Tour de France Stage 9: July 13th, 2014. A view through old postcards

The Tour de France in the Vosges and Alsace passes some of the most historically interesting parts of the area, places significant in the period before the Great War when Alsace and Lorraine were under German occupation and sites of sadness and commemoration afterwards. Postcard writers, travellers, tourists and soldiers, sent innumerable cards home from the Vosges. This is a small selection from my own collection, following the route of the Tour in two parts, Stage 9 and Stage 10.

Gérardmer

A German shell on display in Gérardmer:

01 Col de la Schlucht Gerardmer shell on display

Travelling in style from Gérardmer to Col de la Schlucht:

02 Services automobiles Gerardmer - la Schlucht

Xonrupt-Longemer to La Roche du Diable

Le Tunnel de la Roche de Diable:

03 Col de la Schlucht tunnel with people

Le Collet

The tramway from Gérardmer up to Col de la Schlucht, close to le Collet. The tram line was used for military transport during the Great War. The embankments and the path of the tramway can still be seen.

04 Col de la Schlucht le Collet tramway posted 1908

Col de la Schlucht (1140 m) This was a busy destination on the frontier between France and Alsace (annexed to Germany, 1871). The original bornes frontières (boundary stones) can still be traced following the frontier up the hillside, marked with F on the French side and D on the German.

The German side of the frontier with a customs officer:

05 Col de la Schlucht German frontier & officer

French customs:

06 Col de la Schlucht poste de Douane française posted 1917

A military halt at Col de la Schlucht before the Great War:

07 Col de la Schlucht grand'halte militaire avant la guerre

Chasseur à Pied at Col de la Schlucht, posted 1907:

07a Chasseurs à pied posted Schlucht 1910

The Hotel Français in ruins, posted 1917. (The Hotel is the furthest building on the right hand side of the road in the first picture.)

08 Col de la Schlucht destoyed hotel written 1917

Col de la Schlucht in ruins, posted 1918:

09 Col de la Schlucht posted Nov 1918

The grand Hotel Altenberg, which hosted many international royals, politicians and celebrities before the war:

10 Col de la Schlucht Hotel Altenberg posted 1915

The Hotel Altenberg after the war (rebuilt as a hospital, now semi-derelict):

11 Col de la Schlucht Hotel Altenberg after war

Station du Lac Blanc

Lac Blanc in peaceful times:

11 Lac Blanc with car

The 1914 mountain battleground of la Tête des Faux overlooks Lac Blanc and towards the villages of Orbey and Lapoutroie. Lac Blanc after the Great War, the hotel in ruins:

12 Lac Blanc après la guerre - ruines d l'hotel

Basses-Huttes – the Tour does not visit Lac Noir, but goes close. Lac Noir was a peaceful destination with a popular restaurant. During the Great War, it was used as a place of shelter: Gen Pouydraguin had his headquarters here. The small single storey buildings to the left of the lower picture were used as a hospital. They have recently been demolished. The restaurant was rebuilt and remains busy.

12a Lac Noir snow posted 1907

12b Lac Noir Grande Guerre

Col du Wettstein (880m) The Tour enters one of its most sobering stages. 17000 men, including 10000 Chasseurs, died at le Linge between July 20th and October 15th, 1915. The French dead of le Linge, Schratzmännele and Barrenkopf lie in the great cemetery at the Col du Wettstein.

Two early postcards of the great French cemetery:

14 Wettstein

13 Wettstein cimetière Orbey

An image posted in 1930:

15 Wettstein cimetiere posted 1930

Le Linge

A selection of images showing le Linge during and after the Great War. It was, obviously, a place of pilgrimage and reflection for those who had lost loved ones or friends there, or who had experienced the hell themselves.

16 Le Linge Set 14 Barrenkopf & Schratz, road, people

17 Album - le Linge sur les pentes de la tête du Linge

18 Le Linge with tourists posted 1925

18a Le Linge Set 03  German cemetery Linge

18b Le Linge Set 10 Schratzmaennele

19 Le Linge with car and people

The German dead are buried in their military cemetery, Hohrod. The bunker outside the walls is still there, adjacent to the road.

