I’ve been lucky enough to travel a fair amount in Europe, but never to Alsace (France) and always wanted to see it. On the way to visit some friends in Germany, we stopped for a night. We chose to stay the night in Colmar because it is a Rick Steves’ pick. If it’s good enough for Rick, it’s good enough for me. As usual, he didn’t let me down.
Alsatian towns are known for cobblestone streets, restored half-timbered buildings painted a myriad of colors and decorated with flowers. Colmar is no exception. Colmar is a larger than most with several distinct neighborhoods. The Petit Venise quarter doesn’t look much like Venice (its canals don’t look much like Brugges either). Regardless, you still want to stroll the streets and take pictures.
The “Fishermen’s quarter” is where fishermen and merchants sold fish and seafood here until mid 20th century.
Another famous neighborhood, the Quartier des Tanneurs contains tall houses with rooftop porches where Tanners dried their hides. These tiny neighborhoods look wonderful in the summer, but are apparently also popular in the winter. Colmar (and nearby Strasbourg) are known for their Christmas market and festive decorations.
Colmar has several unique old buildings. The Ancienne Douane (Old Customs’s House), La Maison des Têtes (its intricate façade is ornamented with 106 heads, têtes in French), and the gothic Cathédrale Saint-Martin.
Colmar’s Museum of Unterlinden houses Matthias Grünewald‘s Issenheim Alterpiece. Acclaimed as one of the most dramatic and moving pieces of art, it is unique and filled with iconography. While I’m not one for most religious art, it was impressive. The story behind it is interesting. The religious community of Issenheim cared for the sick and terminally ill. Depicting realistic pain, misery, Christ’s death and resurrection, analogized their suffering.
We spent another couple of hours examining the museum’s other art, weapons, gold beer steins and other everyday objects from Alsace’s history. From masterpieces to the everyday, it is one of the better museums we’ve seen. Even on one of the first sunny summer days it merits a visit. For us, the 10 most interesting things were:
- We saw people performing restoration work on a painting in the middle of the museum. It was fascinating to watch them work. I don’t think my eyesight or hand-eye coordination is good enough for that job.
- I stumbled into a room with a series of woodcut prints by Albrecht Durer. I’m a fan of his and excited to see them up close. They were pretty sweet.
- He liked the collection of old wine making equipment. If you need to hide some bodies, you could definitely do in their giant wood casks.
- I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the suits of armor. Just like the suits we saw at the Tower of London, there were excessively large codpieces that made me giggle and suits large enough to fit Pavarotti.
- He liked the old guns, swords helmets and instruments of punishment/torture.
- It was fun to compare the old paintings of Colmar to what we saw strolling the streets. Some of the areas above were instantly recognizable!
- How could you not want to drink out of the gold and silver beer steins?
- Populated since the Neolithic era, the museum had archaeological finds in the basement, including burial sites replete with skeletons from Alsace.
- The museum itself is pretty sweet. Housed in a former convent from the 13th century, it remains calm, orderly and detailed.
- Cheeky sculptures
Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed the Statute of Liberty is from Colmar. The town is justifiably proud of its hometown boy made good. His sculptures (above) and tributes to his work decorate the town…and the traffic circles. They are clearly proud of their hometown boy who made it to the big time. Thanks for Lady Liberty Freddie!