Saturday, October 20th, 2012
Colmar has an important wine fair in August, and it is also the seat of the Association of Alsatian wine-growers. The great feature of the Alsatian wine is that it is the only wine in France named after the variety of the grape, and it is not usually blended. Like its cousins the Hock and Moselle wines, it can be drunk very young, at most two or three years after harvesting. It is interesting that the local consumption of red wines is so high as to be a serious social problem; nevertheless it is obvious that the white wines have an important place in the tourist industry, which is itself officially considered highly important.
All this sounds matter-of-fact and statistical, but it underlines the truth that this charming quiet town, which someone suggested was ‘the truffle in the foie gras’ , is at a point of decision. And what of the town itself, with its view across the bridges to lilac-lined gardens and the eaves of timbered houses backing onto ‘little Venice’? Apart from the twisted mediaeval streets, the ‘cathedral’ and the Dominican church, there is a municipal theatre, small but highly decorative, with visiting companies from the Strasbourg Opera and the Comédie Francaise, and even Jean Marais. There is a fine old municipal library in the Dominican monastery which has been recently modernized. There is one of the most up-to-date hospitals in France, completed just before the war, with an important radiological department.
In addition to its lycees and college technique (the grammar and secondary modern schools), it is going to build a cite technique, to contain among other departments a national School of Commercial Textile Sales. The Champ de Mars, a symmetrical park, has at one end F. A. Bartholdi’s statue of General Rapp and at the other the Prefecture built in 1865 under the Second Empire. The railway station was built in 1903 under the first German occupation. Indeed, it is the only sign of that unwelcome interlude, just as the statue of Admiral Bruat, also by Bartholdi, being restored to its position, is the only reminder in Colmar itself of the second occupation. (In the country round about, however, complete villages like Bennwihr were ruined in the fight for the Colmar pocket in 1945.)
Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour and the Lion of Belfort, was a native of Colmar. The house in which he was born is now the best sort of museum, filled with furniture from his Paris apartment (and pretty startling some of it is) and with casts and maquettes of his works. It is quiet and peaceful, but far from neglected. Only when one counts the unending models in it does one realize that a large part of the municipal sculpture in France would appear to be by him. He died not sixty years ago, in 1904, and we probably live too close to him to see that he was in fact a very considerable artist in the academic style. An even greater local figure is still living, for Albert