My mission during the days I spent in Strasbourg was two-fold. On the one hand, I was exploring the city, experiencing its cultural and historic richness. On the other hand, since I was doing this on my own, while Therese was engaged for the next couple of days with her business customer, I was keeping my eyes open to things that Therese might want to see when she was free later in the week. This Wednesday afternoon in Strasbourg, I was able to keep both these aims in mind, viewing two incredible churches and some absolutely charming atmospheric streets, while also making note of shops on those streets to which Therese and I might return.
I had begun that Wednesday with a visit to the city’s impressive Fine Arts Museum and lunch at a Japanese restaurant. When I finished my lunch, I headed just a tiny bit south to find one of Strasbourg’s historic Lutheran sacred buildings, Eglise Saint-Thomas. Although I was raised a Lutheran myself, there are many holes in my knowledge of Lutheran history; however, from our time in Strasbourg, I gleaned that the city was on the front lines of the Protestant Reformation. There were Catholic churches that became Lutheran; there were also Lutheran churches that later were converted back to Catholicism.
Eglise Saint-Thomas falls into the former category. And while it was converted to Lutheranism (presumably in the sixteenth century), from the church’s physical beauty, I would say there was a certain amount of flexibility or openness to the building’s former faith.
I say that because Eglise Saint-Thomas still has a rose window, a beautiful baptismal font, and a good deal of other signs of enrichment – even the altar is beautifully carved with angels. I make note of this, and again, I am no expert on European Lutheranism – but if the early Lutherans in Strasbourg had been reactionary, as some in the United States have historically been, they would have stripped this church down of all its finery and left it looking much more plain and austere. Luckily for us, they left it looking, perhaps, quite Catholic. In any case, it is a beautiful church – and I gather it is the city’s Lutheran cathedral, i.e., the seat of the bishop, so that may be part of the reason behind its looking richer that other Lutheran churches might be.
Not far from this church, I ran into the very charming Rue des Dentelles, filled with lovely little shops and pubs. One shop called Plaisirs d’Alsace looked very promising for shopping later in the week, so I took a photo of it, so that I wouldn’t forget what it was called or where it was!
Just next door to Plaisirs d’Alsace was a dessert shop specializing in ice cream that is called – I kid you not – Ice Cream. It has basically no Internet presence, not unusual for an ice cream shop; but it does have an impressive array of dairy free options – sorbets – and again, I squirreled this information away for another visit later in the week.
Returning just a block north to the Grand Rue, the main east to west street in this southwestern corner of the Grande Ile, I was thrilled to encounter Latheral Chocolate and Tea Shop, which is an authorized carrier of Michel Cluizel chocolates. More than 20 years ago, I first encountered Cluizel chocolate bars in a Dean and Deluca in New York City, and they remain one of my favorite brands of fine chocolate. So I made sure to buy a couple of bars to enjoy when we returned home.
Walking west on Grand Rue, you see the tower of another of the city’s churches, Saint-Pierre-Le-Vieux (Old Saint Peter’s), on the right. I didn’t know about this church at the time, but I discovered later that this one falls into the category of churches that became Lutheran and then reverted to Catholicism, but the story is actually more complicated than that.
Actually, France’s King Louis XIV ordered that the church become Catholic again, but somehow only part of the building was returned to the Catholic church, while the rest remained Lutheran. Then eventually, the Lutheran section of the building was extended, presumably to allow for it to function fully as an independent church. Nevertheless, you have two churches of the same name but different denominations sharing the same building. And just to show you what an odd arrangement it is, only 5 (yes, five!) years ago, they finally built a door that allows passage from one building to the other (presumably until then, if you wanted to pass between them, you had to leave one, walk around the block and then enter the other.
Anyway, as I said, at the time I was unaware of all this. So I entered the Catholic portion of the building, where a Vespers service was taking place. A dozen or so ladies sat in stalls at the front of the church and chanted psalms, accompanied by a priest. Occasionally, they would break into two or three parts. It was lovely, but I thought it was a bit weird, even unfair, that the priest wore a microphone, which artificially made his voice louder than the other singers.
I continued walking, my goal being to get back to the tram stop in the center of town from which I had begun my wanderings that morning. I passed by the Place du Vieux Marché aux Vins, which has a charming little park with the lovely Fontaine Stoeber in the middle of it.
I began to tire, so I decided to take the tram one stop to the middle of Strasbourg and then kill some time until Therese might be free to meet me for lunch. But I had just gotten myself situated next to a fountain in the Place Kléber, when the skies opened up. Like many people, I headed for cover to wait out the storm. Long story short, the storm persisted, so eventually I got back on the tram and went all the way back to the hotel, so I could change into some dry clothes for dinner.
Therese was heading back to the hotel anyway – some of her colleagues were staying there, so all of them drove back there – so meeting her there was the most convenient thing. She had made some hotel reservations for us earlier in the week, and so we took a taxi to the one that was picked out for that night, Schnockeloch.
Our dinner was quite lovely. I ordered spare ribs with frites and salad, which was served on a board, and Therese ordered a set menu, which included half a tarte flambee (a sort of Alsatian pizza with meat) and some sort of typical entree (I have forgotten which) – it ended up being too much meat for her. The building, on the corner of a square next to the river, was a half-circle, which made its design really interesting. And I loved the humorous sign outside the bathrooms, which you can see above.
I was happy to spend time with Therese, wishing she had been with me to share my adventure that day. But at least we got to eat dinner together. The plan was that hopefully, there would only be another half-day of her workshops to go, and then we would be free to be tourists together for the rest of our stay.