Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Alsace Across the Rhine

 We’ve made a couple of very brief visits to Alsace, the region of France right across the border from south-western Germany where we’re living.  Alsace was the area from which my dear husband’s dear mother’s paternal relatives, the Elferts, emigrated in the 19th century.  I posted photos of our visit to Strasbourg in February.  In April, on our drive home from Lausanne, we passed through this region again and stopped to visit Colmar, which is south of Strasbourg.  Colmar was a wealthy and important town from the 15th to the 17th centuries and had trade routes directly to several European cities.

I have a guidebook to France by Rick Steves on my Kindle Fire.  We were very glad of this because our huge “Europe” Lonely Planet guide gives only cursory information about even the largest cities, and hardly notices the smaller towns.  Rick Steves gives plenty of detail on Colmar, even walking us through the medieval center and pointing out buildings of particular interest (not that we followed him; we followed our own instincts and enjoyed what we saw without commentary or trying to read the Kindle screen in daylight).

Colmar blew us away.  Its old center is chockfull of darling half-timbered, dangerously leaning, variously painted little buildings.  I’m having trouble choosing just a few of our photos.  We both had cameras and we could hardly stop shooting.  It wasn't an especially pretty day and began drizzling after a while.  In the sunshine, it must be dazzling.

Alsace was at points in its past more German than French, and its cuisine makes this clear.  It’s a wine region, yes, but Rieslings rather than Burgundies.  Beer is enjoyed in glasses and recipes.  Choucroute Garni is perhaps the most famous of the regional recipes; sauerkraut “garnished” with smoked pork, ham and sausages.  Flammkuchen is the German name for the local thin crusted pizza-like appetizers topped with bacon, cream and onions.  All the bakeries we saw featured Brezeln as though they weren’t equally beloved in Germany!  You’ll understand that we found a lot to love in Alsace.

Not that we could eat all that stuff during our brief visit!  We'd arrived rather late for lunch and in this part of France, regular restaurants close their kitchens between about 2 pm and 5:40 or 6.  As a result, we had to eat in the sort of establishment designed for foreigners who don't understand the need for this type of regulation!  Chefs have to rest, you know.  They can't just keep cooking all day.  Creativity must be restored.

Colmar was still decorated for Easter, which had taken place two weeks before our visit.  We particularly liked these Easter decorations.

Here's a close up of the box over the doorway at the Brasserie des Tanneurs shown above:

Culinarily, and architecturally, I have come to feel that Alsace, Baden-Wurttemburg and northern Switzerland belong to one another almost more than they belong to their own nations.  Alsace speaks French (although I had a hard time understanding them) and Basel speaks German (its very own dialect which apparently few Germans can comprehend), and the Schwabisch dialect of Baden-Wurttemburg is unintelligible to many northern Germans.  The Rhine provides an easy means of commerce among these three areas which has been available since the most primitive times,  promoting strong cultural links amongst whichever tribes dominated each locale.  Of course, I never thought that crossing a man-made border would reveal a completely unrelated way of life, but the cultural integrity of this tri-nation region is particularly striking.  And perhaps that's one reason why we have enjoyed our visits here so much.

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