Strasbourg in a skateboard mag? Why not talk about Houston, Texas, in a magazine about gastronomy? Or have Gobi in a magazine about deep-sea fishing? Well, the relevance of an article about the capital of Alsace lies precisely in that it is a city that appears in none of the European skate guides. Nor in any French ones, for that matter. Besides a couple of teams that got lost there for a few hours before realising their mistake, the seventh most populated city in France remains largely spared of any interest from the mass media of our little wheeled world. And quite frankly, I see no reason why it should change. Judge for yourself: no marble playgrounds surrounding heavenly beaches, no perfect rail to land the latest tricks in fashion, and no temperate climate all year round. There is not even a skate bar: that says how far we are from the urethane dream… to be completely honest, in Strasbourg the vast majority of spots are really bad, the weather is way too hot in the summer and way too cold in the winter, the nearest beach is ten hours away by train
Honey, there’s a problem with the Renault.
During the traditional national suburban car burning competition held every year on New Year’s Eve, Strasbourg has muscled itself in as the uncontested winner. The city is the record-holder in the field, with 1,375 burnt cars, 61 of which were set on fire during New Year’s Eve 2000. This questionable feat, and the similar performances that regularly followed (Strasbourg won the championship this year again, with 43 cars burned to the ground on New Year’s Eve!) have nonetheless helped refute the claims of the city’s detractors of it being too cold in the wintertime.
Where it gets interesting though, is that we do skate here, a lot, actually, and for quite a while now. More than a decade ago, the city had one of the most active scenes in France. at the time, the law school was the spot. Vincent Bohn was setting trends and marking spirits via his unusual pop and his beautiful style. Fred Feltz played the role of the young new comer with a style no less enviable. a certain Alexis Zavialoff guy was practicing his photographic skills while Éric Antoine (at the time more familiarly known as « Batman »), was busy practicing tricks on his own so he could later pretend to learn them first try when in front of his friends (haha, you didn’t think the world was to forget that, did you?). In the meantime, Guillermo Noyelle, then the size of two and a half apples, was developing what was to become one of the best styles of his generation. The spot has been skatestopped since, but another place, offering almost endless chilling possibilities as well, has taken the shift (because nature is good natured, even in the city!). At the same time, a large skatepark was being designed by municipality’s best, Jean-Philippe Chippo, with ramps courtesy of Robert Leboul & son. a marvel that cost close to nothing to the taxpayer. Or is it the other way around? Whatever.
The spot, also known as the Museum of Modern art, remains the main attraction of the city. A flatground surface made out of baby skin, ledges of various sizes, a set of six stairs and a triple set immortalised by Penny’s kick flip in a és ad can be found there. You can skate there all day long without getting kicked out, thanks to the intervention of the last Director of the museum, whose open mindedness is worth saluting here (and which every local hopes will be transmitted to his successors). For a few years now, the violent incidents due to the proximity of a rather ill reputed housing project have fortunately abated. This benefits the little clique of kids that have succeeded the Eric Pelts, and other my selves, and become the new residents of the spot. The little guys don’t take themselves too seriously, to the point where they are actually quite funny to be around. Skateboarding seems more of an excuse to fool around and have a laugh than anything else, and the warm atmosphere that emanates from their sessions is a pleasure to witness. I would almost be proud of them if I didn’t restrain myself. That’s what you get from having received an impeccable education. On top of being cool, some of these youngsters are actually pretty good. And this should keep getting worse. Their crew, Meeeow, has already released a video, cleverly entitled “are you Meeeow? “. Mathias Zwick has the impressive last part, which has offered him a spot on the Adidas France team, next to the best! Young Eric Mertz has also been spotted in the French media, thanks to an original trick selection and a style along the same shades. if you manage to get your hands on a copy of this video, you won’t be able to miss the feats of young Jean Feil, who demonstrates that you can be a photographer, filmer, have a cracked NintendoDS grafted on to your right arm and still have the backside noseblunt slide come easy. Nice job, kids! Strasbourg also has other spots to offer, hidden in its darkest corners, but truth is it quickly gets less smooth and welcoming, which usually discourages most people. For those who know how to appreciate the rare and the capricious, there is some good stuff to be found (you’ll still have to go look around quite hard though). These days, the city has its own resident photographer/filmer, Jean Feil (who put out two local videos, Circus in 2001 and New York 67 in 2003), whose nice photos harmoniously embellish the high quality text you are currently reading. to know more about him, go check feil.club.fr; also to be found there is nationally renowned skate artist Jérôme Romain, aka Cloben (whose talent you can have a sample on romain-art.blogspot.com).
I dont know about you but I'm Quite hungry.
