We sailed overnight to Strasbourg, docking about 100 yards from where we’d started the cruise on Friday. We took the City Tour, which began with a quick drive past the European District where we got glimpses of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament through the bus windows.

We also drove by Synagogue de la Paix, built in the 1950s to replace the synagogue that the Nazis had destroyed. It has a six-branched menorah to represent the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.

We got off the bus and walked to La Place de la République, where we saw the war memorial sculpture depicting a mother with her two dead sons, one French and one German.

We crossed the River Ill, which separates the German and French quarters of the city and saw the Janus Fountain also known as The Birth of Civilization, which was designed in 1988 by Alsatian illustrator Tomi Ungerer, on the occasion of Strasbourg’s 2000-year anniversary. The two faces of the fountain represent the duality of French and Germanic culture in Strasbourg and Alsace. One of the faces is turned towards the historical city center, while the other points towards the old German imperial quarter of the Neustadt. The aqueduct structure, composed of 5000 bricks, symbolizes the Roman origins of Strasbourg, where the military outpost of Argentoratum was once located.

We continued walking through Place Broglie, passing the Opéra National du Rhin, the Monument au Général Leclerc, and City Hall.

Our guide took us through the streets between City Hall and the Cathedral; they were quiet because it was early on Sunday morning, though a few bakeries were open. We weren’t able to go inside the Cathedral because services were in progress, but we could hear the organ and enjoy seeing the outside of the building.

The guide left us outside the Cathedral and we explored the area with our friends.

We spent most of the day at the Historical Museum which covered Strasbourg’s history from ancient times until nearly today. It was comprehensive without being overwhelming, and all the exhibits were explained in French, German, and English (though the English explanation was usually much shorter than the others).

We took a break partway through our exploration to have lunch; we found Restaurant Le Rimini a few blocks away from the tourist area. The food was great and inexpensive. Diane and I ate for less than $40, including two Picon Biéres, an interesting mixture of beer and Amer Picon, a local apéritif. They gave us soup and our choice of digestif for free, too!

We walked back to the ship by way of the University of Strasbourg.

Lots of discoveries!

A choice of B’s

If the lock keepers hadn’t gone on strike, the ship would have stayed in Basel last night and we would have had a full day there today. Instead, we sailed overnight to Breisach, Germany, a small but historic city of 15,000 citizens. We had a choice between a bus tour into Basel or taking a walking tour in Breisach; we chose to stay and explore.

Our guide, Johannes, met us at the ship and we walked a short distance along the Rhine until we got our first view of the walls of the city and our goal, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, atop the Long Path up the walls.

Johannes talked about the importance of wine to the area from ancient times through today; we passed the site of their annual wine fest, complete with statue of Bacchus with grapes.

We continued through the Rhine Gate – it was easy for us to cross, but not so easy for the various invading armies through history.

The Long Path began just inside the gate; it’s been there for a long time and was first documented in 1319. Today, there’s a cobblestone circle marking the start of the path – and a sign giving its history.

To commemorate this “first major work of the National Socialist city council” (as a contemporary article in the press called it) the cobblestone circle – with a swastika until 1945, and inscribed with the year 1933 – was created for the celebration marking completion of the work on 5 November, 1933. It now serves as a reminder of the start of the NS regime and, thus, of the darkest chapters in Germany’s history, and its victims.

The path wasn’t really all that long – we reached the top in about 15 minutes. We stopped briefly at the Radbrunnenturm, a treadle wheel well tower with a 41-meter-deep well shaft, driven by a wooden treadle wheel built beginning in 1198. It’s also served as a town hall, court, and torture chamber with prison and is now an exhibition and concert venue.

St. Stephens Cathedral was only a few steps away, but first we stopped to pay our respects to Europa, a symbol of Europe’s integration.

We walked around the church as Johannes told us about the history of Breisach, the unification of the Germanic tribes (it was Julius Caesar’s fault), and the bombing of the church in 1945 (the Allies used it as a marker and got too close).

In 1978, the church’s crypt was transformed into a memorial for the city of Breisach.

We left the church grounds and walked over to the city hall (Rathaus) in time to see a newly married couple emerge.

