Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas in Metz

Holiday lights festoon most of the streets in Metz's central pedestrian zone. Christmas Eve we walked under the lights to dinner at nearby restaurant, Le Bouchon, which offered special holiday menus. We had a table to ourselves for the evening. The restaurant has the atmosphere of and serves the food of a traditional brasserie--straightforward cuisine.

The bustle in the restaurant contrasted with the increasing stillness of the city's streets. By nightfall the crowds at noon had diminished to a hardy few. And by Christmas Day the streets were deserted. One bakery was open in the morning, but that was it. In the afternoon, Susie and I, with perhaps a dozen other people, attended a seasonal organ concert at a nearby 17th-Century church, Notre-Dame de l'Assomption. The church, with its interior now mostly dark and gray, is undergoing badly needed renovation. Its instrument is a famous organ built by Cavaille-Coll in 1845 and restored by Mutin in 1903 (see The restored organ's inaugural concert was performed by Charles-Marie Widor. Our concert, with pieces by Bach and Widor among others, was performed by the church's current organist, Philippe Delacour, who noted that the concert would be relatively short on account of the cold temperature. Indeed, everyone at the concert was bundled up. By the time the concert ended, the sun had set and we were just about the only people out.

The day after Christmas, things began to liven up again by evening. The carousels turned, the Christmas fair booths reopened, and the restaurants again hosted guests. Before dinner we went for a long walk. We bordered the River Meuse as it passed downtown, sweeping alongside key buildings--the cathedral, the "new" temple, and the opera house--all lit monumentally.

The cathedral, one of France's largest, consecrated in 1040 and built mostly between 1250 an 1522, features France's largest expanse of stained glass, ranging from the 13th to the 20th Century. Marc Chagall created the two most recent windows. See and

The New Temple, a Protestant church built in the early years of the 20th Century by Kaiser Wilhem II, who, coincidentally, was Queen Victoria's first grandchild. The church did not meet with the popular approval of the citizens of Metz because its neoclassical Rhenish style clashed with the gothic and classical styles of Metz's other churches. At the time it was built, the new temple symbolized a struggle between French and German cultures during the period of German annexation between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I. In 21st-Century eyes, the New Temple's austere dark stone now looks better, especially at night with its lights reflected in the river. See and

Near the north end of the old city center, we stopped to observe Metz's main synagogue, also well lit. Although Jews were probably present in Metz as early as the Roman era, the modern Jewish presence dates at least back to the 9th Century and then consistently from 1565 on. By 1842, 2400 Jews lived in Metz. The present synagogue, built between 1848 and 1850, replaced a number of smaller and older synagogues. It has a romanesque facade--a more conservative style than the "Oriental" (i.e., Middle-Eastern) style originally proposed by the architects. The building is large--40 meters long by 20 meters wide. During the occupation the synagogue became dilapidated but survived to be restored and listed as a historic monument. See and

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