Posted in Travel

Luxembourg’s Crowning Glory: Its Own Language

Statue of Nike in Luxembourg City
Luxembourg City’s Golden Lady: Nike, goddess of victory

There is something especially charming about a European state that can peacefully retain its national identity despite a tiny population (c. 520,000) and shared borders with the massive presence of France and Germany. (Sorry, Belgium, you don’t quite count as massive in my book.) Even better when it has managed to retain an active national language that is used nowhere else in the world. Yes, Luxembourg, I’m looking at you.

Everywhere we go on our Easter tour of Luxembourg, we are surrounded by Letzerburgesch.  The country’s national motto is “Mir Woelle Bleiwe Wat Mir Sin” (“We want to remain what we are”).

But with no prior knowledge of this ancient tongue, I don’t immediately recognise just how widely it is used. On entering a shop from whose doorway can be seen the border with Germany, I assume that when the proprietor greets me with something that sounds like “Morgen” (German for “Morning”) with the “g” missing, he’s using a relaxed version of German. Only when I consult my trusty Rough Guide do I realise that what he actually said was “Moien” – Letzerburgesch for “Hello”.

Spoiled for Choix

French, it seems, is Luxembourg’s official language for government business, and both French and German are widely spoken, interchangeably. But when local people meet and chat to each other in the street or in shops, they use their own historic dialect.

In our first day or two in Luxembourg, I’m not sure which language to use. I know enough French and German to get around, but I’m not sure which will be perceived as more courteous. I don’t want to appear rude to any of these courteous, pleasant people. I tend to favour French, unless actually in Germany, (a) because I’m better at it and (b) because I’ve found it less likely to cause offence.

Forked Tongue

I’m sorry if that statement offends any German speakers, but this attitude stems from an unfortunate incident when I was travelling alone, many years ago, on a Greek bus from Lefkas to Athens. I knew a little bit of Greek, but when the Greek bus driver asked me whether I was going all the way to Athens, I accidentally got my languages mixed up. Instead of replying “Ne!” (Greek for yes), I said “Ja!” (the German). I spent the rest of the eight hour journey trying to look English, while receiving hostile stares from my fellow passengers, all of them Greek, who clearly still hadn’t forgotten the German war-time occupation of the Ionian islands.

But by the end of our Luxembourg adventures, the answer is clear. The most courteous thing to do is to go as close to native as I can, and use the only two words of Letzerburgesch that I’ve grasped: “Moien” for “hello” and “Adi” for “goodbye”. Respect where it’s due. Well, mastering any language begins with a single word.

Adi!

English: The great flag in Luxembourg city szl...
Flying the flag for Luxembourg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other recent posts about our trip to Luxembourg:

The Benefits of Speaking a Foreign Language

Spotless In Luxembourg 

Coming soon: “Nous Sommes En Panne!” – camper van breakdown, Luxembourg style!

Posted in Family, Personal life, Travel

Spotless in Luxembourg

All of our friends who have already been to Luxembourg warn us before we set off that it’s an expensive country. Expensive, exclusive and smart.

Luxembourg park with huge number of litter bins
No excuse for litter in this Luxembourg City park

The minute we cross the border from Belgium, we’re inclined to agree. The place exudes affluence, order and solvency. There is not a speck of litter to be found, and in one park we pass through, in the centre of the country’s capital, Luxembourg City, we understand why: there are more litter bins than people.

The good burghers roaming the designer streers are all immaculately dressed. Leathers and furs protect them from the biting continental cold. Their children are well behaved and well marshalled. Even the dogs are in neat overcoats.

Luxembourg City road train
You’re never too old for a trip on a tourist road train

After a scenic trip through the city centre on the tourist road train, the driver effortlessly negotiating hairpin bends on the precipitous route down to the bottom of the gorge and back again, we stop at a public toilet on one of the main squares. It is as immaculate as a manufacturing “clean room”.

Driving through the City’s outskirts en route to the Moselle Valley, I’m struck by the quiet luxury of the substantial houses. Expensive children’s play equipment is in every garden, smart cars on every drive. These Luxembourgeois know how to spend their money.

