 17th century, like Robert Boyle, for example, as a fitting metaphor for the 'new philosophy' of the natural world leading into the Enlightenment -- the universe created by the Deity and then set off to run on its own like clockwork. (There's a very readable discussion in Franklin Baumer's Religion and the rise of scepticism, 1960.)

We're circumambulating the Cathedral looking for the museum of the cathedral works.

The Cathedral Museum (the Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame) is housed in the fabulous digs of one of the medieval guilds and displays an enormous amount of stuff associated with the company of people working on the basilica over the centuries.

The Cathedral, seen across the Place du Château from the museum

Excellent presentation of both the artifacts and the building. And a discount for seniors.

A lot of the material was taken off the Cathedral itself and replaced by copies as needed.

Kristin locked onto her audioguide

No matter how finely carved, sandstone sculptures in this part of the world look pretty weathered, fast.

More former cathedral embellishments, now replaced by copies

A legless fallen hero, mourned by his bodyguards

Whose heart doesn't thrill to a good Christ on a Donkey?

Quel horreur! The public circumcision. The Cross was probably more fun than this. (A Gothic wooden relief from Strasbourg, late 15th century)

The medieval German religious sensibility at its most depraved (Les Amants Tréspassés, from the Upper Rhine, ca. 1470)

Did we ever wonder what a whole boatful of virgins looks like? Like this. (St Ursula and her entourage of martyrs)

An early Stephen Fry lookalike and serene Jesus, given the circumstances

Beautiful rooms in the old guild headquarters

Kristin's reading up on the photographs of the 'successful' American bombing runs all round here. We even scored some big ones on the Cathedral itself (maybe there were some sneaky Nazis hiding inside).

The Batorama is off on its daily rounds down the River Ill. ('Bateau-rama', get it?)

And so are we, down the River Ill.

And then back to the Place de la Cathedrale

A grand display of eclectic culinary treasures

Back to our hotel for a preprandial wash-up

The Cathedral in late afternoon sunlight . . .

. . . and at night.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 18 March 2011.

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