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France

Lauterbourg: France's Easternmost Town

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Place de la République and the catholic church

Let’s do a quick jump across the French border today. This can be done on a KVV ticket on the local train from Wörth. Lauterbourg is the border station on the edge of the KVV network, a small Alsation country town in closest vicinity to the German border.
Since we all love superlatives... Lauterbourg is the easternmost settlement in mainland France. It is located in the ultimate corner of Alsace on the Rhine where the French-German border leaves the river and takes a westward turn, thus easy to locate even on a map of the world. (Please note that I said mainland France. Of course Corsica is further east and several overseras territories are even much further east.)

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I did not have much idea what to expect and found it a nice place for an afternoon trip. The centre is small and easily walkable. The longest walk is the way from the station into town, which takes about 20 minutes (plus the time noeeded for taking photos).

Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-bon-secours is the first historical building that I spotted on the way. The little chapel was built in 1667 (date above the portal) after the plague hit the town. Only 200 inhabitants of Lauterbourg survived, and they donated the chapel here outside the town. This was the location of the cemetery where the victims of the epidemy had been buried. The cemetery is gone, though. Behind the chapel there is a modern residential quarter with large apartment blocks, named „Cité de la Chapelle“.

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Walking into town along Rue de la Gare takes you along a residential quarter with small villas from the first half of the 20th century. This walk is pleasant if you stay on the left side of the street: the sidewalk is under large trees that offer shade.

After passing the headquarters of the fire brigade there are some narrow lanes on the right that lead into a quarter with older, small houses, some of these with timberwork. This must have been a poorer suburb in former times. Not all houses are in good shape. Some nice streetviews can be caught, though, for example in Rue de la Forge.

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Round a few corners I reached Place de la République, the main square of Lauterbourg. What other name could the main square of a French town have? The square has been redesigned not too long ago and makes a pleasant sight with ist flags and flower beds. Only the many cars disturb the picture.

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Place de la République seen from the platform behind the church

Rue de la Première Armée is the main street of the town. Here you find the most impressive townhouses and the town hall, and also a wide variety of shops. Unfortunately there is a lot of traffic running through (okay this was Friday afternoon rush hour, it should be better in other times of the day.

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Hôtel de Ville et Mairie, the town hall of Lauterbourg, is a baroque building in Rue de la Première Armée, easy to find because of the flags in front of it. The beautiful sandstone portal shows the town crest and the date 1731.

The ground floor hosts the tourist information office, which might be useful for visitors. Even if you don't want to visit it, walk in through the portal to see the vaulted vestibule. The mairie was enlarged by a modern annex on the left of the historical town hall. I have not found out what the sculpture on the facade is supposed to mean.

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The centre of Lauterbourg is a mix of styles. The town has its share of historical buildings, mostly baroque. In the Reunion wars of the late 17th century under Louis XIV French troops burned down the town in 1678. It was then rebuilt in the early 18th century.

In the 18th century some remarkable houses have been built, like the yellow one in the photo on the right. Its tall gable with the regular windows is an eyecatcher in the main street.

In the side streets I spotted some pretty half-timbered houses. Below there is a little gallery of excamples:

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Not much is preserved from the times before the fire, for example the Episcopal Residence and Tour des Bouchers.
The renaissance building with the stair tower in the back was the residence of the Prince Bishops of Speyer during their visits to the town. Otherwise it was inhabited by their governor. In the 19th century it was turned into a school.
Tour des Bouchers and the adjacent, rather ruined stretch of town wall are remains of Lauterbourg's medieval fortification. The tower is named the „Butchers' Tower“ because the butcher guild was in charge of it. To each guild a part of the fortification was assigned where their members had to stand guard in case of war or siege. Later on the tower was used as prison. The tower is not in good shape and the wall is crumbling. Watch out for falling bricks.

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Bishop's Residence and Tour des Bouchers

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Porte de Landau is a town gate which was built in the place of a medieval gate in 1708. It is part of the baroque fortifications in Vauban style. The outward side shows a relief with a sun in the triangular gable: the symbol of the Sun King Louis XIV, which is presented to every visitor who enters from the German border. Landau is the name of the nearest larger town on the German side. The square behind is named after the famous French military architect Vauban who designed so many fortresses in those times.
This gate made history in the German-French War. German troops, Dragoner from Baden commanded by Count Zeppelin, marched into France through here on July 24, 1870. This was the first act of this war (which lead to the foundation of the second German Empire).

