Old memories in state-of-the-art Strasbourg

"General De Gaulle is in my heart." I knew ancient rivalries between the Germans and the French in Alsace were still biting, but I wasn't expecting to find such a vivid memory of the region's torn past. I was sitting on a bench along the river Saar on Quai St. Nicolas, studying the city's map and planning my next visit to Place St. Thomas, a Protestant church, when a man (who I soon found out was a former French soldier of WWII) confronted me with a sudden "Germans have hurt me so bad."

History is one of my biggest passions, so I perfectly knew what he was talking about. What
he didn't know was that what excites me the most is to find first-hand evidence and personal accounts that enrich and confirm my studies. I wasn't going to miss that occasion.
I folded my map and listened for a yesteryear account of some of the most momentous events of modern European history, the legendary calls of General De Gaulle from London to keep French spirit alive and kicking in the face of the Nazi occupation and the harsh battles neighbouring cities were fighting against each other during a useless and totally avoidable world war.

It was a pleasure listening to the personal experience of who survived to such dramatic events, and the surrounding of river and bridges were the perfect realistic geographic background.
I didn't need to ask him any questions, he was like a river in flood. My academic studies took on a different meaning: the view of Alsace as bone of contention in remote times became in front of my eyes way too recent to be kept in the scrap heap of history, although citizens, maybe exhausted from these struggles, have put all their best efforts to make these rivalries belong exclusively to textbooks.

The flowers' bright colours reflection on the Saar's crystal-clear waters and German-looking buildings were the perfect picture to combine with the story the man was bringing back to life from his most painful memories.

Strasbourg lies at the very border with Germany, divided only by a river, and today its inhabitants have the privilege to grow up completely bilingual.

Already on my way from Paris it was interesting to notice the change from the hustle and bustle of the European capital to the quieter northeastern region, and the difference between the "French" France and the "German" one was remarkable. Strasbourg is the perfect epitome of what the institution of European Union has meant for the old Continent. The whole region readily blends French and German cultures, elegantly resulting in a more polite French grandeur and a milder German austerity.

The closeness of these t
wo cultures today is natural and makes it almost impossible to tell the two nationalities apart. The German influence in architecture and art is by-all-means visible: signs in both languages aside, the city centre is dominated by lines of romantic half-timbered houses, that remind of the brothers Grimms' tales, and ever-green trees skirt the clean streets named after old traditions and French grandeur: Rue du Vieux Marché aux Poissons (Road of Fish Old Market), Rue des Francs Bourgeois (Street of French Bourgeois), Rue de la Division Leclerc (Street of Leclerc Division). Although the public transport service is very efficient, it's a pleasure dawdling about the perfectly walkable old-fashioned city centre and stop from time to time to eat delicious fresh bretzel.

The region is amazingly green and the landscape is harmoniously interrupted by small rivers and lakes. The adjoining Lorraine is as green and as German-influenced, having shared much of the Alsacian stormy past.

Every corner of France is a milestone for European and world history, and Alsace and Lorraine definitely among the most exquisitely maintained.


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