Alsace, a Miniature Europe
Between tradition and modernity, this French region generates a lot of curiosity. Its features have contributed to making it one of the most famous and visited French regions in the world.
Picturesque villages with half-timbered houses along the road are what strike the attention of any visitor who takes the “route des vins d’Alsace” (road of Alsace wines). Not surprisingly, this road is one of the major tourist routes. “Les perles de la route” (highlights of the road), located around Colmar (one of the largest city of Alsace), attract the largest number of visitors in the summer as well as during the Christmas season. Although Alsace is famous worldwide for its wine, history and geography shape this French region, considered to be one of the best known in the country.
Located in the north-east of France, Alsace stands directly alongside the left bank of the Rhine river. Although well known, Alsace is the smallest French region with its two departments, Haut Rhin and Bas Rhin (high and low Rhine). Despite its small size, it is the third most populated region in metropolitan France, with 223 people per square kilometer and a total of 1.8 million residents.
The geographical position of this region on the Rhine offers a number of assets to its economy. Alsace is part of the tri-national, Franco-German-Swiss area of the upper Rhine. It has an economic power of €165 billion (more than the average in Western Europe), with six million residents. Many companies are located in this three-border area, offering a large workforce for many young people. Alsace is the top French region in export value per capita and second in gross household income. Despite the worldwide economic crisis, it is one of the French regions where the unemployment rate is the lowest.
Because of its strong cultural identity, Alsace is part of the cultural space of central Europe. “L’alsacien” is the third native language most spoken in France. Cradle of the “Marseillaise” (French anthem), Alsace was born out of the ideas of revolutionary generals such as Kléber, Kellerman and Captain Dreyfus.
Strasbourg: the capital of Europe
Strasbourg is one of the few cities hosting the headquarters of international institutions without being the capital of a country, like New York and Geneva. It is the seat of the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. It has many European and international organizations, not to mention the 75 diplomatic and consular missions.
It is a great recognition that UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) included it to the “Patrimoine mondial de l’humanité” in 1988. Usually this recognition is only granted to certain areas within a city, but in this case, it includes the entire city, which is a rare event.
Ernest Bevin, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the United Kingdom in 1949, stated, “this is a city which, more than others, was a victim of the stupidity of the European nations who believed they could resolve their problem by war. Now, it must be destined to become a symbol of reconciliation and peace.”
To say it all, Alsace owes much to its history. This territory was long fought between France and German and, after being annexed by Germany in 1940, it was returned to France in 1945 after World War II.
Particularities in several areas
Its historical, geographical, economic and cultural wealth, help Alsace live up to its potential, making it special in France. These particularities are expressed at various levels.
Many areas are covered by the local “Alsatian” law, which takes precedence over the French general law. Like the right of employment, the right of association and municipal law. The municipal law is the strongest, with wider powers and greater autonomy.
The fact that Alsace alternated between French and German domination has contributed to its differences with other French regions. Here, the value of religion is noticeable. Catholic, Protestant and Jewish priests are paid by the state. This means that they are theoretically subject to state control. In other regions, there is a boundary between school and religion. Alsace religion classes are taught to students of primary and secondary school.
If you are in Alsace, do not go hunting without a permission of the municipality. The hunting domain is the responsibility of the municipality. Animals hunted belong to the municipality. So, watch out.