In the street behind Porte de Landau I spotted a funny building which I named The Melting House, because that's what it looks like. No idea if it has an official name. An imaginative artist has painted the facade of this small town house in a really weird way. Porte de Landau. The pink colour makes it impossible to miss. Fancy, isn't it?

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The catholic Church of the Holy Trinity is the centre and landmark of the town. It is located on a platform above the main square. The building still has some medieval (gothic) parts in the choir and the sacresty. It was badly damaged in the wars of the late 17th century, though. The nave has been renewed in 1716.

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Details of the architecture reveal the origins of the architect: Dominicus Elmenreich, who had learned his craft in Vorarlberg.
The church is open in the daytime. The interior still contains one piece from the old church: the pulpit, dated 1581.

The Latin inscription above the main portal: „hIC sVM faVente Deo paCe et Vrbe“, can be translated as: Here I am, thanks to the Lord, peace and the city. It is a chronogram. The enlarged letters can be read as Roman numbers and give the year of the construction: M D CC VVV I = 1716.
The platform behind the church offers a fine view Place de la République with its flower beds.

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The little protestant church is well hidden in a side lane named Rue du Temple. It looks a bit unusual and there is reason for that. The building originally served as powder magazine for the Vauban fortress. Itw as built in 1708. In 1887 the protestant community bought the building to turn it into a church. This proved difficult. Windows and doors had to be broken into the walls which are 1.70 m thick. The floor had to be lowered. A small bell spire, just a wall with two arched openings for the bells, was added on top of the gable.

I would have liked to see the interior, but it was closed and there was no mentioning of opening times, so I assume they only open it for services.

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The two cemeteries of Lauterbourg, the Christian and the Jewish, are located next to each other outside the old town along Rue de la Chapelle. The Christian cemetery is the bigger one, and open in the daytime. The active part of the cemetery has a mix of older and modern tombstones. The older monuments are on family graves that have recently received a new 'inmate', otherwise they would have been cleared after a certain time. The bones are then put to rest in the ossuary next to the little chapel. A custom that was new to me are the little stone or brass plates on the graves, each donated by a family member or friend with a memorial wish for the defunct.

In the back of the graveyard there are two rows of historical, mostly 19th century tombstones along the hedge, obviously taken away from the graves and put on display there. Some of these marked the graves of members of the local freemason loge „Persévérance“. The symbol of this loge was the bee, and it is depicted on their stones.

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The much smaller Jewish cemetery is surrounded by a high wall, and the gate is locked. But you can catch a glimpse through the wrought-iron gate. The cemetery was opened in the second half of the 19th century, the oldest tombstone present dates from 1877. Most tombstones are pre-World War II, for obvious reasons.

From the cemeteries it was just a short walk to the station, so I ended my tour there and took the next train back home.

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Lauterbourg train station has connections in two directions: to Strasbourg, and across the border to Wörth in Palatinate. A look at the timetable shows that connections to Strasbourg are once per hour or once in two hours but not at regular intervals. Also, the German and French trains don't connect. If you plan to continue south, check the timetable carefully. Connections into Germany are better. Local trains run from Lauterbourg to Wörth every hour and reach Wörth after 16 minutes. In Wörth you connect to the regional train route between Karlsruhe and Landau/Neustadt-Weinstraße and the Karlsruhe city tram into the city and to Germersheim. The route is part of the KVV and VRN public transport networks, the respective tickets are valid. The state of Rheinland-Pfalz has recently modernized the fleet of local trains, so there is a modern diesel railcar commuting on this line.

Posted by Kathrin_E 00:48 Archived in France Tagged alsace lauterbourg Comments (0)

Wissembourg: Romantic Overkill, Alsatian Style

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Wissembourg, Weißenburg in German, is situated just beyond the French-German border. The history of the town was German (well, there was no Germany in those times, so let’s say part of the Holy Roman Empire) until the late 17th century, then it became French property. Further on the government and the border lines changed a couple of times. The changes of history have left their marks. Like in most of Alsace, the culture is a mix of French and German-Alsatian although French has become the predominant language. The cuisine has adopted the best of both...