19a Hohrod Cemetery showing bunker

19b Hohrod Barenstall German military cemetery

Trois-Épis

The town before the Great War while under German occupation, labelled with its German name Drei Ähren. There is now a  rather special German military cemetery in the town. Its headstones have been replaced with modern crosses and wild flowers dominate the grounds.

20 Drei Ahren Trois Epis

21 Trois Epis military cemetery

Trois Epis German Cemetery 2

Trois Epis German Cemetery 1

Le Markstein (1183 m) – vestiges of the Great War can easily be seen from the Route des Crêtes, established by Joffre for the efficient movement of troops and supplies.  My photo shows how close these vestiges are to the Route des Crêtes (they are best seen in spring before the vegetation has grown back).

IMG_3981

Grand Ballon (1336m)

Postcard posted 1903 written in both German (the language of Alsace in occupation) and French, which was discouraged.

22 Grand Ballon posted 1903

Uffholtz, Cernay

This is the area of Hartmannswillerkopf / le Vieil Armand, the strategically vital mountain which gave views over and control of the Rhine Valley, bitterly fought over in 1915.

23 HWK région des combats devant Cernay et HWK posted 1916

HWK autour de HWK

Next: Tour de France Stage 10 July 14th, 2014

Please explore the index of my blog for more pieces about this lovely region before the Great War!

All postcards and photographs are my own.

Un Malgré-Nous – 1945: the bleak ending to ‘A Summer Excursion’

My last blog post mentioned the role played by young René Oster working in his parents’ popular auberge at le Moulin de St-Hippolyte. During the Second World War, René was forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht, captured by the Russians and died in the prison camp at Tambow.

René was a Malgré-Nous – one of a hundred thousand Alsacien men and thirty thousand men from Moselle who were conscripted against their will into the Wehrmacht or the Waffen-SS after the forcible annexation of France in 1940 and compelled to fight against their country. (In a significant difference from the annexation of 1870, Alsace and Moselle remained legally French in 1940.) Malgré-Nous means ‘in spite of ourselves’. The majority who died in prison camps died in terrible, degrading conditions and near-starvation at Tambow. The fate of the Malgré-Nous is outside the scope of this blog, but there is considerable information available online, particularly at the excellent site http://www.malgre-nous.eu/ The list of names and their fates is harrowing and desolate.

By way of acknowledgement of the life of the young man who grew up at le Moulin de St-Hippolyte, I want simply to share the memorial to the Malgré-Nous at Ribeauvillé, Haut-Rhin.

Ribeauville 1

Ribeauville 2

Ribeauville3

Photographs my own, 2006.

 

Appendix

Inscription on the memorial

En hommage aux victimes de l’incorporation de forces des Alsaciens-Mosellans dans l’armée allemande lors de la guerre de 1939-1945. Ils étaient 130000 à partir contre leur gré, au mépris de toutes les conventions internationales, évitant à leurs familles d’affreuses représailles. Afin que le souvenir de cette tragédie jamais ne s’éteigne, ce monument leur est dédié. [Memorial donated by la Fédération de Tambow Brunstatt]

Location of the memorial

Jardin de Ville, route de Guémar, Ribeauvillé, Haut-Rhin

René Oster

These are René’s details taken from Tambov-Kirsenov, Une Liste de 1136 noms – a transcription from the Fiches du Volksbund – [Fiches du Volksbund transmises par Claude Herold sur la base d’une liste de 1136 noms publiée par Régis Baty dans son livre « Informations de Russie sur les Malgré-Nous »] which is available on http://www.malgre-nous.eu/

OSTER René 1925

◾ Nachname : Oster

◾ Vorname : René Daniel Martin

◾ Dienstgrad : Grenadier

◾ Geburtsdatum : 21.03.1925

◾ Geburtsort : Saint-Hippolyte

◾ Todes-/Vermisstendatum : 16.01.1945

◾ Todes-/Vermisstenort : Kgf. in Tambow

A summer excursion – le Moulin de St-Hippolyte

It’s the turn of the century. It’s a summer Sunday in Alsace: there are hours of warm sun to enjoy and friends to meet. Where better for an excursion than St Pilter Mühle, le Moulin de St-Hippolyte? A relaxed six km walk from St-Hippolyte, within an easy stroll from the station, the popular “Brüachmuehl” is a favourite rendezvous for local villagers and the townspeople of Sélestat.

