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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Alsace-a very special part of France

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Among the many French I have met so far only one who wouldn’t agree with me that the region Elsass (Alsace in French and English), long-disputed between Germany and France, isn’t really French.

At the same time, they said that the question had been settled and we all had to accept the current political situation, which in return sounded reasonable to me.

I never missed the chance to bring up this once very delicate topic with all of them, especially under the influence of alcohol, which I used to consume in big quantities. I guess they were quite surprised, as for most post-national (West) Germans this issue never existed in the first place.

To everybody who has enjoyed its uniqueness, the many differences between Alsace and the neighboring regions (with the clear exception of Lothringen or Lorraine) should be obvious. Everything sounds or looks pretty German.

Starting with the names of the cities and towns, which often were almost unpronounceable for the invaders from the west, Reichenweiher became Riquewihr, Schlettstadt Sélestat and Mühlhausen Mulhouse, to name just a few examples.

Do Riesling and Gewürztraminer, the first and the second most planted grape varieties in Alsace, remind you of Merlot and Grenache? Some of the best are produced by people called Blanck, Horcher and Gruss!

Around 60% of all beer consumed in France is brewed in Alsace. If you hear brands like Fischer, Kanterbräu, Kronenbourg or Schützenberger, would you say “Prost!” or “Santé!”?

I realized that most people aren’t aware of the fact that the denomination for choucroûte, allegedly the national dish of Alsace, is the corrupted version of the German word Sauerkraut.

Baeckeoffe means baker’s oven and describes a casserole made with potatoes, leeks and meat. The Elsässer Flammkuchen mutated into a tarte flambée, which is a direct translation of the German term.

Would you associate a Gugelhupf, an Alsatian yeast based cake, with a crème brûlée? Regarding the regional pear and blueberry tarts, it’s not that evident as they bear the names of the fruits they are made of.

Last, but not least, there’s the impressive Liebfrauenmünster zu Straßburg (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg), once of the most relevant cathedrals in the world and a fine example of gothic architecture, built from 1176 to 1439 when the city was an integral part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

Famous Alsatians include polymath Albert Schweitzer, writer Tomi Ungerer and football trainer Arsène Wenger, but also artist Hans (“Jean”) Arp as well as the politicians Ellie Knapp and Julius Leber. It’s obvious that Alsace for centuries was the cradle of a very distinct mixed culture.

Paris in 1944 regained control over the territory for good and basically destroyed its historical bilingual tradition. Still, every time I tried to use my rudimentary French there, the locals would answer me in German. That gave me some personal satisfaction…

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  1. “If you think that this dish looks truly German, you might be a revisionist! It’s actually Alsatian!”
    It looks quite German to me, you could say the same for many dishes from Czech. At least it looks very good. Perhaps Czech is the same as Alsace, once German or populated at least partly or for the most part by Germans or German tribes. But food history is diverse, tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, all from the Americas. Potatoes as shown on the picture were only available in Europe since ca. 400 years or even less. So say 番茄​蛋 (tomatoes with egg) is truly a dish from Taiwan or from where?

  2. Do you know (I’m almost sure you do) that Alsace (and northern Lorraine) is an exception in France’s educational laicism laws? The laws banning religious education in public schools don’t apply there, and kids can get Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist or Jewish religious education at school if their families opt for it, something totally banned in the rest of France. In fact, in the region applies the old Napoleonic Concordat of 1801. It’s obviously so since France didn’t want to impose their laicism over a population that had religion being taught at schools under the German Empire laws, as they annexed the region in 1918. Amazingly the exception persists to this day. For more information read “Local law in Alsace-Moselle” in Wikipedia.

    • No, actually I wasn’t aware of that really interesting detail. So thank you very much for pointing it out. It´s encouraging to have such erudite readers! I hope you remain loyal to this blog.


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