How far were old cities apart

History in the flow. Rivers as European places of remembrance

Jean Klotz

Jean Klotz is an urban architect and former deputy mayor of Strasbourg, responsible for urbanism and architecture. He was also a past president of the Independent Port of Strasbourg.

Strasbourg and Kehl are symbols of European integration. But in terms of urban planning, both cities are far from each other, despite the Europe bridge over the Rhine. In the interwar period, the port closed like a bolt between Strasbourg and the Rhine. It was only after the fall of the Wall that Strasbourg politics managed to move closer to the river.

The garden on two banks in Strasbourg leads directly to the Rhine. (& copy Inka Schwand)

After the eventful history of the last two centuries, the rediscovered peace and friendship with German neighbors have a profound meaning for Strasbourg and Alsace. Nevertheless, the Franco-German friendship did not automatically lead to cooperation between Strasbourg and Kehl. It was not until the town hall, which was elected in 1989, to which I also belonged, that cooperation between the two cities became a matter of course. The same goes for the current town hall. The Strasbourg-Kehl urban axis, as we call it, is now one of the priorities of this cooperation.

The area of ​​the city axis

The city axis is a wide area. It extends for six kilometers from east to west and covers an area of ​​more than 250 hectares. Most of the area is on the French side of the Rhine.

The area is shaped by the development of the port and the associated facilities. The focus is on the water and with it a series of canals and docks, which together formed the port of Strasbourg at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

“The landscape connoisseur receives no compensation for the nudity of the narrowed banks of the Rhine below Bingen. The hills on either side do not have that proud, imposing height that would silence the observer with a mighty impression; their monotony finally tires, and although the traces of artificial cultivation on their sudden suspension sometimes betray a daring industry, they always arouse the idea of ​​childish triviality. The walls of dilapidated knight festivals are a splendid decoration of this scene; but there is a certain resemblance to the weathered rock peaks in the taste of their construction, whereby one misses the so indispensable contrast of the forms.

Georg Forster, 1790

"Yes, my friend, the Rhine is a noble river: aristocratic, republican, imperial, worthy of belonging to both France and Germany."

Victor Hugo, 1842

“Where the noisy and confused vanities' fair romps today, tomorrow the garden of Franco-German friendship can be in the light. Only here."

René Schickele, 1932

"I was born in Cologne, where the Rhine, tired of its Middle Rhine loveliness, becomes wide and flows into the total plain towards the mists of the North Sea."

Heinrich Böll, 1959
A turning point in the development of the port was in 1924 - the birth of the Port Autonomous, the independent port of Strasbourg, sealed in a treaty between the French state and the city. The city made the land available that was needed for the development of the port; the state contributed the financial means for the expansion.

The port was expanded on the Rhine along the north-south axis. In the 1960s, the city of Strasbourg and the Port Autonomous to a further development of the area near the city center (Fronts de Neudorf). In this area, the recently founded city association also built its new administration building. That was, if you will, the first stage of a Strasbourg-Kehl axis. Further to the east, apart from the port area, there were barracks, military grounds, customs facilities and railroad areas.

Different story

The growing together of Strasbourg and Kehl does not only have to master the territorial challenges. It also has to face the different histories of the two cities. Strasbourg is an old city. At the beginning of the Christian era, it developed from a Roman camp on an island on the River Ill to an important trading town. Kehl, on the other hand, was first mentioned in the 11th century. In the 17th century, the free and prosperous city of Strasbourg suffered a major setback. With their conquest by the French Kingdom, Louis XIV had the bridgehead east of the Rhine - namely Kehl - occupied and had it fortified parallel to the construction of the citadel and the reinforcement of the fortifications around Strasbourg. The trading town had become a fortress. It stayed that way until the Napoleonic era. At the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon ordered the rebuilding of the Kehl fortress, which had been destroyed during the French Revolution. Any civil use was banned in their vicinity. It was not until the end of the first French Empire in 1815 that Kehl became a town again in Baden and began to rebuild itself.

In the middle of the 19th century, the Rhine was straightened under the direction of the engineer Johann Gottfried Tulla. The river has been canalized and made navigable. In the process, numerous river loops were cut, creating today's banks. At the beginning of the 20th century, this made it possible to build the Rhine ports of Strasbourg and Kehl on the vacated areas.

In the meantime, Strasbourg, which rose to the state capital of the German Empire after 1871, had been expanded within its new fortress wall according to the plans of the architect Conrath. The suburbs of Strasbourg to the west developed outside the ring walls and the military buffer zone on the access roads to the city mainly to the north and west.

It is true that the Rhine became the border again between 1918 and 1939. However, this did not prevent the residents of both cities from gathering for celebrations and walks in the Rheinpark, which had a game and concert hall, a beer garden and a horse racing track. At the same time, the economic and urban development of Strasbourg and Alsace, which had once again become a buffer zone, was slowed down for strategic reasons by Paris, i.e. at the national level.

Different actors

Today, too, we are dealing with various actors and levels in the Strasbourg-Kehl axis project. The first of these is the European level. It is present in Strasbourg through the establishment of international institutions such as the International Rhine and Shipping Commission, the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Pharmacopoeia and the European Parliament.

At the local and regional level are the President of the Alsatian Regional Council (Conseil Régional), for whom it is said: What is good for Strasbourg is also good for Alsace. The mayor of Kehl is one of them. For him, what is good for Strasbourg is also useful for Kehl. Of course, the mayor of Strasbourg is also an important local representative.

Under the umbrella of the International Rhine Commission, the nation states France and Germany are responsible for everything that has to do with the Rhine near Strasbourg and Kehl. That has changed with the bridges, of which there are still far too few of them. Until the Karlsruhe Agreement of January 23, 1996, the nation states were responsible here too. The agreement on cross-border cooperation, however, has facilitated the initiatives of the local authorities on both sides of the Rhine.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Franco-German friendship treaty, in January 2003 the two heads of state called for the establishment of a so-called “Eurodistrict”. The founding contract was signed on October 17, 2005 between the Strasbourg city council and the Ortenau district.

But what does this Eurodistrict, which includes a million inhabitants on both sides of the Rhine, mean? The Eurodistrict intervenes in the everyday life of the citizens, in health, in sports, in culture, but not in urbanism.

Urban planning issues are reserved for the two cities and the municipal association that are directly affected by the Strasbourg-Kehl axis project. It should be emphasized that the competence on the German side lies solely with the city administration of Kehl; On the French side, however, the municipal association is responsible, which comprises a total of 27 municipalities. However, this asymmetrical structure has never caused problems.