We’ve been through this area of Europe several times. We’ve visited along the nearby Moselle and Rhine rivers. I’ve even motorbiked to the Black Forest and back. But every time we’ve literally gone around Luxembourg. We thought we’d spend a couple of days in Europe’s crossroads.
If you’ve not been before, Luxembourg has about the same population density as the UK, but it’s about a hundredth of the land area. It has rolling fields with forested regions and the occasional deep valley formed by rivers. Outside urban areas, it feels like somewhere like Derbyshire. There are towns and villages, but they feel like they are largely commuter suburbs for Luxembourg City. However, unlike the UK, approximately 50% of the population living in Luxembourg is from other EU countries.
The traffic was terrible and the first Park and Ride was full, the second we had to wait at the barrier until someone left before we could go in. We took a park and ride bus into Luxembourg City centre. As we didn’t know much at all about Luxembourg and it’s history we decided to visit the museum.
The medieval centre of Luxembourg has a museum that gave a really good history of the city and state. The city is centred on a a point where the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers join, which have carved deep valleys, which forms a natural defence point. The earliest references to the city appear in a document at the museum, believed to be from 963. It became a strategic fortress, with half the city’s population being military for most of its history. It was was captured and occupied in many disputes between the surrounding countries (even Spain was involved!) over the next millennia, which has led to its ‘European blend’ feel. Then, about 200 years ago, Luxembourg became an independent state. It decided to declare itself forever neutral and destroyed most of its fortifications. The buildings and streets that filled the spaces left has grown into a relatively modern and prosperous city.
The museum had an area dedicated to life in Luxembourg since independence. Luxembourg used to have banking rules which made it a bit of a tax haven, which also made it rich. Now it follows EU rules, these benefits have ebbed away, but many banks and businesses still remain.
Luxembourg has royalty in the form of Grand Ducal Family. The previous Grand Duke Jean abdicated in 2000 and handed the dukedom to his son Henri. Jean passed away a couple of weeks ago. The funeral was a day after we visited. The city centre was preparing for the ceremony with many streets closed to traffic and TV cameras being set up all over the place. There were flowers outside the palace and many shops had pictures of the former duke in their windows.
As with most of central Europe, Luxembourg was the site of great carnage during the second world war. We visited one of the US war cemeteries a few kilometres outside the city. The scale of both the numbers of gravestones, and the size of the tributes was monumental. As everything was immaculate limestone, polished marble or gilded.
In contrast, we also visited the German war cemetery just up the road. It was far more sombre. The grass was relatively uncut. Stonework was all rough-hewn granite. The majority of the gravestones were for 4 of the fallen with details of two soldiers on one side, and another two on the other. Many of the inscriptions just said ‘Zwei Deutsche Soldaten’ on them.