Walking in the general direction I had seen on Google Maps, four kilometres from the Rhine River through corn and wheat fields, I came across the UNESCO World Heritage Site I was looking for. I had been lost as the French apparently don’t signpost their rural roads very well.
Located in north eastern France is the fortified town of Neuf Brisach, built in 1699 by French engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban on the orders of King Louis 14th as an Alsatian military barracks stronghold.
Neuf Brisach sits within red sandstone walls designed as an eight-pointed star fortress. There were once four gates into the town but now only the Colmar and Belfort Gates are open to traffic. It is one of the hundreds of fortified towns Vauban had planned and the last one he made before his death.
The fortification of Neuf Brisach is well preserved, in-fact the whole town is considering it was severely damaged in the 1800s during the Prussian invasion. The destroyed buildings were rebuilt according to original plans. Also the Nazi’s had laid a now dismantled train line through the middle of the town during World War II.
I walked around the perimeter grass ditch appreciating the historically significance, exchanging “bonjour’s” with the locals walking their dogs as they chased the grazing sheep between the walls and bastions.
The streets are set up in a 48 block grid surrounding a market square and the Royal Church of St Louis. The Vauban museum is located under the Belfort Gate and features a scale model of the town and information about Vauban himself.
Nowadays, it is a pleasant place for the residents to live and is relatively tourist free. Once the site of many battles, it is now another peaceful French town which happens to lie within a rare, well preserved star-shaped fortress.
Classical poet Victor Hugo lived in Neuf Brisach for a short time and wrote prophetic words when the Alsace was handed over to the Prussians in the late 1800s.
“Tomorrow, France will dream of re-conquering Alsace and Lothringen. We will hear France shouting: Now it is my turn, Germany, I am here! Am I your enemy? No! I am your brother. I have taken everything from you and will give it back on one condition: Let us become a single people, a single family, a single republic. I would raze my forts, you would destroy yours. Brotherliness will be my revenge. No more borders, the Rhine belongs to all! Let us become the same Republic, let us become the United States of Europe, let us become the Continental Federation, let us become European freedom.”
Hugo would be pleased see that today it is possible to walk across the Rhine, without passport checks within the fairly humungous “United States of Europe”. Unfortunately, my walk back to Germany involved being drenched by a thunderstorm.
Transport: Bus from Freiburg or Colmar
Car: 15km from Colmar
Web link for more information on the design: http://johnsmilitaryhistory.com/Neuf-Brisach.html