Strasbourg is one of the great historic cities of Europe, and its history is very different from that of Paris.
In the year 840 AD, on the death of the Emperor Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious, the great Frankish “Holy Roman” Empire was split into three parts. West Francia in the west became the heartland of modern France. East Francia in the east became Germany; and between them lay Middle Francia – an area today made up of small states, Luxembourg Belgium, the Netherlands,and Switzerland. Between Luxembourg and Switzerland middle Francia included the duchies of Alsace, Lorraine and Burgundy, which are today part of France. But this was not always the case.
Alsace, and with it Strasbourg, only became French in the 17th century. Alsace was French from 1648 to 1871, but during this time it remained German- speaking. From 1871 until 1919, and again from 1940 to 1944, Alsace was annexed by Germany.
While today the people of Alsace all speak French, the historic Germanic culture of the city of Strasbourg is tangible, and indeed part of the city’s identity. Many signs are written up in both French and Alsatian (a dialect of German), or sometimes just in Alsatian; and signs on many historic buildings are written up using the classically German Gothic script.
As for wining and dining, Strasbourg’s gourmet traditions are quite distinctive, and more German than French. Flammekueche is something between a quiche lorraine and a pizza, and choucroute, sauerkraut in English or German, is a major speciality. Another popular dish is baeckoffe, an oven-baked meat and potato dish. Alsace and Strasbourg are also famous for their pain d’épices, a kind of spicebread or gingerbread, particularly in the runup to Christmas.
For a classic Strasbourg dining experience, visitors have a large number of Alsacian restaurants and Winstubs; the latter are typical Alsace restaurants, mostly furnished with wooden chairs and tables, decorated in Alsace style, and often housed in old half-timbered buildings. They are Alsace’s equivalent of an old fashioned English pub, where people go as much to drink – in this case local Alsace wine – as to eat.