Johannes walked us back down to the market square and took his leave of us; we went back to the ship for a quick lunch, then returned to town for dessert – and a rainstorm. As soon as it ended, it was back to the ship to dry off!

A couple of hours later, the storms had passed, so Diane and I went back to Breislach for one last visit. Johannes had mentioned that we were near what used to be the Jewish quarter of town and we wanted to find it.

The street known today as “Rheintorstrasse” (Rhine Tower Street) was known as “Jüdengasse” (Jew Alley) before 1938; we followed it until we reached Blaues House, which was the center of the Jewish Community in Breisach before 1940.

It was owned by a Jewish congregation and used as a school and accommodation for teachers and the cantor. After Breislach’s synagogue was destroyed on Kristallnacht in 1938, the top floor was used as a prayer room until Breisach’s last Jewish citizens were deported on October 22, 1940.

Today, the building is owned by the “Ehemailges Jüdisches Gemeindhaus Breisach” (Association for the Blue House) and is a memorial site and educational establishment dedicated to the history of the Jews of the Upper Rhine. It’s only open on Wednesday and Sunday, so we couldn’t go in.

There was a memorial stone (not the usual “stumbling stone”) for Michael Eisemann, the last Cantor of the Breisach synagogue, and the square where the Blue House stands has been named for him. May his memory be for a blessing.

Basel (Day 3) – NOT!

The River Empress was supposed to dock in Basel last night; we planned to drop our bags there and use the rest of the day to keep exploring the city. But the French lock masters union had a different idea and held a one-day strike which shut down locks on the French portion of the Rhine, so the ship stayed in Strasbourg and we took a two-hour bus ride to meet it; it’s docked on a canal a few kilometers from the tourist area.

Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we took a walk along the canal and found a few surprises. The first was a small monument to the maritime force members who had died for France in wars between 1870 and 1966.

There were a dozen or so houseboats moored near the ship; many of them had gardens on deck.

We were near the end of the row of houseboats when I thought I saw the Jolly Roger…and I was right.

Our next surprise was a lovely Russian Orthodox Church, L’Église orthodoxe de Tous les Saints.

They had big signs in French and Russian welcoming visitors; they even have a restaurant as an additional attraction.

The inside of the church was surprisingly austere compared to any Orthodox Church I’d been in before; if I read their signs correctly, they are in the middle of a fund-raising campaign to add many additional decorations and icons, including on the ceiling.

We returned to the ship, which is currently sailing to Breisach, Germany. We’ve traversed two locks already, so I have high hopes of getting there!

Basel (Day 2) – Mostly Museums

The weather forecast called for yet another hot day, so we went out for an early walk before immersing ourselves in museums. We crossed the Rhine on the Mittlere Brücke and walked along the north side of the river.

There was another tactile model for the blind (and sighted), this one of Basel south of the Rhine, with the real thing behind it.

We saw another basilisk fountain – only 26 to go!

We crossed the Rhine again on [Wettsteinbrücke]I( which led us directly to the first museum we planned to visit, the Kunstmuseum Basel.

Our friends Brenda and Bob had already visited the museum and highly recommended the special exhibition Matisse, Derain, and Friends, which was in the “Neubau” (the new building). We’d entered in the old building (the “Hauptbau”), so we had to take the tunnel between the buildings.

The special exhibit was great – 9 rooms of mostly Fauvist paintings, taking up the entire second floor of the Neubau. There wasn’t a lot of commentary on the paintings (we chose not to get the audioguide), so they had to speak for themselves.

These two paintings were probably my favorites; I like the way they reference one another. There were actually four related paintings; maybe I’ll see the others some day.

Albert Marquet, Matisse Painting in the Studio of Manguin
Henri Manguin, The Model (1905)

I could fill today’s blog entry with photos of paintings (the public domain is a wonderful thing), but I’ll only add one more from this exhibition, André Derain’s “Boats in Colloure” from 1905.

If this show had been at the Legion of Honor or the deYoung in San Francisco, it would have been a madhouse; here, the rooms were blissfully uncrowded.

The rest of the Neubau contained art after 1950; we spent a while in a room titled “Monotony is Nice” dealing with “Minimal Art”. One of the objects in this photo is art; the other is furniture. Which is which?