The roots of the town lie in the early middle ages with the foundation of the Benedictine monastery, a free imperial abbey with a lot of influence and wealth. Later on the town developed around the abbey. The old town is very well kept and its inhabitants, and its tourist office, have a sense of beauty and romanticism... Old houses, flowers, the little river, narrow bridges... certain views can be called a romantic overkill.

The town is rather small, however, and the main attractions can be seen in half a day. Add time for lunch and a coffee break, a leisurely stroll and a rest on a bench on the ramparts, and you have a perfect day trip destination.

From the train station it is a short walk into the old town through a little park. The footpath leads through a medieval gate next to where the river Lauter exits the town wall. The building by the river used to be a water mill. A large millstone has been put up on the footpath as reference to how the powers of the water have been used in former times. A barrage controlled the current.

The Lauter canal runs right through the town and was used for various purposes. A few steps further upstream by the bridge, steps lead down to water level. The spot has been covered with a roof to provide some protection from the weather. This is where the women of the town used to do their laundry in the water of the river.

From this spot, all streets lead into the old town. My preferred route is keeping right along Rue des Écoles. In the square on the left there is the synagogue, a small 1960s or 1970s building. The gothic architecture on the right is more spectacular. This is the former Dominical church. now known as Centre Culturel Le Dominicain. The monastery was closed down in the French Revolution. In recent years what was left of the church and convent buildings has been turned into a cultural centre.

Then we reach Rue Nationale, the main street of the town. A tall stone building from the renaissance era, now seat of a bank, is the first eyecatcher. Rue nationale has many little shops, some cafes and restaurants. I am particularly fond of the bakeries. Perfect if you want to treat yourselves to sweet cake or pastry, or to an Alsatian speciality, a cake named Kougelhopf.

Most pâtisséries sell Kougelhopf, cakes from yeast dough baked in a round mould with a hole in the middle, a very typical shape. The Kougelhopf (in German: „Gugelhupf“) is a traditional Alsatian cake with raisins and almonds. They have it in different sizes, I also saw (and bought and tried) a very small one-person variety, good if you just want to taste it. However, Kougelhopf is not as sweet as other cakes. It is not supposed to be served with coffee or tea. The appropriate drink to have with this cake is a dry Gewürztraminer, a variety of white wine that has a flowery, perfumed flavour. In Wissembourg I also found a sweeter variety, entitled „Kougelhopf douce“.

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The Northern Quarter and Protestant Church

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Instead of following Rue Nationale straight to the town hall and the abbey church, I suggest a loop through the lanes on the other side. The quarter between Rue nationale and the ramparts is the best preserved part of old Wissembourg. This is a residential quarter with authentic flair, narrow streets and historical houses, some half-timbered, but most built from stone and covered in plaster. The pale reddish and ochre colours are typical for Northern Alsace.

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Above some doors the winemakers‘ sign is displayed. The sign of two crossed knives in the shape of a sickle is displayed on several houses all over town, also in other quarters, for example in the side streets of s'Bruch. These are the typical vine-dresser’s knives and indicate the houses where winemakers used to live, probably (I guess) members of a certain guild.

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The prettiest half-timbered house in this quarter, if not in the whole town, is certainly Musée Westercamp in Rue du Musée, at the foot of the northern ramparts. The woodwork of the facade is decorated with elaborate woodcarvings. The museum seems to be closed for good, nevertheless I recommend walking by for a look at the building.

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The alleys finally lead to a little square with a medieval church, Église de Saint-Jean, the Church of St John Baptist. In the middle ages it used to be the parish church of Weißenburg while the abbey church served for the monastery alone.

In 1536 the reformation according to the Strasbourg reformator Martin Bucer was introduced. The church stayed protestant until 1684.

Due to the laws of Louis XIV it then became a simultaneous church which was used both by catholics and protestants. In the revolution it became a „Temple of Reason“ but since 1802 it has been the sole property of the protestant community.

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The originally Romanesque church underwent profound changes throughout the centuries. To obtain more space the pillars and vaults have been removed and the room covered with a flat wooden ceiling. World War II has caused notable damage but the church has been repaired. The sacristy contains precious 14th century frescoes but these can only be visited throughout limited hours on Saturdays. Otherwise, the church is open daily.
For the best view of the church and the adjacent old parsonage, climb the ramparts.