Luxembourg = Luxury

Next day, we stop for a couple of hours at Remich, a pleasant, spacious resort on the banks of the Moselle. As we park in one of the many immaculate free car parks, it occurs to me that the parking spaces are designed to accommodate very large cars. For once, our camper van does not protrude beyond the white lines. Affluence is assumed here: everyone is expected to drive a big car.

But we are not affluent, and as we cannot run to Luxembourg restaurant prices, today’s lunch is frites from a Friture van, parked discreetly in a corner of the car park. I translate Friture  loosely for my daughter as a “chippery”. As I wait to be served by pleasant chefs, I notice how spotless their van is. One chef is carefully slipping a knife into a pork cutlet to make sure it’s properly cooked. I’m impressed: no risk of food poisoning here.

Child’s Play, Luxembourg Style

Laura takes a turn on the carousel
Wondering whether the ostrich will go faster than the horses

Along the riverbank are dotted tasteful, shiny new entertainments for children: playparks, mini-golf, go-karts, a traditional carousel.

The carousel’s music is not the usual brash hurdy-gurdy kind, but tinkling classics played on a silvery glockenspiel: Tschaikovsky, Handel and Bach. Laura takes a spin on an ostrich to the sound of Mozart.

Border Order

German border sign
Over to Germany…

Strolling on through the town, we realise that if we walk across the nearest bridge, we’ll be in Germany: the Moselle serves as the national border. As Laura has never been to Germany, she’s keen to go, so we set off. At the apex of this gently sloping bridge are two signs featuring the flag of the European Union (a circle of yellow stars on a royal blue background), each with the name of the country you are entering at its centre. Laura hops incessantly from one nation to the other, so that when we get home she’ll be able to say she’s visited each country lots of times.

Spot the Difference

Luxembourg border on bridge over Moselle
… and back to Luxembourg (again)

After the obligatory photos, we continue to the other side. I’m not expecting it to seem much different, so I’m startled to find a grubby, litter-strewn parking area bearing a strident yellow “Parking Verboten” sign amid piles of rubbish. Just beyond, giving dubious new life to the now redundant border control huts, are down-at-heel businesses, half-heartedly plying  downmarket trades: a bar, a kebab house (spelling “kebab” in two different ways on its signage, indicating an indecisive or illiterate proprietor) and, inexplicably, a shop full of garden gnomes. I wonder if they’re illegal in Luxembourg for making smart gardens look downmarket, hence their sale on the borderline. Perhaps after nightfall there’ll be a surge of Luxembourgeois making a dash for them, under cover of the dark.

As we stroll back across the water to Luxembourg, I notice that only the German side of the bridge bears graffiti. Even the abundant swans on the river are favouring the Luxembourg bank.

Alles in Ordnung?

German car park across Luxembourg border
“Parking verboten” in this, er, parking lot

I am perplexed. My memory of Germany, where I lived for four years as a teenager, is of Order with a capital O – well, Ordnung, to be precise. I cannot reconcile this bleak, shabby no-parking parking lot with that recollection.

As we head off up the Moselle, intending to cross the border once again at Trier, where the river drops the final le to become the Mosel, I wonder what other surprises might lay in store…

More musings about our trans-border travels will follow shortly – click the “Follow” button on the right to make sure you don’t miss them!

Other recent posts about our Easter tour of Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany: 

Just when we thought it was safe to go back into la piscine

When in Belgium, drink as the Belgians do (Oxo)

Why Belgium is being rebuilt

Close Encounters of the Belgian Kind

Posted in Family, Travel

Close Encounters of the Belgian Canine Kind

Sign in a Belgian park
Unsure whether it’s compuslory or prohibited

(Further adventures in our motorhome tour of France, Belgium, Luxembourg & Germany)

As we travel through Belgium, my nine-year-old daughter Laura is enchanted by the constant parade of dogs that pass by our camper van.

“Ooh, look at that cute doggie!” she coos in Dinant, as a low-slung white one waddles past, sporting a red knitted waistcoat. The words “cute” and “dog” are inseparable in Laura’s vocabulary. She never met a dog she didn’t like.

