Strasbourg and its impressive cathedral

In 2016, I spent some warm September days in Germany. With Ursula I visited the Palatine, the middle Rhine and the Mosel/Nahe area. On day 15, we went from Bad Bergzabern to Strasbourg, and stopped at the Moulin de Wantzenau near Strasbourg to stay overnight.  I had drafted the blog about our 16th day at Strasbourg without publishing it. I am doing so now.

Today is Thursday, our 16th day traveling. The swooshing of the river Ill made us sleep well under the roof of the Moulin de Wantzenau. This is the view of the Ill from our window.


After a clear night with stars, the sun welcomes us again in the morning.

P&R IS P&R in Strasbourg
Our plan is to visit Strasbourg today. Our hotel is not far from the final tram station of Höhnheim with a huge P&R parking. The parking PLUS the tram tickets for up to six persons costs some 4 Euros. What a bargain! We understood this, after having bought our tram tickets in addition to parking ticket. We may be just too impatient to get to Strasbourg…
Again and again, the bilingual Alsace has been tossed between Germany and France 
Look at the street signs: “Rue de la Hache” translates to “Axtgässel” (yes, la hache = die Axt).
Other examples are “Rue des Echasses/Stelzengass”, “Rue des Juifs/Judegass”, “Quai des Moulins/Müehlstade” (all exact translations) or “Impasse du Tiroir/Münstergässel” (not an exact translation). These bilingual street signs remind us of the fact that the Alsace/Elsass has been tossed between France and Germany in the past centuries. I love to listen to the soft Alsacian dialect that mixes French and Alemannic words and resembles our dialect in Basel.
The Cathedral of Strasbourg is a gem 
Building the cathedral that we see today lasted from the 12th to the mid 15th century or from early to late gothic style (source: Hans Reinhardt, “das Strassburger Münster”, Lescuyer – Lyon and Susanne Tschirner,  “Elsass”, Dumont Kunstreiseführer, Köln 2000).

We approach the cathedral from the north, through the Rue du Dôme. The late gothic northern gate is devoted to Laurentius, a martyr that was burned on an iron grill in the 3rd century.


This is the (older) western portal with the tower (142m high) and with the rosette.


Maria with her son and the passion of Christ is decorating the west gate, as the cathedral is devoted to her.


On the side portal we find the wise and the foolish maidens. These are the foolish maidens that are being seduced by the man on the left… he shows off, but his back is covered with snakes indicating that he cannot be trusted. A very similar seducer is also decorating the cathedral of my home town Basel. Strasbourg served as the model for Basel (and other churches in the area).


Inside the western gate is illuminated by the colours of the rosette with its 16 “leaves” and 12 windows.


Ursula has taken this photo of one of the northern windows (from the 12/13th century)…

… and of the organ (“swallow’s nest organ” made by Silbermann 1716) that hangs in the nave.


I am very impressed by the engineering skills that went into building the astronomical clock. It counts the minutes, hours, week days, months and years (including calculating the correct date of Easter), based on the heliocentric system of Copernicus. In addition various installations illustrate the passing of time (and life) and the life of Christ. E.g. an angel turns a sand watch every hour. Or a cock waves his wings performing his cock-a-doodle-doo, while the apostles walk past Christ one by one. The first astronomical clock was built in the 14th century and broke down in the 16th century. A second clock was then built that broke down in the late 18th century. This second clock was repaired and modernized between 1838 and 1842 (source: Th. Ungerer, “Die astronomische Uhr des Strassburger Münsters”, Societé d’édition de la Basse-Alsace).


The angels’ column from 1225, near the astronomical clock, is a master piece of sculptural art. The 93 year old godfather of my husband Ernst remembered it and asked me later, whether I have noticed this column.


A man stands on the gallery and watches us silently. Or does he not watch us? Legend says that he was one of the governors of Strasbourg who had doubts about the angel column being stable. He was petrified to wait here, until the angel column collapses – which obviously has not happened so far.



The half-timbered houses, especially in La Petite France

Strasbourg is full of romantic corners with half-timbered houses.


The  Maison Kammerzell is not far from the cathedral – the wood carving is from Renaissance times, 1589.


These are houses in La Petite France where the Ill divides up into several channels.


The channels were used for medieval industry. For instance the tanners (in French “tanneurs” and in Alsacian “Gerwer”) lived and worked here.


Nowadays the channels are more used for leisure.


We had lunch in the small restaurant Coccinelle (or “ladybeetle”). I enjoyed my snails.

Full of impressions we take the tram back, pick up our car and enjoy the warm summer evening in the wonderful park of our hotel Moulin de Wantzenau. Ursula discovers this snail on the beans cultivated in the hotel garden.


We think of coming back to Strasbourg by train to visit the museums around the cathedral.


Returning home with a short stop in Hunawihr

On Friday, our 17th day, we return home with a short stop in Hunawihr (source: “L’église fortifiée de Hunawihr”, SAEP edition 1990) the history of which goes back to the 7th century, when Hunon settled here and his charitable wife Huna washed the clothes of the sick. The church that we see today dates from the 14th/15th/16th century, the tower being the oldest part.


Under these vaults, catholic and protestant service are held – this is called “simultaneum”. Hunawihr followed Zwingli in the reformation, as it belonged to Württemberg then, and the catholic belief was restored under French rule by Louis XIV.


Before returning home, I buy some Riesling and Gewürztraminer from Sipp-Mack. Then we say good-bye to the pretty village of Hunawihr.


We have felt like these fish in the fountain for almost three weeks – just great – and we plan to return to the Alsace soon for some one day excursions.