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Ramparts Trail

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A self-guided tourist trail leads along the remains of both the medieval and the 18th century fortifications. It is well marked and the different attractions are all explained, detailed in French and a short summary in German and English. The whole walk takes about an hour. Maps (apologies for the lousy photo) that show the trail are put up in several spots so you can pick any part you are interested in.

Photographers, I recommend this trail even if you are not that much into military history because it leads to many fine viewpoints.

The trail touches the medieval wall with towers and gates along the south and southwest, the gate tower and the romantic canal in the Bruch, and the 18th century ramparts along the northern edge of the old town.

In the late 17th century Louis XIV annexed the whole Alsace, which was confirmed in the peace treaty of Rijswijk in 1697. Weißenburg became Wissembourg, and it became a border town. In the 18th century its fortifications were enlarged and modernized. Parts of the baroque fortress with its high ramparts are still visible along the northern flank of the old town. The ramparts trail shows them. The Tour de la Poudrière, a tower on the ramparts, was keeping watch of the city gate. On the outer side the dry moat and contrescarpe are well preserved. The ramparts used to be bare, they are now covered in trees and serve as park and promenade.

The medieval Stephen’s Gate that lead into the town from the north disappeared from the light of day in the 18th century when the French built the much bigger baroque ramparts above it. Excavations in recent years unearthed the arches and walls of the gate. These are visible from the ramparts trail.

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The Town Centre

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Triangular Place de la République is the centre of bourgeois Wissembourg. The two main streets, Rue Nationale and Rue de la République, meet here and make the triangular square (huh?) a prominent location in the townscape. The baroque town hall (1741-1752) occupies the northern side. During my summer visit it was still decorated for the celebration of July 14, the national holiday and anniversary of the beginning of the French Revolution, judging from the abundance of French flags and garlands. The coats of arms in the gable have been removed. I wonder whose coats of arms have originally been under the golden crown.

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The street in the third corner runs towards the bridge over Lauter canal that leads into the realms of Weißenburg Abbey. On the left side just before the bridge there is the house with the fanciest roof in town: Maison du Sel, the former salt storage. The timberwork of the huge roof is crooked and twisted in an amazing way – best view is from Place du Saumon beyond the canal. Maison du Sel nowadays contains an upscale restaurant. This area between Place de la République and the abbey has a number of restaurants in various price scales – plenty of options to try any Alsatian speciality from Flammkueche (Tarte flambée) to frog legs, depending on the preferences of the individual concerned.

Weißenburg Abbey

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In the ground plan of Wissembourg the division into two separate entities is still visible: There is the bourgeois town, and there is the abbey. The canal divides them; the ‚borgder‘ is most obvious along Quai Anselmann. Administration as well as religious denomination were different: While the town joined the reformation, the abbey stayed with catholic faith.

The majestic Romanesque and gothic abbey church is Wissembourg’s main sight. The Benedictine Abbey of Wissembourg, or Weißenburg, used to be one of the wealthiest and most influential monasteries in the middle ages. Its status was that of a free imperial abbey. The gothic abbey church still tells of its great past.

Later Weißenburg became property of the Bishops of Speyer, who included the Weißenburg coat of arms, the golden gate on red ground, in theirs. In the French Revolution the abbey was secularized, the convent buildings partly demolished, most of the church furnishing taken away. The church became the catholic parish church of the town in the 19th century.

Most of the present furnishing like altars, pulpit etc. is not medieval but 19th century historism. Among the church’s art treasures are to be mentioned: the gothic Sepulchre of Christ in the southern side nave, and the 13th/14th century stained glass windows in the choir.

The great organ on the gallery in the west is in a miserable state and has not been played for at least 40 years. Donations are being collected for its restoration.

The gothic cloister has been demolished after the closing of the monastery in the French Revolution. Only one and a half wings are preserved at all, and these are lacking their gothic vaults and the tracery is damaged. Tombstones of abbots and monks have been lined up against the wall.

