Visiting Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg, with the Gaalgebierg overlooking the town: greening red earth with a mining past

Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
Afforestation by the Gaalgebierg, Esch-sur-Alzette.
Afforestation by the Gaalgebierg, Esch-sur-Alzette. | Source
Esch-sur-Alzette seen from the Gaalgebierg
Esch-sur-Alzette seen from the Gaalgebierg | Source
Map location of Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg
Map location of Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg | Source

Some identity complexities, too

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has more than one Gaalgebierg, the name given to a hill overlooking the town.

However, there is no missing this particular Gaalgebierg: it is just about the main landmark in the vicinity of Esch-sur-Alzette.

The area in which this hill, Gaalgebierg, is found, is often referred to in French as les Terres Rouges , sometimes translated Minett in Létzebuergesch and Rode Erde in German. Its French name reflects the reddish, sedimentary rock which forms much of the local, geological compostion.

This steel-making and former iron ore mining district (1), with its Gaalgebierg hill, has now been thoroughly greened over. Recreational paths are kept through the trees. Access to the Gaalgebierg from the direction of the Downtown area of Esch-sur-Alzette is via a pedestrian footbridge situated near the town's main railroad station in Boulevard John-Fitzgerald-Kennedy .

The term Terres Rouges has become historically very important within Luxembourg, given the sheer importance of the steel industry. Indeed, a public building in Luxembourg City which has housed government ministries, is known as Hôtel des Terres-Rouges . In actual fact, the former Terres Rouges ore measures (and the industry that they begat, also) cross the border into neighbouring France, especially in the vicinity of the town of Audun-le-Tiche. But in fact the Terres Rouges were increasingly exploited by German mining entrepreneurs when the neighbouring French department of Moselle formed part of the German Empire from 1871 until the end of World War One. Thus, mining and its fortunes in the Terres Rouges have experienced shifting conditions and identities over the past 150 years.

A comment about the name of the town: as with most places in the Grand Duchy, Esch-sur-Alzette (French usage) has three names. Esch/Uelzecht is the form in Létzebuergesch, designated the national language. There is a distinctly German form: Esch/Alzig, but interestingly the local thought is that it is 'too fascist', and the tendency in German is to give the French spelling of the river upon which the town is situated, thus: Esch-an-der-Alzette (2).

November 14, 2012

Notes

(1) A project is underway to preserve some decommissioned steelworks is underway at Esch-Belval, at avenue du Rock'n'Roll (yes, really!), Esch-sur-Alzette.

(2) Many other place-names in Luxembourg which do have distinct, German forms — used continuously for many years and not merely having been subject to a special revival of usage during the Nazi German occupation in World War Two — are thus deemed to be acceptable.

Also worth seeing

In Esch-sur-Alzette itself, St Joseph's church has conspicuous, twin towers. The Museum of the Resistance exposes the tribulations of the civilian population during World War Two.

Audun-le-Tiche , France (distance: 2.7 kilometres); this nearby town, across the border with France, has some interesting church buildings and a Merovingian necropolis museum.

...

How to get there: The nearest large international airport is Luxembourg Airport (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel, from where car rental is available. Rail services link Luxembourg City with Esch-sur-Alzette . For North American travellers who make the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Luxembourg include Luxair (from London Heathrow Airport and London City Airport) and CityJet (from London City Airport). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, please refer to appropriate consular sources.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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