We woke up in France. Part of the Rhine River travels through the border between France and Germany. That is where we were. This part of Europe has of course been actively fought over by France and Germany many times through the centuries.
This was our first time in France; we were absolutely thrilled. We have travelled a fair bit, but never to France. Today we tried to make up for that. We think we did.
Our guide for the morning was Florian a handsome young student who was free with his knowledge and opinions. Some of our group were not impressed. Most of us thought he was a fantastic guide. Chris and I were enthusiastically in the second camp. He had a lot of knowledge of European art in particular and obviously loved to share it.
Because the region and the city have changed so often, (5 times between 1870 and 1945) it is difficult to say whether the residents are French or German. The dialect that Florian spoke, even though he is a citizen of France, is 70% German and 30% French.
We took a short bus trip to a smaller boat so that we could sail through the canals of Strasbourg. To our disappointment, the smaller boat was covered with a glass roof. That did allow us to see the city, but it made photography all but impossible. According to Florian, when it got hot this created a greenhouse heat.
Europeans are strange. In 1977 the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg was completed becoming one of the 4 capitals of the European Union. Who would want 4 capitals? The cost of course is crazy, but Europe can afford it. Strasbourg is not the capital of France but is a capital of Europe. It acts as the capital for only 4 days each month. As a result there are a number of international institutions in the city. Right beside it is the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice as well as the European Council.
One of the interesting things about Strasbourg is that it is formally secular. The people still resent the profound effects of the 30 Years War. That war resulted in the loss of 1/3 to ½ of the population. After such a war they were reluctant to allow religious disagreements to become part of state policy. In fact much of France is keen on secularity in politics. Who can blame them for that?
Interestingly though, according to Florian, one can still be sued for blasphemy, though the law is ignored to such an extent it is no longer effective. Sort of like marijuana laws in the Netherlands.
According to Florian, Strasbourg is now a city of many religions. They even have Mennonites and Amish. This may not be surprising, since the Mennonites are taking over the world by stealth. If you don’t believe that read the Daily Bonnet. The site is for Mennonites sort of like Pravda for Russians. At the start of our journey into the city, a new Russian Orthodox Church was under construction. Thanks to the European Union diverse groups have been emigrating to France. For example, 7.5% of France is now Muslim and that is not without controversy of course. Of course with diversity, come challenges.
The historic centre called Grande Íle (Grand Island) was classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988. It was the first time that an entire city was so designated.
Some famous people have lived here including John Calvin, Albert Schweitzer, and Johannes Gutenberg.
The French Constitution of 1958 provides that France is a democratic, secular country, but religion in France is never that simple. That constitution makes France constitutionally secular with churches and state separated. Even though it says that the government does not recognize or subsidize any religion the taxpayers of France in fact subsidize religion in many ways. For example, the law provides that for public funding of religious education the Catholic Church is the primary beneficiary of that law, but not the only beneficiary.
The European Union is an interesting experiment. They have created an economic union, but not really a political union. Some people in some countries think the central European government has been overly aggressive in imposing centralist policies that the rural people in particular resent. One of the wonders of the European Union is the reconciliation between France and Germany that it has facilitated. I remember one of my fellow travelers in Africa who was a German resident filled with pride that these former enemies–France and Germany–were now friends. That is a remarkable achievement when you think about how often they have gone to war. I hope it lasts.
Part of the problem between these 2 countries was the Treaty of Versailles after the First World War. Germany was never successfully invaded in that war. It was not really defeated militarily. The impositions on Germany after that war were hugely unfair and led directly and quickly to the rise of a German populist leader–Adolf Hitler. Germans revolted against this injustice and listened to a rabble-rousing leader who in effect promised to make Germany great again.
We eventually got off the boat for a walk through part of the town. Then we saw up close one of the highlights of Strasbourg–the Cathedral (Munster) of Strasbourg. This was the tallest building in Europe for nearly 5 centuries. It is 461 ft. high and contains some remarkable features. Unfortunately, we could not get a view of it from a distance as we could in Breisach. It was completely surrounded by buildings, as was the Duomo in Florence. As a result of course, we got no good photographs of this magnificent church. That is a pity.
After a short stroll through the old city, we met again and Florian led us back to the boat where we enjoyed a light barbecue lunch on the upper deck. We overheard ignorant Americans at the next table say they did not like France because “we have rescued it too many times.” More self-satisfied nonsense from Americans. When will it ever end?
I always have difficulty passing up flowers wild or exotic
In the afternoon, we had another guide who took us in a bus to Alsace. It is cultural and historical region of eastern France located on the eastern border of France and Germany.
Alsace is a great wine-producing region. Grape growers believe that grapes must suffer to be worthy of good wines. The grapes have to get thirsty. If life is too easy, the grapes produce inferior wines. It reminds me of my belief that suffering is needed to produce religious enlightenment. Added to that, the soil cannot be too rich. Poor soil is better than rich soil for wine production. This forces the roots to grow deeper and grow through a variety of soils. The diversity of the soil is good for complexity of the wine.
Our tour took us to a small family vineyard and winery in the town of Obernai. It has been owned by the Robert Blanck family since 1732! During the centuries the knowledge about wines and grapes has been passed down through the generations. We were introduced to the wine production by one of the daughters of the owner. She was very knowledgeable about grapes, wines, and wine production. We learned an amazing amount about wines. Sadly, we also forgot a lot about wines.
Grape growers do not allow the leaves of the grape vine to touch the ground. Added to that, the Alsace producers do not allow any winery to add sugar to the grapes. It must be pure to qualify as Alsace wine. They also do not permit any blends.
We also learned that climate change is having a big effect on grape growing. Because growing seasons are changing, the wine producers sometimes have to cool down the grapes that have been harvested because often the warmer weather starts fermentation too soon for best quality. I was pleased to see that the Americans at our table did not cover their ears when this was explained, but I am not sure about other tables.
We loved all the wines we sampled (4 of them). Well at least I loved all 4 of them. The ladies beside me did not agree. They did not enjoy some of the wines. This was a great pity, for when they did not enjoy a wine they poured it into my glass rather than the trash container we were given. As a gentleman I had no choice but to help the ladies out. I must always rescue damsels in distress. Sadly that meant that I consumed too much wine. What a pity! My mother always said that I was a very good boy, but bad associates could get me into trouble. That is exactly what happened today.
After we left the winery we drove back to our ship. We started driving through the town of Obernai. It is a gorgeous old town and would have been worth a stroll, but sadly, we had no time for a stroll. Our taskmaster guide forced us to leave. It was nice to see a stork on a roof top.
Back on the ship we were “entertained” by a group of French musicians who had supposedly just come from Vegas. I told our companions, Scott and Susan from Delaware/New Jersey and Fort Lauderdale respectively, that I considered the accordion an instrument of torture.
We dined with Scott and Sue later and found out that Sue was a Trump supporter and her son Scott hated Trump. That made for some interesting conversations. Sue tried to convince us that Trump had done some good things, but unsurprisingly, she had a difficult time finding some examples.
Dinner was another elegant and tasty treat. The more wine Scott consumed, as his mother pointed out, the more of a raconteur Scott became. We didn’t mind; we had a marvelous time.