Visiting the Conservatory at Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg: nearly a century of musical tradition

Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
The Conservatory, Esch-sur-Alzette
The Conservatory, Esch-sur-Alzette | Source
Map of Luxembourg
Map of Luxembourg | Source

A century's musical constant; external and internal polarities at the doorstep

This fine building in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg's second city, was built between the years 1910-1912.

Since 1993 it has housed the Conservatory of Music, for the city, having been purchased by the municipality the previous year.

However, the building's musical tradition goes back way further. It was previously known as the Casino, but its role was actually a wide one, which included regular concerts and numerous social functions. Music has thus been a part of the building's life for the past century or so.

Interestingly — at least, to foreign visitors — and reflecting the Grand Duchy's pervasive trilingualism, this building has an address which can be written in three different ways. In French its address is 50, rue d'Audun . In Letzebuergesch, designated the national language of Luxembourg, the address is 50, Other Strooss . In German it is 50 Otherstrasse .

In the French address, 'Audun' refers to the neighbouring municipality of Audun-le-Tiche, France, the border with which lies barely some hundreds of metres from the Conservatory. Interestingly, however, this border has changed a number of times since the building's inception. Prior to and during World War One, the border was indeed there but it was Germany, not France, which lay just beyond the coming and going of the concert- and function-goers at the Conservatory. After World War One, France took possession of what became the French department of Moselle (as it had also previously been prior to the Franco-Prussian War). Then in 1940, following the cruel invasion of Nazi Germany, the border at Esch-sur-Alzette could be said to have almost disappeared altogether, since the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was practically annexed to Germany and the French Moselle department was officially incorporated into the Reich . After World War Two, the nearby border with France re-emerged.

But not only the political border has changed in the vicinity of the Conservatory. The industrial landscape has also undergone drastic alteration, especially in recent years. Already, prior to the Franco-Prussian War a Grand-Ducal decree authorized the exploiting of iron ore deposits in this locality, then, as now, bordered by France. German investment in the mining and steel industries greatly altered the face of the landscape in the Esch-sur-Alzette / Audun-le-Tiche border region. Indeed, it was the German mining company Gelsenkirchner Bergwerks-AG which funded the original building, now the conservatory, for the benefit of its employees; in 1919, the ARBED consortium took over the building.

A short distance south of the France-Luxembourg border, into French territory barely a few hundred metres from the Conservatory, a former, industrial reservoir has in recent years been sanitized and landscaped as a recreational facility.

The Conservatory itself, which now uses the building, has its origins in a music school which was founded in 1926. Included among courses and specialisms at the Conservatory are composition, counterpoint, musical history, the Gregorian chant, choir training and many other aspects of music. In 2011 Marc Treinen succeeded the previously long-serving Fred Harles as Director of the Conservatory.

The building, with its tasteful, gabled frontage, and retaining a certain grace and pre-World War One solidity, is now a classified monument. In the immediate vicinity of the Conservatory building in the century of its existence, a latent mosaic of intersecting linguistic and national leitmotive has intertwined and evolved. But it may be said that the music is the constant that has endured.

Also worth seeing

In Esch-sur-Alzette itself, a Resistance museum focuses on opposition to the Nazi German occupation during World War Two.

Audun-le-Tiche , France (distance: 2.7 kilometres); this nearby French town has a Merovingian necropolis museum.

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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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