De tous les livres, celui que je prefere est mon passeport unique in octavo qui ouvre les frontieres – Alain Borer
Out of all the books, the one I prefer to read is my passport, unique in octavo that opens the borders. – Alain Borer
People across the globe migrate, immigrate and change nationalities. That’s a normal thing. But have you heard about a place that changed its nationality, not just once but for 4 times in 75 years? Welcome to Strasbourg which was forced to toggle between being French or German from 1870 to 1945!
Located at the advantageous position on the banks of the Ile river in the Alsace region and graced with an abundance of natural resources from Vosges mountains as well Black forest, it wasn’t a surprise that Strasbourg rose to fame with its industrious nature as well as a seat of art and culture. It also piqued the nations’ interest courtesy of its strategic location on the border between France and Germany, acquiring a prominent stature from a military perspective.
Torn between the conflict of two nations for the control over the city, Strasbourg witnessed a turbulent past. However, the city survived tenaciously, absorbing the best of both the worlds French and German, in its language, its food, its architecture, and its culture, emerging as ‘towering’ Strasbourg on the international scene.
After world war II, most of the European countries longed for lasting peace and were united in the thought of not allowing any possibility of war in the future. What better place than Strasbourg to symbolize reconciliation, peace, and cooperation thought the participating European nations. Thus 1949 saw the establishment of the ‘Council of Europe’ at Strasbourg to increase the cooperation, respect for democracy, and defend the human rights of the participating European nations. It also was a practical choice as countries like Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic are located within 500kms of it.
Along with the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, it’s European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines (Pharmacopée Européenne), and its European Audio-visual Observatory are also located in the city.
Strasbourg is not the capital of any state/nation yet it hosts international organizations of the first order. There are just a handful of such cities in the world. Alongside Brussels, Luxembourg, and Frankfurt, Strasbourg is the capital of the European Union. The city is the address of the European Parliament, the Eurocorps, and the European Ombudsman of the European Union.
Together they all form the important landmarks of the European District of Strasbourg. Let me take you to two of them which I found most interesting.
Inaugurated in 1999, the European parliament is an enormous elliptical building. It is made of glass, wood, and metal. It is a massive 20 storied building with 18 committee rooms, and 1100 offices apart from a horseshoe-shaped debating chamber with a seating capacity of 800.
Located on the banks of the Ile river it is designed like a ship. It holds plenary sessions each month. One can visit and European parliament and if timed well can witness the plenary session too.
The Court of Human Rights
The Court of Human Rights was inaugurated in 1995. I found the building very intriguing with its two metal cylinders connected by a huge glass façade. However, Sir Richard Rogers, the architect who designed it had a great concept behind it. The two futuristic cylinders denote the scales of justice and the glass façade means transparency of justice. The court is open for 800+ million European people.
That was our last day at quaint, radiant, sassy, and towering Strasbourg. However, that’s not all. You can explore some amazing parts of the city like Place Republique, Neustadt, Palais Rohan, Quartier Krutenau, and Parc L’Orangerie etc to name a few. Let’s visit them sometime in the future and let’s move on to a new destination tomorrow.
Click here for posts so far in the “Exploring l’Hexagone” series