Colmar – pretty town with beautiful museum Unterlinden

On a beautiful and chilly October day in 2016, we drive to Colmar for a one day excursion. Ursula and her mum are joining me. We want to see the renovated museum Unterlinden with its famous altar of Issenheim and stroll through the pretty town of Colmar. Within an hour, we arrive in Colmar and park our car in the city center under the townhall or “mairie”. We take a coffee and then enter the museum Unterlinden (in English: “Under Lindens”).


The main attraction of the museum Unterlinden – the altar of Issenheim – a book with wings unfolded in the church of the former lady monastery

In the museum Unterlinden, we first want to see the altar of Issenheim in the church of the former lady monastery. This church displays this one altar that consists of several wings. It is like a huge book. The book is unfolded to show all its pages to the visitors.

The altar has been painted by Matthias Grünewald in 1515. It was the Antonian monks of Issenheim (not far from Colmar) who had ordered it. The altar centers around Saint Antonius, an Egyptian hermit of the 3rd century (Daniel Koniezka: “Le rétable d’ Issenheim – l’histoire d’un tableau magique”, Editions Artlys 2015 and “Kostbarkeiten aus dem Colmarer Unterlindenmuseum, Christopherus Verlag, 1964). The relics of Antonius were used in the 11th century to mitigate the symptoms of the so called “Antonius fire” caused by the ergot in the grain (“Mutterkorn” in German, it is a toxic mushroom). The Antonian monks run hospitals for the people suffering from the Antonius fire and one of these hospitals was attached to the monastery of Issenheim. The monastery flourished in the 15th century and ordered the altar. To my opinion the most impressive paintings of the altar shows the temptations of the hermit Antonius. Demons try to distract Antonius from his belief, but he calmly continues to trust in God (with his white hair and blue coat he lies in the middle of the left panel).  The demons show signs of the Antonius fire (such as the limbs becoming black – “burning” – and falling off). I had seen this altar before in the 1970’s and I remembered the temptations of Antonius – for more than 40 years I could not forget these demons and the serene face of Antonius.

On the right hand painting, Saint Antonius (in his blue coat) discusses with Paul Eremitus, also an Egyptian hermit.


The altar also describes the life of Christ. There is a beautiful representation of the crucification.

This panel shows Archangel Gabriel announcing to Maria that she will have THAT son (to the right) and Christ resurrecting from the grave on Easter Sunday (to the left).


When opened completely, these sculptures appear (made by Niklaus von Hagenau). Saint Antonius sits in the middle with Augustinus to his left and Hieronmymus to his right. At the bottom the twelve apostles are surrounding Christ.


In 1793 the altar of Issenheim was brought here to Colmar to save it from the destructions taking place during the French Revolution.

There are many more medieval altars and sculptures worth seeing in the museum. I loved this sculpture of Maria with her son from the end of the 15th century. How natural the baby looks and how tender the mother is. Just beautiful.


It is the “Vierge de L’Enfant de Niedermohrschwihr” made from linden wood in the end of the 15th century.

The museum Unterlinden has much more to show . I loved the special exhibition of Japanese dolls of Hatsuko Ohno. I did not know that making dolls can result in such works of art. This couple seems to disagree about something… well that can happen in any culture.


Herzog & De Meuron have built a new annex to the museum Unterlinden… I love the pattern of light in their staircase.



The Madonna in the Rose Garden (Madonna im Rosenhag)

Next door in the church of the Dominican monastery we find Martin Schongauer’s Madonna in Rose Garden (Madonna im Rosenhag) from 1473. Illustrations in the church show that the painting of the Madonna has been cut off on all four sides. It is now surrounded by the neogothic frame. Originally she sits in a beautiful garden with flowers and Godfather above her – a romantic atmosphere.


The Madonna was stolen in the seventies and found by chance a year later.


St. Martin church

St. Martin church is the most important church in Colmar, also gothic in style, and sometimes refered to as a cathedral though Colmar has never been a bishopric.


Inside I am surprised to find this Last Supper – not a painting as usual, but a sculpture in life size from late gothic (15th century).



Strolling through the pretty town with the half-timbered houses

After all that culture we stroll through the pretty small streets of Colmar with their half-timbered houses. I like this girl chasing the pig…


… and I must have liked it, when I was in Colmar in the 19-seventies taking analog black and white fotos and developing them in the darkroom.


This is a half-timbered house with a nice oriel.


Some of the half-timbered houses are beautifully decorated.


The river Lauch allows to take photos with water reflections. We are in the district called “Petite Venise”.



 Finishing the day with a dinner in the Bartholdi Restaurant

We are hungry, but there is no mercy in Colmar. Restaurants open only at seven pm. We find a table in the restaurant Bartholdi where we have trout simmered in Riesling and lamb chops provençales. The meal is okay and the atmosphere is welcoming.

By the way, Frédéric Bartholdi is known for having created the Liberty Statue of New York. Other monuments include the Lion of Belfort and the memorial of Strassburg in Basel near the train station (Switzerland succoring Strasbourg in the German-French war of 1870/71). Bartholdi was born in Colmar.


Big surprise: Parking houses in Colmar close at 9pm,though restaurants only open at 7pm

We enter the parking house under the townhall (mairie) at 8:45 pm and find out, it closes at 9pm. Okay – still 15 minutes – we insert the ticket into the paying machine. We insert our ticket and the ticket machine spits it out, and spits it out, and spits it out complaining that it cannot read the ticket. Hm. I look for an alarm knob, but all of a sudden, Ursula says: “It worked now, we can insert the money”. 14 Euros is okay for a whole day, almost 12 hours. We insert the money, take our ticket and leave this parking house at 8:55. It will close its doors in five minutes – uff!

Half an hour later we reach the border of France with Switzerland and then I drop Ursula and her mum at their home. Together we have spent another beautiful day to remember.