Thursday, April 8, 2010


Susie and took the better part of a day to leave the Route des Vins and its rural vine-scapes and instead visit the nearby city of Colmar, which was the home town of the chef/owner of our hotel in Zellenberg. I wasn't sure what to expect, as the distant views of Colmar that I had from the ridges above the Route des Vins suggested that the city was a chiefly built of uninteresting modern apartment blocks.

If you look closer at the picture, though, you'll start to notice things like a large church, then some interesting buildings to its right, and then crowded buildings that promise old, narrow streets. And that is, in fact, the reality of Colmar: The areas outside the immediate center are geometric apartment blocks, contemporary malls, and parking lots. But if you walk past the new movie multiplex and through the mall, you emerge into an entirely different world of pedestrian streets, half-timbered buildings, and quaint squares.

Colmar serves as the capital of the Haut-Rhin, one of Alsace's two departments. The city was part of the Holy Roman Empire, was conquered by the forces of Louis XIV, and became part of France in 1679. It retains buildings from the 15th and 16th Centuries, including the remarkable Maison Pfister, a German Renaissance house of 1537.

The survival (and like-minded replacement) of Colmar's traditional buildings has created spaces that charm without reserve, such as this square on the Rue des Tanneurs.

And if you're really looking for picturesque, head to the Petite Venise (little Venice) district, along the banks of the Lauch river. In earlier times, the Lauch served as a major route for transporting goods and attracted water-oriented businesses, such as tanners and fishmongers. Today, the river's banks are lined with restaurants and shops.

Colmar actually has a great variety of architectural riches, most of the interesting points between all those half-timbered buildings of Petite Venise and the modernist blocks just outside the city center. Buildings in the grand-boulevard style of the late 19th Century border this park near the old water tower.

The main railway station reflects the architecture of the annexation period. Built in 1907, it embodies a Prussian style. Interestingly, the city reused the plans from which the main station in Gdansk, then also under German rule, had been built; the Colmar and Gdansk stations are nearly twins.

The annexation era also produced some remarkably odd buildings. The Cercle St-Martin, built in 1895 as a gymnasium for the Parish of Colmar, included both neo-romanesque and neo-gothic elements in its design. In the 1920s and 1930s it hosted the city's big sports and musical events.

Art Nouveau was also taking hold. We saw a number of terrrific Art-Nouveau houses and businesses. Here's one of the windows from the "Maison aux Raisins," built in 1904.

Not far from the Maison aux Raisins stands a statue of Frédéric Bartholdi, designer of the Statue of Liberty and a son of Colmar.

The city sponsors an Easter market, similar in concept to the Christmas market we visited in Metz and which takes place in Colmar, too. In April, of course, springtime symbols such as rabbits and eggs substituted for le Père Noel. The market was laid out in a square next to the Church of the Dominicans.

Colors of spring shined bright in the very buildings of the old city.

And these colors were complemented, as here in la Petite Venise, with the even brighter colors of flowering plum trees.

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