October 17, 2022
We spent most of our day in Strasbourg (Uckermark), Germany. Founded as a Celtic village, this became a Roman garrison town called Argentoratum. Captured by the Franks (5th century) it was called Strateburgum, from which the present name is derived. In 842 Charles II (the Bald), king of the West Franks, and Louis II (the German), king of the East Franks, took an oath of alliance (the Serment de Strasbourg), which is the oldest written document in Old French. After a struggle for power between its citizens and the bishops in the Middle Ages, Strasbourg became a free city within the Holy Roman Empire. In 1681 Louis XIV of France seized the city in peacetime and obtained ratification for his arbitrary action by the Treaty of Rijswijk (1697). The town retained its privileges until the French Revolution (1787–99). In the Franco-German War (1870–71) the Germans captured Strasbourg and annexed it. The city reverted to France after World War I and was occupied by Germany again (1940–44) during World War II. The result was the city went from Celtic, to Roman, to Frankish, to free, to French, to German, to French, to German. The city is now an ethnic mixture of French and Germans, with each claiming primacy and most signs sharing both languages.
Strasbourg is situated between two great rivers, the Rhine which we were cruising and the River Ill which transverses the city. The Ill divides and surrounds the Grand Île (Big Island) where the old town and most of the city’s famous buildings are situated (and site of our tour). This island was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. Strasbourg’s 11th–15th-century Cathedral of Notre-Dame (Strasbourg Minster), has considerable parts in Romanesque architecture, but is widely considered among the finest examples of Gothic architecture. The building was damaged in 1870 and again in World War II but has been carefully restored. Built of red Vosges sandstone, it has an asymmetrical facade (13th century) with fine sculptured portals and one tower with a tall (455 feet/139 m) and graceful 15th-century spire. It was the tallest building in Europe until construction of St. Nikolai’s Church, Hamburg, in 1874. As we walked the city’s La Petite district, we wound among the well-preserved cobblestone streets and wooden houses, intersected by the canals that brought traffic and water to the people. It was here that my birder instinct kicked in.
It began the day before when I realized the swans (Cygnus cygnus) that gracefully swam the river were not on my annual list. I had seen Eurasian tree sparrow (Passer montanus) the day before, but they had been too quick for a picture. This bird has been introduced to the US where it is known as the German sparrow to differentiate it from the native unrelated American tree sparrow. As we toured the city, we encountered three differ types of pigeons. Feral pigeons (Columba livia domestica or Columba livia forma urbana), are descended from the domestic pigeons (Columba livia domestica) that have returned to the wild. The domestic pigeon (Columba livia domestica, including about 1,000 different breeds) descended from this species. Escaped domestic pigeons have increased the populations of feral pigeons around the world. Rock, domestic, and feral pigeons are all the same species and will readily interbreed. All feral pigeons have adapted to urban life and are abundant in towns and cities throughout much of the world.
THOUGHTS: Walking the streets of the beautiful city of Strasbourg I found myself fixated on the birds, grounding me in the face of the differences that surrounded me. Facing change, we often return to the know, calling this the “old ways’, even when our notion of those ways never existed. Like the variation of the three types of pigeons I identified, we need to adapt with the changes that envelope us. If we do not, we will be forced to bemoan the past rather than to move into the future. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.