Mulling over Mulled Wine in Mulhouse

In Mulhouse, France

Tucked in the corner by Germany and Switzerland, Mulhouse has a history that is closely linked with both of these countries.  A part of Switzerland for over two hundred years, and under German control after the Franco-Prussian war, the cultures of these two countries have left a mark on what is now firmly a French town.

Christmas in Mulhouse, France

Christmas in Mulhouse, France

We were using Mulhouse as a base for our explorations, but ideally we would have spent a few days there for itself.  Anyway, due to museum closures/transport issues, the emphasis of our trip to Mulhouse became the Christmas Market.  On Saturday morning, before the stalls had opened, we had a quick look round town before going off to Ribeauvillé.  It was a cold and cloudy morning, but the charm of the town was obvious, even without the bustle of people walking the streets.  The architecture is a mix of old and new, but it gives the town a live-able feel which makes it comfortable to walk around.

While the heart of the Christmas market is in front of the 19th century St Etienne Church, in Place de la Réunion, it does span around wider than it appears at first glance, so be sure to go explore and follow the huts.

Getting ready for opening the market in the Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

Getting ready for opening the market in the Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

View of St Etienne in Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

View of St Etienne in Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

The Christmas market felt very comfortable, very sweet, and had very friendly, chatty vendors.  There were some interesting items for sale as well – it wasn’t all generic.  A clever gimmick is that the town trades on its textile heritage and each Christmas has a pattern of the year, which is draped over tables, printed on the vin chaud cups and generally promoted anywhere that a piece of fabric can be hung.  You can buy the material from a roll in the shop that’s set up in the Old Town Hall, which is itself draped in the fabric.

The textile for the 2017 Christmas Market in Mulhouse, France

The textile for the 2017 Christmas Market in Mulhouse, France

The Old Town Hall was built in 1552 and the frescoes were painted in 1698 by the local Jean Gabriel.  The virtues, as considered by the Protestants, are depicted around the building, and there are also the coats of arms of the Swiss cantons (who they were allied with at that point).  The building has been subject to restorations over the years, most recently in 1988, but the design and general appearance in terms of colours is authentic, and therefore extremely interesting.

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The Old Town Hall, Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

The Old Town Hall with gurning lions, Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

The Old Town Hall with gurning lions, Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

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Decorating the Old Town Hall, Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

Be sure to see the Klapperstein mask on the side facing away from the square.  The word klapper was used to refer to people who chattered, so the name of the mask is therefore the Gossip Stone.  The original, which is now in the History Museum, was worn by malicious gossips on market day as punishment.  I have to say I can think of a few people who could benefit from this…

The Klapperstein at the Old Town Hall, Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

The Klapperstein at the Old Town Hall, Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France.  The rhyme roughly translates as, “I am called the Klapperstein, Well known to evil mouths.  Those who enjoy squabbling and discord, they must wear me through the town”.

But my main thought is: my God Mulhouse must have been full of nasty bitchy people.  You don’t put something like that on the town hall unless there is a major problem, right?

Anyway – opposite the scary Klapperstein is something I’d like to share: the statue of William Tell and his son on the corner of the street.  Firstly, it’s funny having the symbol of Swiss freedom by the main square of a French town – before you remember that Mulhouse was Swiss from 1515 to 1798, when its locals elected to become a part of the French Republic.

By the corner of William Tell Street, Mulhouse, France

By the corner of William Tell Street, Mulhouse, France

I love William Tell’s expression of casual smugness, but I particularly love the expression of his son.  It reminded me of The Far Side sketch:

william-tells-other-son

Anyway, the buildings around the square are rather charming but because we were out early on the Saturday morning, before most shops were open, we were able to appreciate what are usually the shopping streets.  It’s not exciting, but it’s very cosy.

The pretty, quiet streets of Mulhouse, France

The pretty, quiet streets of Mulhouse, France

But back to the market.  On the Sunday walk-around we timed it so that we’d be there when everything was open, but it was still early enough to avoid the crowds.  It was lightly bustling, and I was glad to see that we weren’t the first people to be served the vin chaud.  And as you can see from the picture below, there’s no shortage of vin chaud for sale.  Sister Chickpea had two, from different vendors, and can confirm that they were both good.

Sunny Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

Sunny Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

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Little Alsatian houses for sale under the guise of being tea-light holders, Mulhouse, France

From the steps of St Etienne, Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

From the steps of St Etienne, Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

Looking towards St Etienne, Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

Looking towards St Etienne, Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

Getting filled with vin chaud outside the Old Town Hall, Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

Getting filled with vin chaud outside the Old Town Hall, Place de la Réunion, Mulhouse, France

So In Summary

From experience, a Christmas market has a different vibe during the day than the evening.  For a start it will look prettier at night, when the lights make everything look more magical.  Unfortunately this market closes at 8pm, which seems really quite early, and so on both nights we stayed in town we missed out on getting there.  The good thing is that the market does have some really good stalls and it makes for a genuinely interesting place to potter around.

Further Information

The Alsace region has an organised and themed Christmas agenda.  Their website is full of information (in English) which you can use to plan your trip in the region:  www.noel.tourisme-alsace.com

Mulhouse’s own site also has a section on Christmas, although I found it was a little high on the tech and a bit low on the info.  Still, it will give you an idea until you make it to the city’s information office, which is far more helpful!  www.tourisme-mulhouse.com

From the 25th November the market is open from 10am-8pm everyday.   No, 10am is not too early to have a vin chaud.  Well it is, but when it’s so darned cold it seems excusable.

We visited the first weekend of December 2017.

Because we ended up spending more time visiting Ribeauvillé than expected, we didn’t get to see as much of Mulhouse – or its museums – as we’d hoped.  The atmosphere was calm and easy-going, and the town has such a fascinating industrial history, that I really hope to get back there soon.

How to Get There

It takes about fifteen/twenty minutes to walk from the train station to the market, but there are trams which can take you close to, but not to, the square.

For transport information within the Alsace, this is a very useful site: www.vialsace.eu

 

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