Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The city of Sarreguemines, which borders Germany at the confluence of the Sarre and the Blies, once ranked as the second-largest city in the Moselle, after Metz. Like Metz, Sarreguemines was part of the German annexation between 1871 and 1918, and then again between 1940 and 1945. Every single person we met in Sarreguemines--including our city bus driver--was warm and welcoming. Often people would want to know about the U.S.

Sarreguemines grew as an industrial town, in textiles and, especially, faience pottery, which started there at the end of the 18th Century. By the early 20th Century, factories producing faience ware filled the city's center. Sarreguemines was prosperous, and the workers benefited from a socially aware, if paternalistic, approach to employment. Today, the factories are shuttered, gone, or repurposed. The banks of the Blies are now less industrial and more bucolic.

Downtown Sarreguemines has some interesting streets, including pedestrian areas. Near the marché square, locals sat outside for drinks in the afternoon sunshine. At night, the city rolls up the sidewalks awfully early, although a few scattered restaurants cater to guests seeking dinner.

A steep walk up takes you to the heights overlooking the city center. A castle once stood here. But the railroad tunnel runs under this hill, and when the local railway bought the hill in the 19th Century they tore the castle down. The Place du Chateau still has great views, though, looking across the main part of the city and across the Sarre.

Sarreguemines's faience industry, which was famous across Europe, began to decline following the Second World War. By 1979, competition from mechanized factories led Sarreguemines to abandon pottery to focus on tiles. By 2002, the thousands of workers had been reduced to 29. Despite the efforts of employee-owners, the last factory shut down in 2007.

The river once served as the artery of commerce and industry. The faience factories, in particular, needed water and water-power. But the river also supported--and still supports--city life. The "casino"--built not for gambling but for faience workers' recreation--still stands, with its striking style reflecting in the ripples on the Sarre.

The Sarre's banks also now play home to people playing petanque.

The home of a former owner of the faience factories provides a glimpse of the wealth of Sarreguemines in its heyday. This building, now the city museum of faience, includes a second-floor winter garden that showcased Sarreguemines's artistry in faience.

Our time in the region of Sarreguemines and northern Vosges mountains turned into something of an industrial-history weekend. Further posts over the next several days will cover the Faience museums in Sarreguemines, the crystalware museum in Meisenthal, the villages and landscapes of the northern Vosges, the ruined chateau of Schoeneck, the citadel at Bitche, and the Maginot Line and the American military cemetery in St. Avold.

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