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Visiting Kehl, Germany: panoramic views of the historic Rhine River and of Strasbourg

Updated on September 3, 2015
Flag of Germany
Flag of Germany | Source
Kehl: view of Strasbourg
Kehl: view of Strasbourg | Source
The Europe Bridge at Kehl; view from below
The Europe Bridge at Kehl; view from below | Source
Strasbourg - Bridge over the Rhine. Kehl is seen in the background.
Strasbourg - Bridge over the Rhine. Kehl is seen in the background. | Source
Europe Bridge, Kehl
Europe Bridge, Kehl | Source
Viking Helvetia on the Rhine at Kehl
Viking Helvetia on the Rhine at Kehl | Source
Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, 1958
Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, 1958 | Source
Map location of Kehl, Germany
Map location of Kehl, Germany | Source

Cruising along history

Kehl, Germany has long had a complex — even symbiotic — relationship with the neighbouring French city of Strasbourg.

Both Kehl and Strasbourg already existed in the Middle Ages, at a time when there was yet no united Germany (not a reality since the aftermath of the Franco Prussian War in 1871), and when the border with the emerging Kingdom of France was still distant.

Kehl is on the right bank of the historic Rhine River, in Germany's Baden-Wuerttemberg state; and Strasbourg is on the great river's left bank in the French deparment of Bas-Rhin (i.e., lower Rhine). When in the course of history two formidable forces of nationalism — French and German — came to clash, then border conditions at Kehl became tense.

Indeed, during the repellant Nazi German régime, neighbouring Alsace was annexed to Germany, to which it had also belonged in the years 1871-1919. After World War Two, a sizeable zone of southern Germany, including the area geographically contiguous to Stasbourg, was occupied by French troops. An action of the French administration in Kehl — perhaps not unrelated to the then recent annexation of Alsace to Germany — was to expel German citizens from Kehl, which then took on somewhat of a rôle as a domitory suburb of Strasbourg, over the River.

The Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland) was founded in 1949, and in 1953 French troops allowed German citizens to return to Kehl (1).

The rôle of dormitory to Strasbourg, however, long survived the easing of military restrictions and international tensions. With the arrival in Strasbourg and expansion of some of the institutions of what is now known as the European Union, many workers employed at those institutions either choose or are constrained economically to live over the river in Kehl and commute over the Europabruecke — Europe Bridge — which was built in 1953, to Strasbourg.

Thus, the longstanding, economic interdependence of Strasbourg and Kehl is obvious, given their situation on opposite sides of a great, European river, as is the political context of the deepening post-World War Two links between France and Germany (especially with the coming of the European Union).

Conflict and collusion among clergy and rulers

But interestingly there is another historical aspect of Kehl's dependence on Strasbourg. Centuries back in days before France reached the Rhine, and before the existence of a united Germany, Kehl was ecclesiastically part of the diocese of Strasbourg, and, during the often tumultuous period of the Protestant Reformation and its aftermath, when Strasbourg became officially Protestant, so did Kehl. But, then, when Strasbourg became officially Roman Catholic again, Kehl followed suit, also! One must remember here that the notion of the separation of church and state was not known, several centuries back. Neither was the idea that religion is a matter of personal conviction, but, rather, the pretensions of clergy — across doctrinal boundaries — to exercise a political rôle, and the willingness of rulers both to indulge them and to use them to further their own rule, was widely assumed.

Thus it was that centuries before the European Union, indeed, before France was as extensive or Germany existed in its present form, Kehl and Strasbourg were inextricably linked not only economically and politically but religiously also!

Scenic context of the riverside

Kehl has riverside parkland and walks along the Rhine River, and panoramic views both of this great fluvial thoroughfare and also of the city of Strasbourg may be obtained. The main photo (above) shows both the Rhine River and the Strasbourg city skyline, in which the profile of the distinctive, tall tower of Strasbourg Cathedral may be clearly seen.

Another photo (right) shows one of the many river cruisers which sail along the Rhine, a very popular route for tourists; this particular vessel is from Switzerland (2).

June 5, 2013


(1) By the end of the 1950s, Franco-German relations, led by Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President Charles de Gaulle (see photo, right), had become considerably more cordial, culminating in a Friendship Treaty signed in 1963, the fiftieth anniversary of which was commemorated in 2013.

(2) One may recall also that, historically, before the advent of rail travel and the preponderance of good, paved roads, rivers in Europe were highly used commercial thoroughfares, and there is a real sense also in which countries such as France and Germany have retained a commercial (and, now, tourist) use of fluvial transport to an extent which is far more extensive tham, for example, Great Britain, the canal system of which was allowed by successive generations of politicians to fall into benign — or not so benign — neglect.

Also worth seeing

In Kehl itself, noted buildings include the pillared City Hall (German: Rathaus), the monolithic St.-Nepomukkirche, and Villa Schmidt, overlooking the Rhine; the Rheinpromenade, as its name suggests, adjoins the Rhine's riverbank; the Port of Kehl receives many cruise vessels; Kehl can be a useful base for day trips to the Black Forest (German: Schwarzwald).

Strasbourg, France (distance: 8 kilometres); in addition to its striking, spired Cathedral, sights include the picturesque, timbered Petite France quarter; the Medieval Covered Bridges; and the 17th century St. Thomas's church.


How to get there: Air France, Delta and KLM, which have a code-sharing agreement, operate flights via stopovers from New York to EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, from where car rental is available (distance from EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg to Kehl: approx. 135 kilometres). Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

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


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