As promised yesterday, here are some photos of my recent trip to Saarbrücken.
Now Saarbrücken is a bit of an oddity, for though the settlement dates back to Roman times, the current city was only created in 1909 by the unification of three smaller towns, including the original Saarbrücken (nowadays known as Alt-Saarbrücken). It was heavily bombed in WWII and suddenly found itself the capital first of the semi-independent Saar protecorate and then of the German state of Saarland after the war. Due to the combination of WWII bombing damage and suddenly finding itself a capital city, which involved a lot of administrational responsibilities and required a lot of buildings wherein to carry out said responsibilities, Saarbrücken suffers a lot from bad city planning and architectural decisions made in the 1950s and 1960s. We’ll see some of those later.
However, Saarbrücken is also reknown for its baroque architecture, courtesy of architect Friedrich Joachim Stengel. Though originally from Saxony-Anhalt, Friedrich Joachim Stengel worked mostly in the Saarland area and the neighbouring Alsace region, which is now French. And it was in the Alsace that I had my first contact with Friedrich Joachim Stengel and his work.
As I mentioned before, my great-grandfather hails from Alsace and I still have distant relatives there. When I was a teenager, I visited my Alsatian relatives with my family several times. We also visit a lady who had been a pen pal of my Mom’s, when they were both teenagers. This lady had a thing for churches, particularly churches built by Friedrich Joachim Stengel. And so she dragged us through half of Alsace to show off Stengel churches. And Friedrich Joachim Stengel littered both Alsace and Saarland with churches, most of them unremarkable village churches. This church in the Alsatian village of Hirschland, from where my great-grandfather hails, is a typical example. After seriously overdosing on Stengel churches as a teenager, my reactions to hearing the name of Friedrich Joachim Stengel is still a groan even twenty years later. Which is why I was surprised how beautiful some of his buildings in Saarbrücken were.
Coincidentally, the story of Friedrich Joachim Stengel also illustrates how fluid national and cultural borders are in border region between France and Germany along the rivers Rhine, Moselle and Saar. The conventional historical narrative these days is that the evil and imperialistic Second German Empire stole Alsace-Lorraine from France in 1871, but that France was totally not imperialistic for trying to snatch the Ruhr area, the Rhineland and the Saar area after WWI and again after WWII. The truth is a bit more complicated, because the whole area changed hands several times over the past couple of centuries (There are buildings in Saarbrücken that were damaged during the French revolution!) and was actually its own kingdom in medieval times, which lies probably at the root of the problem, since I for one can see certain cultural similarities in the areas which used to be part of the medieval kingdom of Lotharingia, no matter to which country they belong these days. Culturally and linguistically, the Saarland and the adjacent parts of Alsace are German and particularly the rural areas of Alsace are still German speaking (and the dialect spoken in the Saarland sounds very similar to the dialect spoken by my Alsatian relatives), though the bigger cities such as Strassbourg, Metz or Nancy are largely francophone. Pointing out “But they speak German in Alsace, so why shouldn’t it be part of Germany?” got me in trouble in 11th grade history class, because thou must not contradict the established historical narrative. And not to let the Second German Empire off the hook (because they were Imperialist jerks), they did not just snatch the German speaking parts of Alsace from France but also parts which were clearly French speaking but had interesting industries. And indeed an attempt to get control over the coal and iron ore deposits along the Rhine and the resulting heavy industry lies at the root of the longrunning border conflict between Germany and France. Interestingly, the conflict evaporated for good once the coal and steel industry lost its relevance and gradually died off in the 1970s.
But enough with the history lesson. Let’s have some photos: