Strasbourg, long acknowledged as one of the loveliest cities in France, enjoys a little-known secret. Few people realize that in 1960 Strasbourg and Boston, in the United States, were declared ``sister cities'' by officials in both countries. This year, the 25th anniversary of the ``twinning'' of the two cities is being celebrated with festivities and visits by their respective mayors.
Ann Collier, president of the Boston-Strasbourg Sister City Association, explained that in 1960 President Dwight David Eisenhower wanted to build better understanding between Americans and peoples of other lands. ``At that time,'' Mrs. Collier said, ``Charles Munch, a native of Strasbourg, was the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His brother was the conductor of the Strasbourg Symphony.''
After World War II, there were many servicemen who returned to Boston with French wives. There has always been a warm feeling in Boston toward the French. Mayor John Collins, in March 1960, made a formal proposal linking Boston and Strasbourg. It was called ``Jumelage'' -- or twinning -- and the two cities have continued, through the years, with an exchange of business, cultural, and social activities.
Visitors to Strasbourg will easily understand the comfortable relationship the two cities share. The city of 400,000 is a thriving metropolis yet maintains a warm, cozy atmosphere for enjoying a high quality of life.
Strasbourg, in the province of Alsace, lies peacefully on the banks of the Rhine and Ill Rivers in the northeastern corner of France, just a stone's throw from Germany. In spite of the history of the region, which has seen it seesaw between France and Germany, the people feel passionately French, or as one fourth-generation innkeeper said, ``We are really Alsatian. P^at'e de foie gras was perfected here; the national anthem, the Marsaillaise, was composed here. How can one be more French th an that?''
Most people speak French and German, some speak English, but the language most often heard is Alsatian, a dialect passed from generation to generation. The physical beauty of the region is unending -- the city's winding, narrow streets with half-timbered houses, outdoor caf'es, hidden courtyards, and picturesque squares; in the countryside, the Vosges Mountains entice hikers, skiers, and sightseers with beautiful forests, waterfalls, valleys, and promontories. In La Petite France, the old city wit hin Strasbourg, cars are not allowed, and canals are streets bordered by graceful houses and gardens.
Today Strasbourg is the main university town of eastern France, and its famous students have included Goethe, Metternich, and Napoleon Bonaparte. Its history dates back to the 12th century BC, when the Romans established a military camp called Argentoratum on the Rhine River. After several barbaric invasions devastated the town, it surfaced again and was named Stateburgum, ``town of the roads,'' because of its strategic geographical position.
Dominating the skyline of the city is the magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame, designed by master craftsmen from France and the Rhineland over four centuries. Completed in 1469, its 469-foot spire made it the highest building in the Christian world until the last century. This is one historic monument that should not be missed. Visitors stand before the world-famous astronomical clock with its ingenious complications and hear a commentary. At 12:30 p.m. each day, the hour is struck by a figure rep resenting death, while the apostles receive the blessing of Christ, and the cock, beating its wings, crows three times in memory of Peter's denial. A sound-and-light show can be seen nightly inside the cathedral.
In the Palais de l'Europe, the handsome, contemporary building housing the Council of Europe, the European Parliament meets one week in every month.
Not only is tourism on the rise in Strasbourg, but the business community is attracting the attention of world-class industries. ``There are three reasons we chose Strasbourg for our first venture in a French province,'' said Hilton International's Paris-based vice-president, P. R. Jaquillard. ``First is the growing economic importance of Strasbourg and of the Alsace region, second is the international character of the town, seat of many European organizations, and last but not least are the many cultural, intellectual, and touristic attractions of Strasbourg and Alsace.''
Sightseeing excursions are pleasant and informative. Boat trips on the Ill River take an hour and 15 minutes and leave several times daily. On open-air mini-trains, a 45-minute tour has commentary in French and German but is still worthwhile as an orientation to the city.
A brochure in English provides information so that one can identify important places (such as Gutenberg Square with its memorial to the inventor of the press for movable type, who completed his great work here from 1434 to 1444). There are wonderful thematic tours such as the ``Ridges Route'' for those who have a head for heights, exploring the passes and ridges atop the highest mountains of the Vosges. There is a ``Flowered Route'' featuring the flowered villages, and an ``Old Castle Route'' with a tou r of medieval ruins and fortresses.
Dining in cozy restaurants facing the canal or perched in a picturesque setting in the woods is the most popular evening activity. Restaurants feature not only haute cuisine but typically Alsatian dishes like choucroute, a popular dish of pork products, accompanied by sauerkraut and potatoes.
A visit to Strasbourg might include a tour of the famous route from Strasbourg to Colmar and Mulhouse. Storybook villages and neat rows of vineyards dot the tranquil countryside. Colmar, a beautiful town near foothills of the southern Vosges, will be much in the news next year when the United States celebrates the 100th anniversary (on July 4, 1986) of the presentation of the Statue of Liberty by France to the US.
The creator of the statue, Fr'ed'eric Auguste Bartholdi, was born in Colmar and devoted nearly 20 years of his life to complete this project, which he wanted to be a gift from the French people to the American people. The Bartholdi museum gives fascinating insight into the development of the statue, with models displayed from its inception to completion. Colmar also boasts the extraordinary Mus'ee Unterlinden, a former convent, where Gr"unewald's famous altarpiece is exhibited.
Air France has daily flights to Paris from most US cities. Pan Am and TWA also have flights to Paris from several gateways. Air Inter (domestic Air France) flies from Paris to Strasbourg (about 40 minutes). To drive from Paris to Strasbourg takes between four and five hours.