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A little chapel off the cloister is the oldest part of the abbey that still exists – it may well be the oldest building in the whole town. The architecture is early Romanesque. The chapel was consecrated in 1033 and dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul, the patron saints of the abbey.

In summer 2009 the chapel was used for an exhibition of contemporary religious art with paintings, in 2010 they were having a new exhibition with reproductions of paintings by Caravaggio. For the first time I was able to enter the chapel instead of just peeping through the grille.

This chapel hosts a tiny picture which is of great significance in the world of art history: The little round stained glass piece with the face of Christ was created around 1060/65 and is one of the oldest known stained glass paintings. It was discovered in the abbey church. The original has been transferred to the Musée de l' oeuvre Notre-Dame in Strasbourg. The one in the chapel is a copy, inserted in a modern stained glass window depicting an abstract cross.

While the cloister and convent have been demolished, other buildings in the abbey grounds are still standing. They have been dedicated to new purposes. The present sous-prefecture may have been the abbot’s or guests’ quarter. The row of barns round the corner rue Stanislas/place de Saumon is easily recognizable from the big gates and high roofs. These must have been part of the abbey’s economy buildings.

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Jardin de Stanislas is a small shop near the abbey church. It is situated at the back of a well-kept garden in baroque style with boxwood hedges and old fruit trees. Enter the garden through the gate in the wall opposite the entrance of the abbey church. The garden is worth a look and (photographers!) provides a pleasant foreground for the southern facade of the church.

Keep in mind that this is someone’s private garden and not a public park. Stay on the path that leads to the shop, and keep your hands off the fruit, no matter how yummy it looks... I admit it took me a lot of self-restraint not to steal a sample from the Mirabelle tree but I succeeded...

There used to be a very pretty shop selling arts and crafts, decorations and knickknack in these premises. Unfortunately this shop has closed down. In the meantime a florist shop has been opened, which I have not yet seen. But I assume that with these new tenants the garden will be kept better than ever.

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The name of the shop referred to the Polish King Stanislaus (Stanisław) Leszczyński who spent some of his exile years in Wissembourg together with his daughter Maria, later the spouse of King Ludwig XV, and Queen of France. After losing his crown to the Saxon Elector August the Strong, Stanislaus and his family moved from country to country and hardly stayed anywhere for more than a few years. In Wissembourg they inhabited Palais Stanislas, a baroque town palace which is now occupied by the town hospital.

s’Bruch – Bitche: The Most Romantic Part of Town

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Another small waterflow encircles the back boundaries of the abbey grounds. Behind, the most beautiful quarter of Wissembourg is awaiting visitors‘ cameras. Bruch, Bitche in French, is a medieval suburb that developed outside the town along the river Lauter. This is the cutest part of the town. If ever you see Wissembourg photos showing a canal and old houses and lots of flowers on tiny bridges, this is where they were taken. A romantic overkill, if ever there is one... The photos speak for themselves, don’t they?

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The spot where the river Lauter enters the town on the western side and divides into two branches has been heavily fortified with a gate tower known by its old German name of Hausgenossenturm. Next to it a river lock controls the amount of water that flows either into or around the town.

A short walk further upstream from Hausgenossenturm outside the old town you reach Walkmühle, an old water mill that now is an upscale hotel and restaurant. The name tells that this mill was not used for milling grain but for the fulling („walken“) of wool, felt, or fabric.

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We have reached the far end of the old town. The return could, for example, lead through the side streets of s’Bruch to Grabenloch. The meeting point of two river branches on the southern edge of the town has been heavily fortified in the middle ages. To this very day it is still known by the German name. Only very small openings in the wall allow the water to pass but no boat would get through. This is where the most impressive remains of the medieval fortifications are preserved. A little park with foot and bike trails has been created along the moats.

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A footpath leads over a small hill and past Palais Stanislas; it allows a view into the garden. Then continue along Rue Stanislas until the end of the street. On the left you’ll spot the crooked roof of Maison du Sel again, but I recommend keeping right instead because there ist hat one hidden viewpoint which is easily missed, but should not be missed. The very one that my start photo has been taken from.

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In Rue de l’Ordre Teutonique, I noticed the entrance to a small passage underneath a house, named Schlupfgasse, with a sign that announced a picturesque view of the river Lauter 20 m behind.