In France, Alsace rhymes with feast. And not without reason, since the region has produced numerous culinary specialities some of which have travelled way past the French borders to rush into the world like pilgrim grasshoppers on a cornfield. Such is the case with the world famous pretzel (the description of which I will not insult you with), the “choucroute garnie" (garnished sauerkraut, the traditional Alsatian dish), and a handful of Alsatian wines, mostly white, sold pretty much wherever people know how to live. The Flammekueche (a mix of flavoured cream, onions, lard on a very thin crust, in its purest form) also enjoys a great success on a national scale and in Germany. But there are tons more of local specialities that Alsace would rather keep for itself (not, by the way, without naming them with names you would twist your tongue trying to pronounce): the Baeckeoffe (a dish made out of meat and potatoes), the Kugelhof (some kind of Alsatian brioche), the Bredeles (little dry cakes we eat for Christmas), the Streusel (pastry shaped like a… Hmm, well, like a Streusel actually...), the Manneles (brioche shaped like a dude, and that are usually made for Saint-Nicolas’ day), and so on… For flambé specialties, please see the previous sidebar.
But there is more to life than just skateboarding. And Strasbourg has a lot to offer on top of its rough spots and its local Macba. La Petite France is a picturesque part of town where halftimbered houses overhang typical little streets and a network of canals, forming quite a beautiful view. The world famous one-towered cathedral sits in the middle of an entanglement of ancient streets (where i wouldn’t recommend eating, as you’ll be severely ripped off for nothing, which would be rather sad given the high gastronomic reputation of the place). The Christmas Market lasts until the last days of December is the chance for all the tourists from France and Germany to come here and fill their amazed eyes with raw authenticity in the form of little wooden houses. It is also a good opportunity for shopkeepers to fill their amazed pockets with little paper notes.
In the end, everyone is happy. Even the locals, who, a glass of hot wine in their hand, never grow weary of laughing at tourists buying typical stuffed stork (Alsace’s symbolic bird) -made in China for the price of a small apartment. By the way, talking of Germans, if there are so many in Alsace and in Strasbourg, it is simply because they feel at ease in the local atmosphere. Nothing surprising here, since, if you hadn’t skipped history classes to go learn kickflips, you would know that Alsace once belonged to Germany. Before getting back to being French, then German again. Then French again. Then German. Then French. And so on, so that, nowadays, no one really knows anymore, and when you come from the inner land (that’s how we call the rest of the French territory, here in Alsace), you kind of expect to cross a border at some point on the way. It’s easy though: before 1648, Strasbourg and Alsace as a whole were German. Hence the local dialect which sounds strongly German. Then it slowly got integrated to our glorious homeland, aka France (I want to hear those r’s rolling on your tongues please. thaaat’s it. thank you), via the treaty of Westphalia that followed the thirty year’s war. Then the war between France and Germany that lasted from 1870 to 1871, and the defeat of France that resulted from it, had for tragic consequence the annexation of Alsace to Germany (I could mention the treaty of Frankfurt here, but i think by now you have understood that my culture is limitless. Or that I own some Google shares). The French victory in the First World War came to put some order back in this mess, and we didn’t think twice before wresting Alsace back from the hands of those devilish teutons, by virtue of the treaty of Versailles in 1919. At this stage, no one spoke French anymore in Alsace. It’s a must-know to understand the terrible grades my grandparents were bringing back home when the official language turned back to French even though kids had never heard a word of it. a catastrophe, I tell you. Some 3/20 in history, 2/20 in algebra and whatnot... just thinking about it, my cheeks are turning red. But back then, in Alsace, we believed in it! We were French! We thought it was set for good: no need to change the signs or learn a new language every other day. When all of sudden, paf!, surprise. in 1940, guess who’s at the door with the firm intention of annexing Alsace (among other things) again? Ze Germans! I promise! You can’t have peace for more than five minutes with neighbours like that. They’re un-con-trollable, just like bad kids. As a result, boom, everyone starts speaking German again; otherwise it’s a rifle shot in the nostrils. Fortunately, after only 20 years, most people still had the basics. Thus, according to my great aunt (a flawless source of historical knowledge), half of her native village (Dalhenheim for the most curious of you all, or for those who doubt my words) was still not able to spell their full name in French. and then, in 1945, same old same old, Alsace turns back to French, and has remained so thus far. People were growing weary of it all a tiny bit.
Some went as far as wishing it would turn Italian or Portuguese for a change... since those swapping days, and mostly since relations between France and Germany have sensibly gotten better, Alsace, and Strasbourg in particular, has become the symbol of the reconciliation between the two countries and of peace in Europe. And since 1979, Strasbourg hosts the European Parliament, the Court of human rights, the European Centre of youth, the assembly of European regions, and a handful of other things that have the word Europe in it. Alsace also inherited from its German days a few strangeness in its local laws, still applied in spite of its incorporation to France, which now dates from a while back. thus, Alsace (just like Moselle, which has quite a similar history) has two more bank holidays (saint-Etienne’s day on the 26th of December, and the holy Friday, that precedes Easter Sunday); the social security system has higher indemnification base; pastors, priests and rabbis are paid by the state; the social welfare can benefit people that have not yet reached the age of 25 and many more. the persistence of those differences added to a strong sense of regionalism (regarding, notably, the safeguard of the local dialect) and feeds a certain suspicion from the rest of the country towards Alsace, which badmouths accuse of being more German than French and of not working for their reintegration too hard. But then again, in France, every other region is severely frowned upon for similar reasons, so there is no need to worry… Strasbourg’s town hall has decided, about ten years ago, to forbid cars in the city centre, which is, to say the least, quite pleasant.