St-Hippolyte St Pilter Mühle posted 1900 Posted 1906

The auberge of le Moulin de St-Hippolyte was run by Daniel Oster, succeeded by his son Emile Oster, his wife and their son René. It was situated in the area of small waterways which feed into the river Ill on the fertile plain at the foot of the wine growing corridor. The ancient mill buildings included stables, a barn and an auberge surrounding a courtyard where tables and chairs were always set out. Every Sunday, pleasure-seekers descended on the auberge, gathering with their friends to eat, drink and relax. The cold water of the mill channel was clear enough to swim in and some visitors from Sélestat even arrived by boat. While Madame Oster and René brought out bottles of wine and kept glasses topped up, Emile played his accordion. Some people sang, some danced and the beer flowed liberally. Madame apparently kept the happy crowds in order!

It wasn’t only a summer destination. When the waterways and pools froze, Sunday skaters enjoyed heading for le Moulin where they could revitalise themselves with Madame Oster’s vin chaud. It was a venue for all seasons.

St-Hippolyte St Pilter Mühle

Nor was its purpose simply pleasure. Harvesting on the ried (the plain) was tough work under the relentless summer sun. During the heyday of manual agriculture, before full mechanisation, farm labourers spent long, exhausting days harvesting an area with little natural shelter. Le Moulin provided essential refreshment, some shade and a place where horses and working cattle plagued by horseflies could shelter, rest and drink.

In the bitter winter, the lumberjacks from the Sélestat area arrived to deal with the huge trunks cut from the frozen forests. They used small horses which had exceptional endurance and transported the trunks by wagon to the station of St-Hippolyte where they were despatched up and down the Rhine valley. These workers lodged in the barn of the auberge close to the stables where their little horses rested.

The happy times at “Brüachmuehl” ended forever in 1944. After American troops liberated St-Hippolyte, the Germans defended the plain areas. Emile Oster and his wife sheltered for a few days with a friend’s parents, but, anxious about their livestock, returned to their home. American artillery bombardment entirely destroyed the Moulin de St-Hippolyte, which burned to the ground and Emile and Madame Oster perished with their property. René Oster, their only child, had been forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht and captured by the Russians. He had already died in the POW camp of Tambov.

This…

Moulin 1 le Moulin -front – 2014

Moulin 2 le Moulin – rear – 2014

… is what remains of that joyful era. A few stones, part of a pillar, an ancient fruit tree, some burned tiles, some bricks, all now entwined with brambles and weeds. The mill river is overgrown with weeds. If you pause silently and contemplate, you can just about imagine the pleasure of the languid brook, the cobbled courtyard, the dappled shade and the warm sunsets. The atmosphere is charged, still, apprehensive. You might not wish to linger.

MIl combo
Please continue to the next blog post: Un Malgré-Nous: the bleak ending

 

The war memorial at St-Hippolyte, Haut-Rhin (Alsace)

St-Hippolyte memorial

How to find the site

Travelling north along the RN 83 from Ribeauvillé, leave in the direction of Sélestat at junction 18. Very soon on your right you come to a ruined former hotel surrounded by trees and undergrowth. Immediately next to this is a small track which takes you to the Léonhart gravel pit. You will soon pass the memorial to Lancaster ND-781 on your left. Park near the gravel pit. Walk straight along the path (with fields on your left) and after about five minutes you will come to the site of St-Pilter Mühle, le Moulin de St-Hippolyte.

Alternatively, after you have parked, you can follow the marked trail Sentier d’interprétation Ried Paysan which shows how the landscape has been exploited and preserved, and the impact of human activity on the ecosystem. This takes under two hours at a relaxed pace and you’re sure to see wildlife.

