This delightful city in the Alsace region of France, similar to so many European cities, has an interesting and colorful history.
Located just 18 km (11 miles) from the German border and 30 km (18.5 miles) from the Swiss border it is easy to understand how over the centuries, borders have moved multiple times and Mulhouse ping pongs between Germany and France. In the early 1500’s Mulhouse was also part of Switzerland and during another period of history, although independent, the city was under the protection of Austria. The current culture reflects each of these countries influence and still today, many street signs are listed in both French and German.
Today, Mulhouse is known for its museums and we found a few outstanding ones and wanted to share them.
Musée Historique de Mulhouse
Inside the Hôtel de Ville is a small museum, created in 1858, covering the history of Mulhouse. There are historical displays of portraits, paintings, toys, furniture, maps, stained glass, and a vignette of a very old kitchen and a ‘winstub’, or tavern. What we found most interesting in this museum was the colorful variety of huge and beautiful ceramic kitchen and room heaters/stoves.
Cité de l’Automobile
The Mulhouse Car Museum (a.k.a. Collection Schlumpf) is the largest automobile museum in the world. In less than 20 years the Brothers Hans and Fritz Schlumpf, wealthy textile owners, personally amassed the majority of this collection, beginning in the early 1950’s. They quietly pulled together a team of 40 carpenters, saddlers, and master mechanics to restore the cars. In 1977, during an employee strike, employees discovered the secret warehouse full of cars. A year later France declared the collection a “French Historic Monument” thereby saving the entire group of cars.
One of our favorite categories of cars are the fascinating early vehicles from the late 1890’s through to the 1920’s and some of the oldest we found was a Benz and a Menier from 1893. The Menier had 2 motors and 2 cylinders and each of the 4 gears had a separate pedal, so one had to be quite talented to drive this car.
There are more than 520 vehicles representing 98 different companies. The museum also has the largest and most comprehensive collection of Bugatti vehicles in the world, (more than 120) including this beauty, the Bugatti Veyron.
Musée des Beaux-Arts
One cool afternoon we visited the Mulhouse Fine Arts Museum, that was created in 1860. We found some lovely paintings from the 19th century by a local artist, Jean-Jacques Henner, depicting scenes of local life.
The highlight though was a wonderful temporary exhibit called Ténèbres Lumineuses, by Mitsuo Shiraishi, that we both thoroughly enjoyed.
For the Christmas season, they also had an expanded gift shop of beautifully hand crafted local products set up.
Musée de l’Impression sur Étoffe
In the middle of the eighteenth century, Mulhouse began to manufacture cotton and for the next 100 years Mulhouse became one of France’s leading textile centers. The Museum of Printed Fabrics was a most interesting stop. There were equal numbers of displays of fabrics and of the tools used to make, color and print them.
The museum tells the story of not only the local history and textile industry, but also showcases beautiful fabrics, fashion and decorative arts. Displayed in the center of the rooms were large machines from the early years of industrialized printing, like copper rollers from the early 1800’s, and a whole range of sewing and other machines.
We learned that today this museum is also a wonderful resource for designers and researchers. There are an amazing six million print samples from the last 200 years documented here.
We also enjoyed the excellent temporary fabric exhibit by Yves Saint Laurent called “When Flowers Make Style” on loan from the Yves Saint Laurent Museum Paris.
Although Mulhouse is famous for its fabrics, what is most anticipated each holiday season, is the unveiling of the new Christmas fabric. A different fabric made especially for each holiday season is used to decorate the streets and monuments making the Mulhouse Christmas market unique among the many Christmas markets in Europe.
Musée Français du Chemin de Fer
The largest train museum in France, also known as the Cité du train, has on display more than 100 locomotives and other railway vehicles from the earliest locomotives in the 1840s to the newest TGV.
This museum surprised us as it was so much more interactive than we expected. You could peer into steam, electric and diesel locomotives to see the inner workings. There was a faux train accident set up that allowed visitors to see the fascinating underside of a train and another section where visitors could walk beneath a train and gaze up to see the mechanisms. Parts of trains had cutouts enabling us to see inside. The vast difference between first, second and third class train travel was striking. One area of perhaps 5 or more children’s trains was engaging and elsewhere there were dozens of model trains showcased.
A truly modern, informational and educational museum and worth a visit.
EDF Electropolis Museum
The Electropolis Museum, opened in 1992, is about the history of electricity and household appliances.
The flagship of the entire exhibition is the beautiful Generator Sulzer – BBC from 1901; the museum was originally created to save this machine. The Generator Sulzer – BBC is 15 metres long, nearly 50 feet, uses 170 tons of cast iron, steel and copper, and whose wheel measures 6 metres in diameter, nearly 20 feet. It supplied 900 kilowatts of electricity at a voltage of 400 Volts, and was used in the textile industry in Mulhouse between 1901 and 1947. It has been restored and was running during our visit.
This museum traces the history of electricity through various explanations and experiments from the 17th and 18th centuries, the pioneers like Edison, Tesla and Volta from the 19th century as well as some interesting children’s interactive displays.
Exhibits included collectibles and vintage machines. We saw early telephones, phonographs, radios, televisions and refrigerators.
This was yet another wonderful museum with the contents presented in such a way that everyone and anyone can enjoy it.
With a current population of just 111,000, Mulhouse is a relaxing and pleasant corner of France. The Alsatian food is hearty and flavorful, the people are wonderful, these amazing museums await discovery and we are surrounded by open spaces, fresh air and nature. Added together we think Mulhouse is a wonderful destination.
Santé from the alsatians,
Ted and Julia