David Uwakwe says it’s easy to see why Strasbourg has become the de rigeur location for establishing international institutions in Europe
It is home to the Council of Europe, the workplace of hundreds of officials representing 47 countries, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament, to name but a few additions to Strasbourg’s illustrious tradition as city of international repute.
The subject of a violent Franco-German tug-of-war over the centuries, the near constant political turbulence has made Strasbourg a hotbed for innovation and intellectual enquiry. It was one of most important centres for Humanism and religious reform during the Renaissance, and the birthplace of Gutenberg’s printing press. Its University, founded in 1631, is the alma mater of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Nobel prize-winning philosopher Albert Schweitzer.
To kick off a day-trip to Strasbourg, you could do worse than to pay a visit to one of the many Winstubs, a local variant of the French bistro, and try a delicious tarte flambée, choucroute or baeckeoffe – all local specialties. Heartily fed and watered, why not take to the waters of the river Ill (a tributary of the Rhine), on one of the glass-topped tour boats for an hour-long cruise at the more-than-reasonable price of €8? This is surely the most relaxing way of taking in the easy charm of the city, enlivened by a multi-lingual commentary replete with fascinating historical tidbits.
A veritable trip through the ages, it would be possible to forget what century you’re in as you float languidly by the tile roofed and timber framed houses of the Petite France, where millers, tanners, and fishermen plied their trade of old. Possible, that is, until after passing the romantic covered bridges and stately imperial German architecture, when you come to the European Quarter with its boldly modern buildings housing contemporary institutions. Particularly impressive is the colossal, awe-inspiring European Parliament building – tours of which, unfortunately, are only available in groups of fifteen or more. When the Parliament is in session, however, debates can be observed by any visitor.
Stroll down any of the inviting, bric-a-brac streets of the UNESCO heritage listed ‘grand island’ and marvel at the striking 142-metre high Gothic Cathedral, then end your day in L’italia Palais de la Glace just off the cathedral square, where the hot chocolate goes down a treat on a winter evening.