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Impressions of Alsace, France

In the shadow of the tall and elegant spire of the Strasbourg Cathedral, I see French flags waving over buildings with half-timbered facades in the 'Lang Stross', the Long Street. That rather sounds German. And in the restaurants of 'La Petite France', they rightly praise the region's specialities of Flammkuchen, Biebeleskäs, Bäckeoffe and Kugelhopf; that all does not sound very French either. 'Le Grand Est', the Great East of Alsace has a peculiar history, indeed, with people born into German citizenship in 1917, having become French two years later with the compliments of the Versailles Treaty, considered and treated by the Hitler regime as full Germans in 1940 and issued again with a French identity card in 1945, well before they celebrated their 30th birthday... Many Alsatian mothers lived the heartbreaking misfortune of seeing one son forcefully mobilised to wear a Nazi Wehrmacht uniform, and his older brother active in the French resistance movement: the tragic consequence of the fact that, rising up to the Vosges mountain range from the Western banks of the River Rhine, Alsace is inevitably very much astride, culturally and historically, between Germany and France. Which is also why Strasbourg was chosen in 1949 as the seat of the Old Continent's first real European institution, the Council of Europe, symbolising the solidity of post-war fraternisation between France and Germany, whose rivalry had ever so often been the source of war and destruction. The specific Alsatian identity is not only a reality in Strasbourg, it is equally vibrant in the other cities like Colmar, in the quaint villages like Obernai and Riquewihr, in the castles on the Rhine valley hill tops, it lives in culinary traditions and in the wine culture of Riesling, Sylvaner and Gewürztraminer. Nowhere the call of 'Never Again War' sounds so loudly and so convincingly as from the squares and streets of the upbeat and attractive Alsatian cities and the surrounding vineyards and rolling hills of the Western Rhine Valley.

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Before visiting the place of your choice:

The Palais du Rhin was not always a palace dedicated to the Rhine: it was built after Bismarck had kicked the French out of the Alsace in 1870 and annexed the region into the German Empire of Wilhelm I. In 1889, when Wilhelm II had taken over at the helm of the German Empire and Bismarck had long been sent on retirement for differences of opinion with his boss the Emperor, the Kaiserpalast was inaugurated as an Imperial Residence. Just a matter of showing to whom Strasbourg now belonged! Built in Prussian neo-Renaissance with an enormous dome, the Kaiserpalast was the main structure in the 'Neustadt', the new urban extension to Strasbourg's historical city centre. When after the First World War Strasbourg re-became French and there was no longer a Kaiser to come and visit anyway, the Palace became home in 1920 to the 'Rhine Commission', in full the 'Central Commission for the Navigation on the Rhine', an international body which regulates and organises maintenance of the Rhine in view of shipping. With the exception of a few years on account of Hitler, the Rhine Commission has been in the 'Palais du Rhin' without interruption ever since.

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