Is it Germany or is it France?

If you like your French with a side of German, the Alsace-Lorraine is the region for you. Traded back and forth between the two countries as borders changed throughout time, France came out the winner with this lovely little territory.

Alsace-Lorraine might sound like a mouthful….until you hear the full German name of Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen. This is a complicated name for an English speaker, but an uncomplicatedly beautiful place that features the best of both countries. I have visited just a few times, but this is one of the few places where I linger a bit longer and think maybe, just maybe, there are other places I could live in Europe besides Berlin.

A vineyard in Alsace-Lorraine PHOTO: Erin Porter

Brief History of the Alsace-Lorraine

It was French, then it was German, then it was French, then it was German and now it is French again.

Just kidding! Brief, but not that brief:

Once the home of the Gauls, this roughly 5,000 square mile area was officially recognized by the German Empire in 1871 after it annexed most of Alsace and the Moselle department of Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian War. After World War I in 1919, it was reclaimed by France. But during the German occupation of France from 1940 to 1945, Elsaß-Lothringen was German again. At the end of World War II, it found its home again as a French region as it remains today.
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Landeskunde for Expats


What is “Germany”? When most English-speaking people think of Germany, images of lederhosen, the Alps, Neuschwanstein Castle (the “Disney castle”), and Oktoberfest are probably the first things that pop into their heads. Of course all of those things are Bavarian, not German. If they happen to think of German cars (Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche), they’re still in southern Germany (except for Volkswagen in Wolfsburg). And then there’s historical stereotype number one: Adolf Hitler, who was Austrian and liked to hang out in Bavaria.

So for many people Germany = Bavaria. That’s like saying Texas is the United States of America. Oops.

Porta Nigra detail 2

Trier’s landmark Porta Nigra gate. Trier is Germany’s oldest city, but it’s not in Bavaria. Learn more about Trier. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Most people who have never been to Germany, Austria or Switzerland have no idea how regional those countries are. Germany has about 80 million people, most of whom have much more of a regional identity than a national (or a state) one. Germans live in regions with names such as Allgäu, Schwarzwald (Black Forest), Eifel, Franken (Franconia), Harz, Oberbayern, Ruhr (Ruhrgebiet, Ruhrpott), Rheinland, Schwaben (Swabia), and Taunus. There are over 50 different named regions in Germany, few of which correspond to the 16 Bundesländer (states).

Austrians sometimes claim there are two regions in their country: Vienna and everywhere else. Of course it’s more complicated than that. Austria may only be the size of South Carolina, but its 8 million citizens live in nine provinces and regions from the Danube in the east to the mountains of Vorarlberg in the west – all with different dialects, geography, and customs. Continue reading