Wales and Alsace: In praise of borderlands

Posted in: Essays

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The Alsace town of Wissembourg, France. Photo ©hidden europe.
The Alsace town of Wissembourg, France. Photo ©hidden europe.

Note: The authors, on a slow train somewhere in Alsace, reflect on the enduring appeal of borderlands.

Borderlands are always interesting. These are the territories that somehow defy classification. Today, as we ramble along through eastern France, we focus on two of our favorite borderlands, Wales and Alsace.

The Welsh Borderlands

Of course, maps depict a border separating Wales from England, but the reality on the ground is more complex, as the traveller moves seamlessly through the marchlands from one cultural realm to the other.

Ludlow, an appealing small town in the Shropshire hills, is unequivocally English. Llanwrthwl, a village just 35 miles west of Ludlow, is most certainly Welsh. But drive the main road west from Ludlow and you’ll realize that Wales is not a clearly defined territory but more a state of mind. Communities along the way, like Knighton and Bleddfa, are also deliciously ambiguous.

Wissembourg, FranceImages of Alsace

Much the same is true of Alsace, the region in eastern France that is bordered by the Rhine. We stopped off in the Alsace town of Strasbourg, then meandered north to Wissembourg, never straying more than a dozen miles from the German border.

We ate choucroute and flammekueche, lingered over Riesling wines, and listened to conversations that started in French but moved effortlessly into Alsatian German.

In Strasbourg this month, there is a public initiative that focuses on the very idea of identity. Citizens are being encouraged to think about life in their border region, with performances, readings, and debates that explore four clear themes: perceptions, frontiers, values, and connections.

Traveling through this marvelous region, we are ever more struck that folk in Alsace could really teach the rest of us in Europe a thing of two. This remarkable borderland is little more than two hours from Paris by fast train.

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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