On our tour through the Ardennes this summer, we became fans of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg – a small, friendly, and very relaxed country in the heart of Western Europe. We didn’t have enough time to visit the capital Luxembourg City then, so we decided to make another trip into our neighboring country and visit the capital as well as the US and German war cemeteries in the city vicinity.
We went to Luxembourg city by car, using the opportunity to fill up our car (Luxembourg has very cheap gas prices, compared to the incredibly expensive prices in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands).
Despite being a medieval city, located on several sandstone plateaus and cliffs above steep valleys, your first impression when you enter the city is the skyline of the banking district dominated by skyscrapers of several banks, funds, and the European Parliament. These are in a stark contrast to the Frankish castle, the Gothic Cathedral and massive forts that dominate the old town.
Topography and Language
The topography of Luxembourg city is quite dramatic – most of the city is located on various sandstone cliffs which are separated by two deep-cutting rivers – the Alzette and Pétrusse – with pittoresque parks and recreational areas 70 m (230 ft) below the plateaus. The city districts are connected by large bridges and viaducts, one of them the world’s 2nd largest arch bridge (the largest being in China), the Adolphe Bridge. This bridge is one of the main tourist attractions and a kind of unofficial national symbol, symbolizing Luxembourg’s independence.
The city has about 100,000 inhabitants and is the largest city in the country of Luxembourg.
The official languages are Luxembourgish, French, and German, but French appears to be the most popular language by far, followed by the curious Luxembourgish which is a close relative to the Mosel-Frankish German dialect. Both are hard to understand for Germans from other regions. Strangely enough, many shops (even McDonald’s or Saturn, one of the largest electronics shops) have German product displays and ads, but the staff only speaks French and if you switch to German, they answer you in English… You soon get accustomed to the Babylonian language mingle-mangle in this country, so if one language doesn’t work, you simply switch to the next language, and the answer will probably be in a third language or with hands and feet. The inhabitants even tend to mix French and Luxembourgish within one sentence, using both languages in their conversations simultaneously. English also isn’t a problem at all since Luxembourg City is a very international and very European city.
Since the city is located on several plateaus, connected by bridges, understanding the geography isn’t an easy feat. We tried to follow the parking guidance system into the city and ended in a parking garage near the “gare” (meaning railway station). We were under the impression that a railway station must be located close to the city center, but learned later that the station was intentionally built outside the city center (about 2 km, on a different plateau) for defensive reasons.
We walked through the area around the station which is a modern shopping district, dominated by the usual combination of McDonald’s / Subway / fashion stores of a typical European major city.
Then we reached the Adolphe Bridge and were impressed by the height and the dramatic landscape all around us. We later asked a tour guide how often people jump from this bridge in order to commit suicide, and learned that there was an ever higher bridge which was the favorite suicide location until they built a high fence instead of a handrail.
Deep below Adolphe Bridge is a river with a nice park, which is used by tourists and Luxembourgers alike when they want to skate, bike, relax, meet, or read.