 

Source:

Les Cigognes, Bulletin Communal de St-Hippolyte, number 13, 1989, the recollections of Antoine Heyberger whose parents sheltered the Osters during the battle.
Postcards and photographs my own.

 

 

 

 

Chalet Hartmann: romance to ruins in 90 years

Approaching the summit of Col de la Schlucht (1139m) from the Munster valley, one of the first signs of habitation is the Hotel du Chalet. For decades travellers have refreshed themselves and relaxed here: cyclists and walkers –

Schlucht Hotel du Chalet

motorists –

Col de la Schlucht Hotel du Chalet with people & cars

and skiers –

Col de la Schlucht Hotel du Chalet with skiers

Adjoining the hotel premises is a patch of gravelly ground with a set of stone steps leading up to what looks like the foundations of a building. The excursionists of the Occupation era would have seen a pretty Swiss-style building called Chalet Hartmann here (seen in the second postcard above) and might possibly even have crossed paths with a distinguished visitor.

Col de la Schlucht 11 septembre 1908 après arrivée de l'Empereur Guillaume

1908 – crowds linger after the arrival of Wilhelm II and his entourage. The dark building on the left is the German customs building.

 

Chalet Hartmann was built in 1859/60 by a prominent industrialist, Frédéric Hartmann-Metzger, known for his fabric factories in Munster and his benevolent treatment of his staff, including establishing schools in the valley. He constructed the Chalet to mark the completion of the steep, winding road up to the Col from Munster begun fifteen years earlier.

Col de la Schlucht Chalet Hartmann day scene Before the Great War

Many illustrious people visited it, including Napoléon III (twice before the war of 1870) and Wilhelm II in September 1908. With Alsace returned to German territory, Hitler visited la Schlucht in 1940.

Col de la Schlucht Chalet Hartmann Kaiser visit query 28.07.1909 1908 (Unfortunately the original card is blurred.)

For part of its life, Chalet Hartmann was a restaurant popular with celebrities. It was badly damaged in the Great War, abandoned in the 1930s, and then damaged again in the Second World War. In 1946 it was completely demolished.

Col de la Schlucht Chalet Hartmann ruined A sad sight after the Great War

This is what the once beautiful Chalet Hartmann looks like now, photographed from the footpath which climbs behind the semi-derelict Hotel Tetras and overlooks the site of the original German customs building. All that remains is the set of steps into the house.

Chalet Hartmann site

The époque of a rather elegant, leisured, somewhat romantically inclined tourist industry was over and la Schlucht began to look for modern ways of exploiting the white gold of the high mountains.

Col de la Schlucht Chalet Hartmann

 

(All postcards and photographs are my own. Modern photographs June 2013)

 

 

 

An Easter card, April 1915

This card was sent from Alsace by a French soldier, Gaston, Easter 1915. I’ve translated it. The card shows Aspach-le-Haut, in the southern part of Alsace and he is spending Easter temporarily resting in Rodern (now Roderen).

Asbach le Haut military card posted April 1914

To my darling

Since yesterday evening we are again resting in the charming village of Rodern and as today is the feast of Easter we have complete rest, so I can’t let this day pass without sending a few words to you. This time I can tell you that on Friday night around ten o’clock we had an alert: it was to go and support our infantry attacking German outposts. The fight was hot: never had I seen such a storm of fire and shrapnel. Finally after one hour of fighting the enemy fled on foot and our infantry seized the front trenches. The infantry had unimaginable losses and we had none.

Now we are spending 10 days here and then we will return to the trenches. It’s like perpetually watching the same act; I ask myself, when will it all be over?

I hope that the victory will come soon and we will have the good fortune to relive the best of the old days even better than we experienced them before.

Now I have to suspend my chat with you, but I will resume soon because despite the great distance which separates our thoughts, I think of you always.

I’m still in very good health and I hope you enjoy the same. With this card I send my best memories and my sweetest kisses.

Yours forever

Gaston

 

 

Postcard my own.

 

The Vosges trams: Ampfersbach to la Schlucht

Ampfersbach 1

When the mist clears, and if in your imagination you replace the modern building with a distinguished Victorian hotel, you will see an alluring destination for travellers in the Vosges during the period before the Great War.

