Strasbourg off the beaten track. The European Quarter – the spirit of Europe

Everybody knows by now that Croissants were actually invented in Austria, but do you know that in Spain you are only a quick ferry ride away from Africa? The fact that the budget of the European Parliament is only about one percent of the total EU budget is probably so unheard-of like the fact that there are indeed rain forests in Europe. The European Union currently consists of 28 member states, not to be equated with the Eurozone. It currently consists of 18 countries which pay with the common currency, the Euro. The Neuschwanstein Castle is a 19th century built structure, it is not a Disney replica, and with 324 meters the Eiffel Tower is the tallest structure in France.

Travel France. Strasbourg off the beaten track. The European Quarter – the spirit of Europe

In total, there are 24 official languages spoken in Europe. Each session of the European Parliament is translated into all languages, and that make 552 possible language combinations. In 2013 there were 2,024,000 document pages translated. Every day all visitors combined, throw EUR 3,000 in the Trevi Fountain in Rome (remember right hand, over the left shoulder), at the same time the EU countries aim to help at least 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion by 2020. You see, it is complicated, in Europe, there is never a dull day.

Europe – United in Diversity

The motto of the European Union is: United in diversity. How very wonderful is that motto? Strasbourg is secretly called the capital of Europe and it is the official seat of the European Parliament. I really needed to go there to see all this.

If you look at Europe's history you will soon notice that there was always a war somewhere. It is astounding really with a past like this, that today people can walk through every town in Europe without getting attacked. Wherever people are in Europe, they can drink Spanish wine, buy Greek cheese all the while they are wearing Italian shoes. The European Union was founded in the 1950s. The founders from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Netherlands, and Germany were still terribly terrified about what happened in WW2, they were looking for ways to prevent conflicts in the future, and to secure economic growth and prosperity of EU citizens.

While you are in Strasbourg, you can visit a neighbourhood where you can come real close to the spirit of Europe. It is full of real life heroes who fight for the rights of 800 million people. Every day. There are so many Euro-naysayers, and I can imagine that the realization of projects often take years until they become a reality but they don’t give up. The European Quarter is a truly inspiring place to visit.

The European Quarter –The Spirit of Europe

Walk for (roughly 3) kilometres from the Strasbourg Cathedral along the River Ill to get to the European Quarter. Alternatively you can take the tram from Gallia Station on Boulevard de la Victoire and get off after six stops at Droits de l'Homme.

Palace of Europe / Council of Europe

It is a palace, and I was so surprised that it is not designed as I’d expected it. It is a brutalist architecture palace and has been the home of the Council of Europe since 1997.

Here, the currently 47 member states of the democracies of Europe (during the cold war there were only 23) , representing a population of 800 million people, watch over human rights and come together to organise social affairs, education, culture programs and the environment. Being here, on the green in front of that palace, feels like watching history in the making.

Piece of the Berlin Wall

European Court of Human Rights

The British architect Sir Richard Rogers designed a building made of steel and glass; he uses natural light to save energy. The building has two towers that symbolize the weighing scales of Justitia. The two cylinders frame the glass entrance and façade that stand for a transparent judiciary. The European Court of Human Rights is recognized by 47 European countries. It was established in 1959 as a Commission and became a full-time court in 1998. I couldn’t go inside since I didn’t book in advance (sessions of the European Court of Human Rights are public, check the dates for hearings on the website and use the electronic booking form).

There are a few people camping near the entrance. I speak to one of them. He tells me he has been here for two years. He believes he has been treated poorly by Blair (the ex UK Prime Minister). From the corner of my eye I read on his posters "Worse than Auschwitz" and I tell him I feel sorry for him but everything he says becomes irrelevant since he compares his fate to what happened during WW2. He wasn’t amused, not at all, and yelled at me loudly, a little bit hysterical really. I could hear him long after I walked away. Ironic. He doesn't realize how anti-human rights he is, with downplaying Auschwitz.

European Parliament

The European Parliament is housed in the Louise Weiss Building. The French politically committed journalist and writer Louise Weiss was pro-Europe, and as a politician she was a Member of the European Parliament. The Parliament designed by French Architecture Studio is named after her. It includes a hemicycle of 750 seats, 1,133 offices for the members of Parliament, and 18 commission halls of 50 to 350 seats. “The building embodies the foundations of Western civilization: Classicism and the Baroque, the transition from a central geometric structure (Galileo) to the ellipse (Kepler, Gongora), an unsettled snapshot of geometry and the transition from centralized power to democracy.” (Architecture-Studio).

You can sit in the public gallery, you will need to plan well in advance. Visit the website for more info or reach out to the European Parliament Information Office in Strasbourg, e-mail: Allée du Printemps. F-67070 Strasbourg.


Agora Strasbourg

The Council of Europe sits in an impressive new building with office spaces and meeting rooms behind a massive glass facade. It is a green building, built after energy saving rules that show the Council of Europe's commitment to environmental responsibility. Agora in ancient Greek is a place for gatherings, like a market place where people come together to sell their wares, discuss things or demonstrate, the place where life takes place. The building is designed by Belgium architects Art & Build and French architects Denu et Paradon

European Pharmacopoeia

This place is all about the quality of prescription drugs. Here you find all information about the ingredients and compounds used in the authorized medications you take for any health problem there is. Visit their website for information.

No Cappuccino after 10am?

Next time you are going to be ready when people talk to you about Europe and its affairs. It is not only freshly baked croissants, weird accents, no Cappuccino after 10am or fast cars. Europe and its institutions are not a waste of money, it is 800 million people living together in peace and "United in diversity" ...

From Berlin with love