This is Alsace, the home of colored houses. Do you know anything about it? No, neither did I.
Pretty, isn’t it? I asked Sir Renaissance if we could paint our house this color, but he said no.
I had to do a little google research post-trip to make better sense of the place we visited. We were in a tiny village called Albé on a retreat. Retreats are not exactly the most restful thing when you have three small kids. If you’re a parent you understand what I mean, and if you’re not by choice, well, then you have no desire to.
So here’s a little google history about Alsace from from here and from here, which I hope to sum up for you in a nice tidy little historical package. First of all, the colored houses date back to the 16th century. Houses in France are traditionally built from stone (these days from cement *sigh*). In Alsace, they were made half from stone, half from timber, and unlike the medieval houses that were beige and dark wood (see photo above), these colored houses enabled people who couldn’t read to tell which merchant lived where so they could conduct their business. Cool, huh?
So Alsace is known for its wine, its rich fertile soil and for jumping back and forth between French and German hands (and the Holy Roman Empire and the Celts). Yes, you magnificent Irish folk first cleared and cultivated the soil in 1500 BC. When Caesar conquered it in 58 BC, he called it the “best of Gaul,” so rich a land as it was.
When the Roman Empire fell (something like 476 AD?), the Alemans took over and provided the basis for the Alsatian language. Yes, Alsace has its own language. And then in the 5th Century, the Franks drove them out and it became part of the Eastern Kingdom of Austrasia. Charlemagne ruled Alsace in the 8th Century and then it bounced around a bit amongst his sons before falling to the Germany under the Holy Roman Empire for 8 centuries. Louis the Pious allowed wine to travel duty free, boosting Alsace’s wine exports.
The Hohenstaufen Emporers ruled in the 12th and 13th century (still under the Holy Roman Empire) and built the Chateau of Haut-Koenigsburg, which we visited. The Reformation had a significant impact on Alsace, which remains largely Protestant today. Centuries of Germanic influence disintegrated in the horrific Thirty Year War (1618 to 1648) where Alsace was the principal battlefield, its population wiped out and the vineyards destroyed. And then Alsace became French. Even at the time of the French Revolution, Alsace was very french in spite of being closer to Germany in language and culture, and were a little shocked by the revolutionary events happening in Paris that shook their traditional bent.
In the 18th century, they were enthusiastic to follow Napoleon, and he had a great affection for them. When people poked fun at his Alsatian soldiers, he retorted, “Who cares if they don’t speak French. Their sword do.”
But they were conquered once again in 1870 in the Franco-Prussian War, with the significant battlefield being once again, Alsace. When the Bismarck imposed the German language on the Alsatian people, many fled to America. Bartholdi went to Paris and created his famous Statue of Liberty, saying that it represented the freedom he and his fellow alsatians were denied.
In the First World War the alsatians were conscripted into the Kaiser’s army and had to fight against their french compatriots. Alsace was once again a battlefield, and to add insult to injury, France decided to consider any alsatian who was in France at the outbreak of the war as an enemy alien. In spite of its rich soil and extensive industries, Alsace did not escape the Great Depression following the war. France was not eager to promote the welfare of an area that was known to be in Hitler’s designs. They fell into enemy hands once again during World War 2, fought once again against their brethren and were finally liberated in 1945.
It is perhaps befitting that Strasbourg is today the home of the European Court of Human Rights.
So when we went to visit the Chateau de Haut-Koenigsburg, we were able to see the restoration made by Willhelm II from 1900 to 1908, as a way of stamping the German ownership after their recent victory over the area. It’s therefore not truly medieval, except for the foundation, but the restoration was as true as they could make it with the addition of certain modern luxuries in heating and running water.
Still, have a look:
You’ll need a warm pair of slippers to sleep in that room!
Here, Young Knight came into his own. Actually he thought we were in the tourist shop and he strongly voiced his choice of what he wanted to bring home:
Ah, the Christian Crusades …..
So the retreat was loads of fun. Well no, perhaps not quite restful. In fact, we were really looking forward to the long ride home to be able to relax and recover from our vacation. I looked back at our peacefully sleeping darlings during the nine(!) hour trip home, with Young Knight’s huge black eye that resulted from some roughhousing and flying into the stone wall in our bungalow. Next to him was Petit Prince in his third change of clothes following one crawl through a wet playground, one poop explosion, and one choking and vomiting event where he had separated the plastic easter egg in two and tried to swallow one half. And next to him was Young Lady whom I could not see in the visor, but who kept up a quiet continuous monologue.
With the visor keeping the sun out of my eyes and serving as a mirror to watch over the two boys in the back seat, I couldn’t help but notice the grey hairs and fine wrinkles popping out in stark relief in the bright sunlight. Sir Renaissance and I talked, made plans, gained perspective, changed our mindsets – isn’t that what a vacation is all about?
We talked about his extensive traveling for work, the difficulties we face now as parents to young children (being no spring chickens ourselves), the burden that extended construction has placed on our peace. We made decisions – I to be braver in facing his leaves of absence, he to limit his extra-curricular ambitions and keep his spare time as simple as possible.
My wrinkles faded with the setting sun, giving my face a more youthful glow in the warm light as we entered the Périphérique which encircles Paris.
We carried the sleeping children into the house and I set to work, filled with determination, and inspired by all the decisions we had made on the trip home. I put away all the groceries and food items we had brought with us on the trip, as well as the toiletries. I put in a load of laundry. I cleaned the (cough) dirty dishes that were still in the sink from since before the weekend. I set out the children’s clothes for the next day to get a head start for the week.
I lost steam when it came to unpacking all the clothes, though, and left them in bags scattered all over the entrance way.
I suppose Rome wasn’t built in a day.
* This post originally appeared in my former blog, Perfect Welcome, and may contain some modifications or discrepancies in the names or comments.