After just a few months of life with a baby we decided to opt out of our pledge to a smaller carbon footprint and opt in for more flexibility and purchased a vehicle. With this newfound flexibility we drove to Strasbourg France for a long weekend because, well, we could. It seems an appropriate point to explain that one of the benefits of the European Union Agreement is the freedom of movement within it. So driving from Germany to lets say…France, is as simple as driving from Kansas to Colorado. Nice little signs along the highways at the borders but no fences or booths for passport checks.
Once we checked into our hotel and settled we set off in search of food.
We stumbled upon a little hole in the wall restaurant Bar á Popol, and when we opened the door the heads of every single person inside swiveled to look in our direction. Imagine a long narrow closet with small tables along each wall and a narrow path going down the middle-we’ll call that the gauntlet. Next imagine a deer in your headlights, eyes wide, standing frozen. Well Bar á Popol was that closet with a gauntlet, and me the deer. I had a moment of panic because we can only say hello, thank you and please in French, which obviously is not enough vocabulary to order a meal.
My head swirled with media clips, movie references and even a few personal experiences of the French snorting in derision when they meet someone who can’t speak French and who assumes that everyone will just speak English to accommodate them. (Really we English speakers have a reputation…) When I came out of my unhelpful fog I realized the server, a stout middle-aged man with a glorious handle-bar moustache was speaking to us clearly in French and then switching languages (an impressive number of them actually) trying to find something that would communicate his point.
It finally registered that he was inviting us in. Mauricio took one look at me, saw my deer-like state and took over. He led us down the gauntlet of curious eyes to a table and the server began speaking, again switching languages until Mauricio began replying in German. Language selection made, Monsieur Popol wandered to the bar for our drinks. All the while, the entire room watched us-and my body was screaming at me to run away. Mauricio finds my discomfort with attention humorous and sat back easily. As he smiled, one woman walked over to our table and began speaking in Portuguese (when people see Mauricio they often assume he is Portuguese or Spanish) asking if we needed help to order. Her kind offer settled my nerves. Monsieur Popol came back with our drinks and began by asking what languages we speak and again, with everyone watching, Mauricio ran through his own list of languages and we settled into a bizarro hybrid conversation of German, English, Spanish and French-all necessary because there was no written menu.
Monsieur Popol was loud, boisterous, and made jokes the entire time and I was relieved when he finally went to the kitchen to tell ‘Daveeeeed’ the chef our order. Other diners’ attentions finally went back to their own conversations and I began to relax. And then the door opened and two new deer appeared, abruptly stopped and stared. With new prey, Monsieur Popol delightedly began his language switching spiel and jokes as Mauricio and I, new members of the gauntlet, were entertained. Monsieur Popol was a showman and although Daveeeed was indeed a good chef, Monsieur Popol was, indeed, the business.
The following day we did a walking tour. We hit many spots throughout the city but this Monument aux morts (Place de la République) stayed with me: For you to better understand it, I’ll have to give you a short history blurb (dates supported by wikipedia).
Today, Strasbourg is irrefutably a part of France. However, the city bounced back and forth between France and Germany. The city itself is very old and was once upon a time an independent ‘Free City’. But one of the King Louis’ annexed Strasbourg in 1681 and the city became a prized part of France. In 1871 it became part of Germany. Then again in 1919, it returned to France as part of the Treaty of Versailles (the end of WWI). In 1940, it was taken back by Germany and but then liberated at the end of WWII placing it back in the hands of France.
This switching back and forth of national identity, usually perpetuated by war, created divisions between generations in families. This monument is a testament to that suffering. A mother holding her two sons. The mother is Strasbourg. One son, a German soldier, the other a French soldier. Both naked in death. This is not just a monument honoring their fallen. There is a message deeper here. Do you hear it?
The story about the restaurant, and this monument are the two things I remember most clearly about Strasbourg. The rest of what I can share is a combination of small anecdotes and some lovely pictures. Hardly will do the city justice, but it is all I have. You see, the point of my blogging is not only to share but also to remember. We visited this city Easter weekend of 2016! I should have written sooner, I would have remembered more, I could have cheated and pasted over a few paragraphs from Wikipedia….but you know what they say about shoulda woulda coulda’s… The Popol story is a hard act to follow anyway, eh?
Strasbourg is the Headquarters of the European Court of Human Rights and also the seat of the European Parliament.
We had our first fine dining experience with a baby at Maison Kammerzell. I suppose you might think baby means chicken nuggets and pizza every time you eat out. But they obliged us quite nicely and let us park the Pram right next to our table. It was a wonderful meal, reinforcing the known truth that French cuisine is special.
We also went to a cheese stand. Take a look, they have huge blocks of cheese and you just walk up pick one, tell them you want a piece and watch them cut it for you. We got bullied into a 50€ piece of cheese. Yes. That’s right. 50 bucks. For cheese. The sellers are clever, you see. You show them what you want, and they haul the big block of cheese over and then set their knife down over it and wait for you to say ‘yes’ or ‘more’ or ‘less’. Well, our gal started at a huge piece. And we kept saying ‘less’, and she kept just barely moving the knife. People were getting restless around us and I swear to you, her chin was up and her eyes were laughing, just daring us to keep dragging it out. So eventually we caved, and walked away with a bigger chunk of cheese and a lighter wallet than planned.
The song “La Marseillaise” was written and composed in Strasbourg but not with the intention of being the national anthem. Through a series of events I no longer remember, it became their anthem anyway. You might recognize it:
A few more photos:
cheese = fromage
baby = bébé
war = guerra
peace = paix
to love = aimer
see you again or until we next meet = Au revoir!!