One piece even invites visitors to step on it!

We enjoyed the exhibit and it left us smiling!

I wanted to explore the rest of the museum, so we braved the tunnel again and began working our way through the older part of the collection (starting with 15th Century works). We were running out of energy when we reached this still life and took it as a hint to do something else!

Harmen Steenwyck, Still Life with Skull, Books, Flute, and Pipe

We had a pleasant lunch at the museum’s bistro and walked back to the hotel for a brief break (and to feed our phones), then we headed out again, this time to the Basel Papiermühle, devoted to the history of paper, printing, and books. The museum actually still makes paper and prints books and sells them; it’s also interactive, so Diane and I got to make actual sheets of paper from rag water.

They had exhibits about the production and use of all kinds of paper, including toilet paper (on the wall across from the toilets, of course!).

Did you know that Germans typically fold their TP to use it, in contrast to Americans who usually crumple it?

The next floor up was devoted to writing and its development, including samples of writing from the 8th-15th Century, as well as this Megillah.

The interactive activity here let you write with a quill pen – Diane wrote a birthday card. She said it was hard to avoid creating blobs of ink!

The next floor dealt with printing and type; they had a full composing and typesetting room, as well as some smaller artifacts.

We had the chance to print our own postcard messages using relief printing – they didn’t let us do the inking, of course!

The final floor of the museum was devoted to bookbinding; we didn’t have much time to spend there, so I don’t know if there was an interactive element.

Basel has far too many museums to see in the time we had – perhaps we’ll return!

Basel (Day 1)

Everyone says that European railways, especially the German and Swiss railways, are always precisely on time. Not today – there was track and signal work and our train from Frankfurt to Basel left Frankfurt nearly 30 minutes late, and it kept falling farther behind schedule at every stop. Deutsche Bahn finally declared victory and terminated the train one stop early at the “Basel Bad” station instead of “Basel SBB” so that they could start it on its next journey on time.

Fortunately, our hotel (Hotel Märthof) was between the two Basel stations, so instead of getting on the following train to Basel SBB, our travel agent put us into a taxi which drove us directly to the hotel.

The hotel is a definite step up from Flemings, our hotel in Frankfurt. The room is probably twice as big, which gives us a little room to breathe for the first time on the trip. The location is nice, right off Marketplatz; we have Basel Cards which include free use of the public transit system, but I don’t expect to use that feature. And the Internet is enormously faster than it was at Fleming’s (uploads are much faster than at home, too).

It was nearly 4pm when we were ready to leave the hotel, which didn’t give us enough time to visit museums. The desk clerk suggested we walk up to the Basel Münster, which gave us a goal, and off we went.

We soon found ourselves walking through the University of Basel campus; it was founded in 1460 and still uses some of the original buildings (renovated, of course). Along the way, we enjoyed some new public art (Gänseliesel by Samuel Buri), a pleasant view of the Rhine, one of Basel’s 28 basilisk fountains, and the Natural History Museum‘s Halloween preparations.

Basel Münster is huge (about 200 feet high) and imposing. It was officially finished in 1500 and is the third church on this site. The interior was surprisingly plain, with no altar and no Jesus on the Cross; I guess that has to do with its being a Calvinistic church, but I really don’t know.

There is a good bit of stained glass; this picture of Jesus and the angels in a Star of David caught my eye.

We left the Münster proper and wandered through the cloister and the grounds.

We walked through the shopping district, but there wasn’t much to distract us – I was even able to avoid going into the Apple Store!

The Marktplatz was at the end of the main shopping street; it had the Rathaus (City Hall) on one side and a McDonald’s on the other (at least it was in a nice building!).

It was too late to explore the Rathaus, but I did pick up a brochure for their self-guided tour and we might look at it tomorrow.

I have to mention the “Singerhaus”, which is just across the street from Marktplatz.

The Fischmarkt Fountain is across from our hotel; it’s hard to get a decent photo because of all the trams and buses passing by.

We made a short trip to the Coop grocery store to buy some Swiss chocolate bars and returned in time to meet our group for a fondue dinner at Restaurant Löwenzorn. The restaurant has only been in business since 1874, but the building dates back to the 13th Century!