I am in the pretty valley of Ampfersbach, looking upwards –

Ampfersbach 2

and the modern sanatorium is on the site of the fabulous Hotel Altenberg with its exceptional panorama.

Col de la Schlucht Hotel Altenberg posted April 1915

At 1059 m, the luxurious Altenberg was a short walk from the frontier at Col de la Schlucht (1139m). (The original 1896 hotel was destroyed during the Great War and a new hospital building was built on the site between 1922 and 1926. It closed in 2011.) La Schlucht was a popular destination, well supplied with restaurants, hotels and cafés where the intrepid traveller could relax after a stimulating walk in the French Hautes Vosges, contemplate the lost region of Alsace and breathe in the energising mountain air. There were customs buildings for French and German officials.

Col de la Schlucht multi 1896

It is, of course, possible for energetic people to walk up to la Schlucht from Munster or Gérardmer, or to travel by horse. In 1902, the embryonic idea of running a railway up to the Col and down the other side to Gérardmer began to take shape and a tramway was built. This opened up the beautiful valley and Col to tourists from Colmar, who could travel to Munster by train and board a tram, and visitors from further afield. It was a summer service and half a million people took advantage of it between 1907 and 1913.

The tram trundled at 17 kph along the flat floor of the Munster valley, calling at little stations such as Saegmatt in the Ampfersbach valley:

Sagmatt Schlucht tram  posted 1912

It is still possible to see the slightly elevated embanked track (minus rails) along which the tram travelled. When the flat valley reached the sides of the pass, the tramway began to climb at 7.5 kph up slopes of 22% until it reached the Hotel Altenberg.

Tram Schlucht

Tram Munster-Schlucht Melkerei Altenburg posted 1907

The tramway levelled out after the Altenberg, passed under the Schlucht tunnel cut through the rocks –

Col de la Schlucht tunnel with tram

and eventually reached Col de la Schlucht. There, the customs officers awaited in their official premises at the frontier.

Col de la Schlucht German customs building & tram German customs building

 

Col de la Schlucht German frontier & officer German officer, French side in the background

There is much more to say about Col de la Schlucht and the trams in future posts. When the Great War broke out, the French army took the Hotel Altenberg. The tourist trams were used in the early weeks of the war for the transport of troops and the evacuation of wounded soldiers. This stopped when the German troops cut the electricity supply to the tramway.

Returning to Ampfersbach, I am fortunate to have a special card: a postcard sent by a French soldier from Ampfersbach during the Great War. He annotated it clearly, identifying:

  • the small settlement where they were based
  • a chimney next to which was the first aid post
  • the house where he slept in the cellar
  • and the German side of the front.

According to his message, the X near the church marks the place behind the cemetery wall where he was guarding the trenches. Sadly, he didn’t date or sign his card.

Ampfersbach annotated by soldier trench marked

In very faint pencil marks, he marked his trench line. I have traced his line in red.

It’s a privilege beyond words to have bought such a detailed snapshot of someone’s war for five euros.

 

 

All postcards and photographs my own.

 

Note:

Ampfersbach and the Hotel Altenberg are in Alsace, in the territory annexed by Germany.

Statistics about the tram sourced from La Vallée de Munster: Le Tramway Munster-Schlucht et les environs de la Schlucht by Gérard Jacquat and Gérard Leser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two quiet Cols: Oderen and Bramont

Compared with the bustle and activity in the better known areas of the former frontier, the Col de Bramont and the Col d’Oderen are very still. There is little traffic, mainly occasional cyclists challenging the steep routes on a blazing hot day.

The Col d’Oderen (884m) is north of the Col du Bussang on the main route between Ventron and Kruth. Unlike the busy border crossings which benefited from cafés and hotels, this remote Col does not seem to have been particular popular with tourists, though it was patrolled by customs officials watching out for contraband such as matches and tobacco.

The officers in this postcard are in annexed Alsace , on German territory, standing by the frontier posts of Germany (the round plaque with the Imperial eagle) and France (the adjacent oblong plaque nearer the photographer).