But her enthusiasm is diluted when she realises that Belgium’s dog owners lag behind Britain’s in terms of  doggy hygiene. By the second day of our stay, she has become adept at navigating poo-strewn streets, especially after she has, with a regal air, designated Daddy as “Dog Poo Detector”. His role is to walk several paces ahead of us, issuing necessary warnings. Daddy immediately regrets his earlier explanation of the importance of the Groom of the Stool in the court of King Henry VIII. What starts out as a  casual stroll soon turns into a balletic gait as we prance along pavements, deftly leaping aside for the protection of our shoes whenever so instructed by our leader.

A Big Job for a Belgian

Considering the state of the pavements, we are surprised to encounter in Bouillon, on the banks of the River Semois, an enthusiastic street cleaner. He seems intent on sweeping up every last speck of dust from the ground. His must be a demanding job and we speculate that he’s going to need a bigger barrow.

Trier street theatre: levitating man
A few days later Laura discovers how they avoid messy pavements in Trier, Germany

We watch, fascinated, from within our camper van as he progresses across the car park. Slowly, slowly, he works his way across towards our space, filling his dustpan time and time again. Upon reaching our motor-home, he carefully works his way around its perimeter. I feel I should lift my feet so that he can sweep underneath them.

Such attention to hygienic detail does not seem to tally with the laxity of the locals towards dogs, which we still can’t understand. Despite the tidy car park, later that day at the supermarket we are unable to relish what appears to be the leading brand of Belgian biscuit. It is called Plops.

Here are some other posts you might enjoy about our Easter motorhome tour of France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany:

Why Belgium is Being Rebuilt

Just When We Thought It Was Safe to Go Back Into La Piscine

When in Belgium, Drink as the Belgians Do: (In Praise of Oxo)

Posted in Personal life, Travel

Why Belgium Is Being Rebuilt (Further Tales from the Camper Van, Easter 2013)

Roadworks in Mons, Belgium - 2
Coming soon: European City of Culture 2015

Everywhere we go in Belgium, there are roadworks: on the motorway, on the main roads,  in pedestrian precincts.  Highway diversions  confuse the satnav; footpath blockades trip us up.

One of the first Belgian towns that we stop in on our motorhome journey to Luxembourg is Mons, known as Bergen to Flemish speakers. Mons has recently been designated the 2015 European City of Culture. The local council wants to ensure that when the time comes, this ancient city will live up to scuh honour. Disruption at every turn is a small price to pay. Cobblestones are being lifted and relaid, walls rebuilt, roads resurfaced. We teeter across roadworks on temporary planking between piles of sand and stone, only to find, to our disappointment, that Mons’ greatest tourist attraction is closed for repair.

Oh well, we console ourselves, we’ll be going to plenty of other places in Belgium, and we move swiftly on.

Roadworks in Mons, Belgium
And here’s one they prepared earlier

Yet beyond Mons, the madness continues. In Dinant, parked in a quiet spot by the river, we awake to the distinctive sound of jackhammers, before hop-step-jumping around noisy roadworks in the town for some sightseeing. In Arlon, we have to detour around impeccably rebuilt stone steps to the Church of St Donat. (We try picture Homer Simpson.)

What is it with these Belgians? Why the apparent national obsession with rebuilding?

And then it dawns on me. Until recently, Belgium has been without a government for an extraordinary length of time – 541 days, to be exact. During this interregnum, the daily life of the country apparently ran more smoothly. Presumably that included the granting of planning applications, the bane of any builder’s life in Britain.

Roman column in Mons, Belgium
A great advert for Roman engineering – this Roman column is about the only thing the good burghers of Mons have not yet seen fit to rebuild

No government? This could be just what we need to get our potholes mended: let’s overthrow ours today!

Well, at least it would give the political pundits something to talk about other than Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.

Other posts about our Easter 2103 motorhome trip to France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany:

Just When We Thought It Was Safe to go Back into La Piscine

When In Belgium, Drink As The Belgians Do