Architecture, buildings, OLD buildings… For a South African tourist, with our relatively recent history, that remains one of the impressions of Europe. The oldest building in South Africa that remains in use (not ruins somewhere) is the Castle of Good Hope. That was built between 1666 and 1667. When one then walks down a small street in the Altstadt (old city) in Esslingen, Germany, and sees a notice on a building that is was built in 1232, it comes as a sort of shock… What is more of a shock is that people are still living in it! In fact, the oldest house still inhabited in Germany is in Esslingen!
Then, in the same part of Esslingen is the Palmscher Bau Restaurant. According to the story on the menu, the house was destroyed in a fire in 1701, rebuilt in the same style the same year. Later the family ran a post office on the ground floor, and in 1862 they received a license to run a restaurant. It is still being run today as a very nice restaurant! And this is not the only example. They abound in Esslingen, and I’m sure, in other parts of Europe.
Compared to medieval Esslingen, Paris is a relative youngster! Old Paris was prone to fires, cramped and dangerous. In fact is is described as “chaotic, overcrowded, dark, crime-ridden, dangerous and unhealthy”. Emporer Napoleon III instructed public administrator, Georges-Eugène Haussmann, to rebuild the city. So duly, between 1853 and 1870, a massive urban renewal project was undertaken. Over 350,000 people were relocated, whole neighbourhoods were demolished and rebuilt. What resulted is the Paris we see today. A Paris of boulevards, circles, monuments and magnificent buildings. This work wasn’t carried out without opposition of course. In 1870 Napoleon dismissed Haussmann, who had become very unpopular, although work on his project carried on right until 1927.
Haussmann used the Seine river as the basis from where he planned his street outlay. This means that there is some logic, but it escaped us! Go for a walk at night in the 20th arrondissement (district) and see how quickly you go for a tour of places you actually didn’t plan to go to! (I never get lost, we only go on unplanned tours!) It leads to interesting sights as well, like seeing the Eglise Notre Dame de la Croix church at night, but also the “working ladies” along the Boulevard de Belleville! (Who incidentally, from a cursory glance, mostly seemed to be from Asian origin!) Thank heavens for the Paris Metro which is logical (once you learned one or two rules in using it). We didn’t walk home, we took the Metro, after a 4km “tour” my feet were sore!
[disclaimer – remember the words from the first blog in this series: “our comments is about what we experienced around there and how we saw things – not representative of the whole of France, Germany or the Netherlands.]