Col d'Oderen posted 1906

My photos were taken on one of those stifling summer days when the tarmac had turned to liquid black stickiness, and leaving an air-conditioned car meant stepping into a daunting blast of heat. A couple of women were peacefully picnicking under the trees. Apart from that, the air was utterly still, gently muddied by the hum of bees and ripped by the raucous cackle of magpies, with the occasional plaintive wails of birds of prey soaring in the thermals. The modern départementale stone is at the site of the ancient frontier, with borne 3102 next to it.

Oderen 2 Former French side

Oderen 1 Boundary – former frontier

Oderen borne Borne 3102

Close to the frontier is a stone monument. Its gold lettered text says:

“À la gloire des unites du groupement tactique de la 3ème D.I.A. et de son chef le Général Duval qui libérerent Ventron le 25 novembre 1944 et s’emparerent du Col d’Oderen le 1er décembre 1944 après de rudes combats.”

[la 3ème D.I.A. = 33e division d’infanterie algérienne]

This is a Second World War action. Briefly* : Alsace was again occupied by Germany. 3ème DIA pushed the enemy back from the Gérardmer area through the Vosges cols of Bussang, Oderen and Bramont, liberating various small towns and eventually reaching Colmar, thus playing an important role in facilitating the liberation of Alsace in 1945. It’s worth remembering that Vosges winters are bitter. The icy cold in 1944/5 was unbearably raw.

Col d'Oderen monument original

 

The Col de Bramont (956m) is north of the Col d’Oderen, east of the busy ski resort la Bresse and south of the popular Col de la Schlucht. It is one of the wilder of the frontier cols, and in the period when it was actively guarded, there was nothing at all there apart from a small wooden hut which provided shelter for customs officials. Consequently smuggling flourished in the area. Contemporary postcards reveal a muddy, poorly-formed road, surrounded by ferns and forest. It looks inaccessible and still is fairly difficult in places : the D-road from Wildenstein climbs a series of steep, challenging hairpin bends.

My photograph was taken looking into the former German territory from the former French side and the contemporary postcard shows the same view from the opposite side of the road. The German frontier post (with the eagle) is approximately where the départementale sign is now. The photographer was probably standing by the douaniers’ hut.

 

Col du Bramont looking to German side

Col de Bramont posted 1902 edited

 

A pleasant drive or walk from the Col de Bramont is to follow the signs to Col de la Vierge and Lac des Corbeaux (via chemin Béry). The pretty lake is in a perfectly formed glacial corrie surrounded by pine forests. It’s popular for gentle pottering round the lake, strolls along shaded woodland paths, fishing and just relaxing with a picnic. Apparently the water is very cold even in summer – though swimming from the sandy beaches is officially forbidden. However, I suspect that on a future visit, the bathing costumes may well be ready in the car!

Lac des Corbeaux

 

 

All postcards and photographs my own.

 

*Note: further reading in English on Alsace and the Vosges in the Second World War includes:

Bonn, Keith. When the odds were even: The Vosges Mountain Campaign October 1944 – January 1945

Whiting, Charles. The Other Battle of the Bulge: Operation Northwind

Zaloga, Steven J. Operation Nordwind 1945. Hitler’s last offensive in the West

 

 

 

 

Royal travels (an occasional look at the various Kaisers’ visits to Elsaß-Lothringen*)

One of the first public buildings built by the new Reichsland authority was the fine central station in Strasbourg (1883), designed by Jacobstahl, an architect from Berlin. In the departure hall, two fabulous gold-framed murals by Knackfuss celebrated the integration of Alsace and Lorraine into the Empire while reminding the traveller of a past period of unity.

One depicted the arrival of Emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa in Haguenau in 1164, the year he awarded a city charter to this small town which he had fortified and where he had chosen to site his imperial residence. Haguenau (Hagenau in German) is north of Strasbourg. “Im alten Reich”

Visit of Kaiser Barbarossa 1164 Hagenau

The other shows Kaiser Wilhelm I and Crown Prince Friedrich arriving in Strasbourg in 1877 to inspect fortifications. “Im neuen Reich”

Visit of Kaiser & Crown Prince to Strasbourg 1877 posted 1910

(Above: Card posted April 1908. The two women in the centre welcoming him are wearing regional costumes of Alsace and Lorraine.)

