In Strasbourg sauerkraut has French accent

The black-and-white timbered houses look German. The food has the flavor of France: There is ``choucroute,'' a refined sister of sauerkraut, and ``foie gras.'' Local heroes with names such as Klein, Kleber, and Kellerman all speak French. That's the Strasbourg President Reagan is visiting today. He comes to extol the virtues of reconciliation in an address to the European Parliament.

Long a battle ground between two continental powers, Strasbourg reveals the benefits of 40 years of German-French reconciliation: peace, prosperity, and promise for the future. Now it is at the heart of Europe.

Strasbourg is home to the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Youth Center, and the European Science Foundation -- as well as the European Parliament.

``Our destiny is tied to Europe,'' says Mayor Marcel Rudloff. ``Whenever Germany and France fight, Stras-bourg is finished.''

History proves his point. German tribes settled in the area in the 5th century. The French annexed Strasbourg in 1670 and and in 1870 it was taken over by the Prussians.

Return to French rule in 1918 was troubled and the Germans were ejected by force. As tensions between France and Germany increased in the 1930s, Strasbourg suffered even more.

``During my childhood, I never met a German,'' says Pierre Pflimlin, president of the European Parliament and a former mayor of Strasbourg. ``The Germans built the Siegfried Line on that side and we built the Maginot Line on this side. No one crossed.''

The Holocaust briefly fulfilled Germany's quest to reclaim Strasbourg -- then buried it. After France regained control, Europe's leaders staked their future in the new continental organizations located here.

Forty years later, some 30,000 Alsatians commute daily to jobs in West Germany, and busloads of Germans invade Strasbourg every weekend. Hundreds of conventions join the French and Germans in the Palais du Congres.

Perhaps the best symbol of the city's human renaissance is the revival of its Jewish community, France's oldest. Jews settled in Strasbourg in the 12th century. Massacred, then expelled in the 14th century, they were returned in the 17th century and prospered until the Nazis deported 1,000 of them.

Today, 15,000 Jews live here. Jewish community president Jean Kahn reports that almost all those who survived the war -- some 8,000 -- returned.

The roots for this new tolerance lie in solid economic prosperity. Before the war, investment stayed away from Strasbourg.

``No one . . . would put money in what looked like a future battleground,'' explains Jean-Pierre Foltzer, assistant director of the Chamber of Commerce.

The founding of the European Economic Community changed everything. ``Instead of being a frontier region, we became the center of the biggest market in the world,'' Mr. Foltzer says. On a map he traces a circle around Strasbourg that includes Paris, Milan, and Frankfurt. ``All that's within 500 kilometers -- four hours' drive -- of here.''

To an extent, Europe's lingering recession threatens Strasbourg's new affluence. Foltzer says unemployment is 10 percent.

The European Community's failure to create a seamless market and greater political unity also causes grumbling. ``We want more Europe,'' says Mayor Rudloff. ``We need more Europe.''

These economic and political strains threaten Strasbourg's precious social harmony. Jean-Marie Le Pen's extreme right National Front party has found some favor and a small neo-Nazi group has reappeared.

Still, optimism prevails and doubts about the European Community are minimized.

The integration of West Germany into the Western community has made war along the Rhine unthinkable. That change is so fundamental that the EC's failings pale in comparison.

``Here Europe exists,'' says Mayor Rudloff. ``We all speak both French and German, and the fights over the price of garlic and wheat don't threaten our consensus on the big issues, Russia, the third world, and above all, peace.''

For these reasons, President Reagan's visit is assured success. When he praises the new order that arose from the ashes of 1945, the applause will be genuine.

``I lived through two wars across here,'' Pflimlin says reflectively. ``I feared to go from one side of the river to the other. Now I get so many invitations to visit that I could spend every minute of every day over there.''

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