Curious me could not resist checking that out.

This spot is well hidden, if you find it, walk in!!! You come along a narrow footpath between walls and end up on a small bridge across the stream. The view goes straight to the spire of the abbey church and... voilà!

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Posted by Kathrin_E 04:10 Archived in France Tagged alsace wissembourg Comments (2)

Bouxwiller: Alsace off the Beaten Path

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Upper Church

Bouxwiller is the centre of the so-called Hanauerland in Alsace,a picturesque small town of about 4,000 inhabitants in Northern (Lower) Alsace, département Bas-Rhin. The centre consists mostly of half-timbered houses, walls painted in the typical ochre and reddish colours, and narrow lanes. This quaint little town would deserve more attention, but it is rather unnoticed by most visitors because it is located too far away from the tourist areas on the wine route. Its history is closely connected with the German County of Hanau, which is the reason why the area is known as Hanauerland.

Hanau? Isn’t that somewhere near Frankfurt?

Indeed, it is. At some point in the late middle ages, due to the last daughter from the noble house of Lichtenberg, the area became property of the Counts of Hanau to form the County of Hanau-Lichtenberg. Its history is quite complicated, in particular after King Louis XIV of France annexed Alsace. From 1680 onwards, the territory was under French suzerainty. Contracts, in particular the Westphalian Peace Treaty, guaranteed the rights of the Count of Hanau, including religion – the country had introduced the Reformation and followed the Lutheran faith. However, Louis XIV intended to return the Roman-Catholic faith to these areas. French soldiers and civil servants and new settlers who moved in were French-speaking and catholic. Conversions were encouraged, the Lutherans found themselves under tight pressure. Nevertheless the Lutheran faith remained.

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The village of Kirrwiller with its two churches:
Catholic (left) and Lutheran (right)

The King’s measures to protect and promote Catholicism included the rule that, as soon as seven families lived in a village or town, the local parish church had to be opened to them. Most churches became simultaneous churches, which means that the Catholics used the choir for their mass, while the Protestants used the nave for their services – not at the same time, of course. In some places this arrangement has remained to this very day, while in others one of the two confessions was later able to build a church of their own like, as depicted above, in nearby Kirrwiller.

Only in Buchsweiler (I am using the German name here as it was in use at that time) the problem did not occur: The town had two churches. The Upper Church on the hillside, unused since the Reformation, was given to the Catholic parish community while the Lutheran Protestants kept the Lower Church in the centre of the town.

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Niederkirche

This church plays a certain role in my dissertation and a couple of other publications, hence my particular interest in it – and the need for new digital photos.

Bouxwiller is tricky to reach by public transport, though. There is no railway line, and bus connections are not too frequent. Hence I grabbed the chance when an excursion by coach was offered, and quickly signed up. This excursion was organized by an association of church music supporters and focused on the organs. It involved seeing the churches in Bouxwiller and Wissembourg, lunch and a guided tour of the town in Wissembourg (unfortunately not in Bouxwiller!) and, first of all, private concerts for the group with a top-class organist who also explained the instruments. I love music so this was a welcome plus.

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Interior of the Lutheran Niederkirche with the Silbermann organ

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Niederkirche, the “lower church”, dates from the early 17th century, 1613–1614 to be precise. It is classified as the first new protestant church that was built in the whole of Alsace. Since then it has undergone some refurbishments and changes, though.

The baroque spire on top of the steeple is an addition of 1728. The steeple appears rather oversized when looking up from nearby. However, since it is standing at the lowest point of the “bowl” the town is located in, it has to be this high in order to be visible over the rooftops. In particular since the Roman Catholics had the Upper Church on the hillside which overlooks the whole town.

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In the interior, for example, it is not clear whether, and since when, the altar had not been standing in the east but in front of the pulpit. The large organ and the Prince’s box below are additions from 1778. The instrument was created by a famous master organ builder, Johann Andreas Silbermann. Trust me, its sound is fabulous.

While everyone else took their seats on the pegs down in the nave, I was up on the gallery to take photos when the concert started, so I sat down up there all by myself. It felt like having a concert played for me alone…

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Autumn colours along a country road in Hanauerland

Posted by Kathrin_E 03:26 Archived in France Tagged alsace Comments (2)

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