The murals were an assertion of historic unity and German authority. Naturally, they were taken down when the city was restored to France and I believe they are lost. The SNCF station now includes the TGV hub.

The arrival of Kaiser Wilhelm II at a station clearly involved flags, bunting, grand motor cars and assorted worthies. Here he is making his way to a car at the station of the small wine-growing village of St-Hippolyte (St Pilt in German).

St-Hippolyte Emperor arrival at station posted Aug 1912 (Card posted August 1912)

The station is now derelict and rather intimidating with large barking dogs roaming the grounds. I photographed it almost exactly one hundred years later in July 2012.

St-Hippolyte station July 2012 35cm

The card gives no indication about where the Kaiser and his entourage were travelling to, but St-Hippolyte is very convenient for his castle, Hohkönigsburg, in French Haut-Kœnigsbourg, which overlooks St-Hippolyte and the surrounding villages and vineyards. When Kaiser Wilhelm II took ownership of Hohkönigsburg, it was in ruins after fires and failed restoration projects. The nearby town of Sélestat owned the castle but, unable to fund its reconstruction, it offered to the Kaiser in 1899.

Haut Koenigsburg Hoh-Konigsburg Hotel mit ruines (Before – castle ruin at the summit)

Haut Koenigsburg posted 1901 (Before – card posted 1901)

After:

Haut Koenigsburg posted pre WW1

The potential to restore a fabulous castle on a magnificently prominent site was irresistible and Wilhelm II embarked on an ambitious project which would signal to all that Alsace was again part of the Empire. Between 1900 and 1908 this potent political symbol was painstakingly rebuilt in the style of a fifteenth century mountain fortress. Like the station in Strasbourg, it was yet another public building powerfully reinforcing the vision of Alsace aligned within his Empire – permanently.

Today it is an immensely popular tourist attraction: vast numbers of visitors go there each year. For this reason, I have not been inside Haut-Kœnigsbourg: I consider it’s best viewed from a distance.

Haut Koenigsburg sunset 35cm (Left and below, photographed from St-Hippolyte)

Haut Koenigsburg sunset 2

Wilhelm II never lived at Haut-Kœnigsbourg: I believe he never intended to. Locally it was a much criticised symbol of distrust and dislike. Even the pageant of its official opening took place in a deluge. It was not entirely finished in his reign: within five years of its completion, the storms of war were breaking across Europe.

Lightning

( Storm, June 2012. St-Hippolyte church lit up; Haut-Kœnigsbourg on top of hill to right)

All postcards and photographs my own.

*Note: Elsaß-Lothringen – Alsace and Lorraine

More historical information on the Haut-Kœnigsbourg website: http://www.haut-koenigsbourg.fr/

The start of a 550 km journey: the Col du Bussang and the Moselle

On the former French side of the Col du Bussang a small stream emerges from an insignificant hole in the hillside. It is distinguished only by the shape sculpted around it: an M shape which could represent mountains…

Moselle M

… or indicate the name of the river. An elegant design set into the adjacent wall informs you that this is the source of the Moselle at 715 m and a map traces the route through France and Germany (where it becomes the Mosel) to Koblenz, where it flows grandly into the Rhine, 550 km from its insignificant source.

Moselle map

Now the main road N66 races through the Col, taking heavy traffic through the Vosges between Thann and Remiremont on dual carriageways and viaducts. About a kilometre onwards from the Col, a traveller in the time of Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen would be able to see the bridge over le Séchenat, a tributary of the Moselle. In these two postcards, horse-drawn traffic is warily crossing the Pont du Séchenat.

Bussang Pont de Sechenat Grand Hôtel des Sources

Bussang Pont de Sechenat winter

In three kilometres or so the road down from the Col flattens out into the valley of Bussang, distantly overlooked by the Ballon d’Alsace* to the south. It then heads on west, under the shadow of the Ballon de Servance.

