There are written historical records from the early 13th century referring to Mulhouse but local stories and legends date back as far as the first century.
We found the culture and food to be equally influenced by Germany and France and, because we were visiting in November, this friendly multicultural city was abuzz with Christmas market and holiday preparations.
Place de la Réunion is the historical heart of the city where the magnificent Renaissance-style Hôtel de Ville (town hall) and the Temple Saint-Étienne (St. Stephen’s Church) are located. This is where activities are held throughout the year and historically has been the location of the Mulhouse Christmas market.
Rothüs, Hotel de Ville
The entire historical Place de la Réunion and the buildings surrounding it feels like you are walking around in a living museum. This is where the red and pink Hôtel de Ville is situated. Built in 1553, the Hôtel de Ville is famous for the very cool trompe l’œil paintings that cover three sides of the building. The paintings represent justice, courage, temperance, faith and charity. It really is the prettiest of buildings and each year the front arch is dressed in the holiday fabric.
On the right side of the building, fairly high up is a stone head hanging from a chain. This is the “klapperstein” which weighs 12 kilos (26.5 pounds) and would be hung from the necks of convicted gossipers and “scandalmongers” whose punishment would be to wear the “klapperstein” while riding around the city backwards on a donkey!
An original klapperstein can be seen inside the Musée Historique de Mulhouse.
St. Stephen’s Church is the eye-popping main church of Mulhouse, sometimes referred to as the “Cathedral of Mulhouse”. Although built in the Gothic style, it is actually fairly new, having been built in 1859. The precious 14th century stained glass windows however were preserved from a previous church, built in the 1100’s, but destroyed in 1858. At 97 meters / 318 feet tall, St. Stephen’s is the tallest protestant church in France. During the holiday season colored up-lights are used in the evenings to give the church a wonderful cheery glow.
Every region of France offers new and delicious flavors to explore. The food of the Alsace region is hearty and generous portions are served. There is definitely a German influence in both the favorite foods and wine. Alsace grows and produces primarily white wines, with some of the best dry Rieslings found here and one of our favorite white grapes, Gewürztraminer.
A couple of the traditional local dishes we tried were:
1) baeckeoffe – a cozy casserole made with potatoes, onions, vegetables, cubed mutton, beef, and pork which have been marinated overnight in Alsatian white wine and juniper berries all slow-cooked in a bread-dough sealed in a ceramic casserole dish.
2) flammekueche – a flatbread topped with a white cheese, thinly sliced onions and chopped bacon. It is a very popular appetizer and in our experience, an excellent accompaniment to ‘vin chaud’.
3) choucroute – a local lovely and mild version of sauerkraut made with salt and juniper berries and typically served with sausages, potatoes and dumplings.
4) sausages – there were literally far too many varieties, shapes and sizes to keep track of, but the ones we were able to try were delicious.
5) bredala – because we are here in late November, the holiday baked goods began to appear. Cookies and small cakes are called bredala and many baked goodies are made with the local favorite flavor, “pain d’épices” or gingerbread.
A five minute walk from our Airbnb was a street that had a dozen shops on it that carried nearly everything we needed to make our own meals. Here we found the fabulous quality of foods and flavors we have come to anticipate in France.
There was a local fruit and vegetable market where we practiced and laughed over our juvenile French language skills. The owner’s daughter was fluent in five languages!
There were two bakeries, both making the flakiest almond and apricot croissants and other goodies.
There was a butcher, who ground the hamburger meat fresh as you ordered it and carried a good selection of Alsatian sausages, a fresh fish shop, a couple of wine shops and a couple of cheese shops. We found the best locally made yogurt we have ever tried in amazing flavors. (Damson plum and cinnamon, vanilla and bourbon, and pink grapefruit.)
And finally, during the holiday season, the beverage of choice is vin chaud, literally, hot wine. Called glüwein in German and mulled wine in the US, it is known as ‘vin chaud’ in this corner of France. It is a delicious heated wine steeped in holiday spices and served with slices of orange. We are most familiar with the red wine version but we also found a white vin chaud and a rosé vin chaud. The temperatures have been hovering around freezing so vin chaud is as beneficial as a Starbucks coffee in Seattle; it keeps your hands and tummy warm while it perks you up.
Marché de Noël
Mulhouse has such a rich history in textiles and each year the highlight of the Mulhouse Christmas market is a new fabric locally made especially for the festive season.
It is the only city to create a new cotton Christmas fabric each year and that fabric is used to decorate the Christmas market cottages, various buildings around the Place de la Reunion and can be purchased to make your own creations. In the markets there are any number of ready-made products for sale using the special fabric. As you can see the 2018 fabric is richly colored in warm tones of gold, orange, red, copper and bronze.
In late November and throughout December, Place de la Réunion is the scene of Mulhouse’s delightful Marché de Noël or Christmas market. There are dozens of wooden chalets fully decorated with lights and fabric and Christmas decorations, each offering wonderful local crafts, toys, ceramics, pottery, glass, fabrics and delicious Alsatian products and goodies for sale.
One minor disappointment was not being able to find samples or even photos of each of the Christmas fabrics made in the past 30 years. Neither the local history museum nor the fabric museum carried them. It would have been fun to see them all together in one place.
Exploring this wonderful corner of northeastern France has been fun! Being here during the Christmas shopping season was especially exciting. With everything going on you can’t help but get into the Christmas spirit. And for us that means heading home to see our family and friends for Christmas and participate in all the celebrations surrounding the holiday season in that area of the world.
Farewell France, we have thoroughly enjoyed our time visiting.
Santé from the alsatians,
Ted and Julia