Delving into History at Strasbourg’s Musee Alsacien
Posted on February 22, 2020
Strasbourg’s Musee Alsacien allows me to become a time traveler in this quaint city straddling the border of Germany. Located in the UNESCO-designated historic Strasbourg, the Musee Alsace stops time in the 18th and 19th centuries. If a cuckoo clock could announce the hour, it would halt dead in his tracks midway through the second note (cuckoo.)
Visiting the museum during a bitterly cold December, I dress in fur-lined boots and a scarf wrapped tightly around my face and neck. I visit Strasbourg to attend the “Christkindelsmärik” (market of the Infant Jesus) which is France’s oldest Christmas Market.
Musee Alsace is located at 23-25 quai Saint Nicolas on a cobblestone street in Petite France lined with the half-timbered Alsatian stucco homes. I glory in the intricate design of the wood panels that form straight and slant lines, intricate boxes, and crisscross patterns on the surface. Homes are painted clay red, beige, yellow, and creamy white.
Pulling the obstinate handle of the timbered door open, I step back into my past at Strasbourg’s Musee Alsacien. You see my paternal great grandmother resided in Strasbourg in the 19th century. I know no other details of her life except what I can glean from a tour of this pastoral life museum. Inside the foyer, I examine the Alsatian poem that is written in calligraphy on a wall. There are also traditional symbols, such as the dove, rose, and sun. I believe I can trace these designs to a present-day Amish quilt.
The object of this institution is to let the visitor experience rural life in Strasbourg as an Alsatian. Now it is important to understand that Alsace is a place in the mind as well as geography. It is a historical and cultural region defined by its cuisine, arts, and people. But I was not here to learn about the German and French fight that resulted in Alsace’s multi-personality.
According to Professor N.F. Palmer, Strasbourg, as the principal city of Alsace, had been German throughout the Middle Ages and Reformation period until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 when Alsace fell to France. (Note: Strasbourg did not fully become a French city until 1681). After France’s defeat in the Franco‐Prussian War in 1871, which was the occasion of the bombing, Alsace‐Lorraine was incorporated into the German Empire, and the library was rebuilt and restocked. Alsace‐Lorraine was returned to France after the First World War in 1919, re‐annexed by Germany in 1940, and then retaken by France in 1944.
I wanted to see how the average French family lived in a half-timbered home on the banks of the canal. This museum is constructed of old Strasbourg homes that are linked by skinny passageways and creaking wooden staircases. To enhance the visitor’s understanding of a typical Alsatian home, there is a miniature village to peruse. A replica of the distinctive half-timbered home features the slatted roofs, multi-paned windows, stucco exterior and wood planks. It is set in a courtyard formation. There are fenced areas to keep the farm animals at Strasbourg’s Musee Alsacien.
Another set of miniature homes allow me to look inside the slatted roofs of the stucco homes to see how the rooms are set up. I can look into the attic. One side of the house is deconstructed to show only the timber foundation and the hung windows. The Alsatian carpenter used no screws or nails to fortify but rather wood plugs to strengthen the walls.
I can almost picture the young mother rushing up from the kitchen with a babe nestled on her hip. I think the creaking is history’s feeble French voice come alive. I can feel the presence of the babies and toddlers that would have been placed on quilts near the warm fireplace. I think of the stories revealed by a simple child’s toy—a cloth rag doll, a wooden top, a bunny pull toy, and a rocking horse.
What makes Musee Alsace such a delight is that the Alsatian story is told in such a moving way by the thousands of objects that illustrate rural life, including brightly colored plates, silverware, black kitchen pots, and ceramic jugs. I marvel at a bedroom with its four-poster bed. I think a stool would have required for any child to climb up on the mattress. There is also a reconstruction of the Stub (common room) of a Wintzenheim farm.
In the kitchen, I can almost smell the pungent odor of bratwurst and sauerkraut simmering in a pot that sways above the range. Dating back to 1902, the Alsatian museum aims to reconstruct life room by room. As a result, I feel like I could be visiting my great-great grandmother’s home as I wander through the kitchen, examining the copper pots and pans. Wooden shelves proudly display earthenware vases.
There is an exhibit of the distinctive pottery that again bears the folklore symbols of animals, flowers, and vines. Making pottery can be traced back to the Middle Ages. The hand-crafted pottery flourished through the 19th century. There are still family-run potteries existing today that recreate the stylish jugs, pots, and vases.
For this time traveler, Strasbourg’s Musee Alsacien allowed me to linger among the traditional day-to-day objects associated with life in the 18th and 19th centuries in Alsace. But more importantly, I could envision how my great-grand grandmother Mary A. Morelock (born in 1842) might have lived in Strasbourg.
“Since 1907, housed in traditional and charming former homes of Strasbourg, the Alsatian Museum presents life in Alsace in the olden days. The Alsatian Museum was founded in 1902 with the aim of underpinning the region’s identity against attempts at Germanisation. Located in three former houses in Strasbourg, linked by a maze of stairways and connecting passages, the museum displays over 5,000 artifacts witnessing the daily life of Alsatians in the 18th and 19th centuries. Furniture, homeware, toys, traditional costumes, tools, sacred artifacts and images are on display in the 30 rooms. Reconstructions of interiors typical of different areas in Alsace and craft workshops are part of the rich collection in this atmospheric museum.—Visit Alsace
Musee Alsacien is part of the Musees de la Ville de Strasboug, which also includes an archaeological museum, decorative arts museum, historical museum, zoological museum, among other venues.
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