Bussang Vue générale et le Ballon-d'Alsace

Looking at the bitter winter climate even lower down from the heights, it’s unsurprising that the military personnel stationed on the Ballon du Servance needed protective clothing.

Ballon de Servance La Tenue de la Troupe en hiver au Ballon de Servance

 

 

All photographs and postcards are my own.

*Please see other blog posts to read more about the Ballon d’Alsace.

Crossing the frontier by tunnel: the Col de Bussang

See d'Urbes resized

The main road between Thann and Remiremont passes the tranquil, natural lake of the See d’Urbès, where you can walk round the water’s edge and watch dragonflies darting among the marshes. You can take the little road to peaceful Storckensohn, walk past the pretty Alsacien houses and pause by the old oil mill, a watermill. I imagine that visitors from a century ago would have seen a similar scene.

Afternoon sun Urbes  –  Storckensohn. Timeless –  The oil mill, Urbes

Then you can return to the main N66 and begin the winding climb to the Col de Bussang. You pass the memorial to those whose lives ended in the Dachau satellite camp at the foot of Vallon. (It was also administratively connected to the concentration camp at Natzweiler-Struthof, 50 km SE of Strasbourg.) In 1944, the Germans requisitioned a partly complete early rail tunnel to the west of Urbès for an arms factory under the Daimler-Benz umbrella, in a scheme which was code-named KRANISCH-10. Two thousand prisoners and deportees, arriving in waves, were employed in atrocious conditions there between March and September 1944. A current project (2012-2016) aims to provide a memorial to those who worked and died there, with interpretation panels, a trail, a rose bed and art works by young people.*

Memorial

The N66 is a fast, winding road and I imagine that many drivers keen to finish the steep climb to the Col du Bussang (731m) are completely unaware that just to the north of the summit (the col) there is a tunnel through the hillside. It replaced an important road which passed above the site where the tunnel was constructed. The sign over the French entrance to the tunnel was specific: Limite de territoire français 155m de l’origine de tunnel. Shortly after entering the tunnel, the traveller was entering German territory.

Col de Bussang Côté Français

Customs and security on the other side of the tunnel were markedly different from that on the French side, in the officials’ uniforms and the language.

Col de Bussang côté de l'Alsace  Wirtschaft zum Tunnel

The tunnel was a great draw for tourists and travellers. The café was, I believe, Café Murat and postcards dated after the Great War show that ‘Wirtschaft zum Tunnel’ was promptly obliterated and replaced with ‘Café du tunnel’.

Col de Bussang Alsace side

Col de Bussang after war   Café du Tunnel

The entrance to the tunnel is still visible from the former German side (the Urbès side), but I have not been able to see any evidence of the former French entrance (the Bussang side). However, you can see the source of the great river Moselle (Mosel) as it trickles out of the hillside. (Take the D89, route des Sources, not avenue des Sources, and after passing the turning up the hill to Drumont there is a small picnic area at the source.)

Tunnel Col Urbes side (Former German side. Tunnel to the left of the picture. Modern hotel.)

These two cards demonstrate the difficulties of travelling through the Vosges in winter. Both show the French side of the frontier and the customs officials are visible in each. (The stamped card was posted in Wesserling, Alsace, German territory at that time, hence the German stamp.) The small chalet nearest the camera was built by Touring-Club.

Col de Bussang sous la Neige - La frontière en sortant du Tunnel

Col de Bussang route de Wesserling

The N66 remains an important road under pressure. In earlier centuries the route was vital for the defence of France and the movement of troops through the Vosges towards the Swiss border; now trucks are its significant load. The fast road is worth using briefly for the natural beauty on either side of the Col: from St-Maurice you can pick up the steep route to the Ballon d’Alsace , or it’s pleasant to linger in the tranquil nature reserves and lakes near Urbès and Kruth.

Window box

All postcards and photographs are my own.

• For more information please see http://www.struthof.fr/fr/nos-partenaires/memoriaux-des-camps-annexes/ and click on le Kommando Urbès. Also see http://www.lieux-insolites.fr/alsace/urbes/urbes.htm