Along the canals

3. Juli 2015 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

  
Saarbrücken, just across the border from France, in baking heat, and the only place in the open air that I can stomach is in front of the Eis-Café De Lorenzo. The Rouge et Noir cup with its sour berries, vanilla icecream and sweet inky sauce is literally cold comfort for the tired cyclist.

One of the good things that such tours do to you is rectifying your subjective sense of geography. I’d always had it in my blood that Strasbourg is just a stone’s throw across the Swiss border. It took my friend Reto and me two days of cycling in the flat river plain of the Rhine to get there. Saarbrücken, on the other hand, I’d thought was very far away, tucked into a mysterious corner of vast Germany, and not really worth a visit. Another two easy days along the Canal du Rhône au Rhin and the Canal des Houillères with a nice tail wind has made the city seem within realistic reach.

But the heat – it had to be 35 plus degrees – forced us to start out one hour earlier every day, and even so the last hour was a drag every day. I swore I wouldn’t cycle again after 1 pm, but today we only arrived at 2. Whereas I preferred a long cool shower after arriving at the hotel, Reto jumped into the canal several times in his Adam’s costume.

As this is still part of my hypothetical 80 languages tour (hypothetical because I doubt I’ll ever get to the North Cape, though right now the thought of it seems attractively cooling) I pay attention to the use of languages. To my suprise, more German or rather Alsatian or Lothringian can be heard in cafés, shops and on the market than I had expected. The lingo seems alive and well even in a centralist and superficially monolingual country like la douce France. It’s probably a good thing that there never was a generation for whom the use of the minority language was forbidden or driven out by force or shame.

As we drifted back and forth between the Alsace and Lorraine regions, there was a brief moment of respite for the garden farmer at a market stall when she tried to explain to me the intricate differences between Alsatian and Lothringian German. I had addressed her in French, and she told me to use German when I started to search for words. „I’m from across there, I’m Alsatian. But it’s a mix anyway, we understand each other just fine.“ She might have added that of course they were all bilingual. All the labels were in French, and so I bought myself a pound of cherries, cerises, Kirschen, all the while thinking I’d call them Chriesi at home.

The other big surprise awaited us in Sarrebourg, an otherwise non-descript town without a decent restaurant for its 20’000 residents. In a reconstructed chapel, that had once been misused as parts of an army barracks, the municipality had commissioned Marc Chagall to design a huge glass window, 12 by 7.5 metres, which showed a typical concoction of hovering scenes, but here they grow out of a huge bouquet of dark red flowers, symbolising the tree of life. The colours were tremendous as the late afternoon sun hit the glass. In fact, most of the lighter panes burst in too-bright light, but the dark blue, green and red glass was just perfect, and had a cooling effect almost as good as the ice-cream.

    

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