I am winding down my last week in Mulhouse, at least for this year – it feels crazy to write that! – but I have a lot to catch you up on from the last few weeks. April has been very busy, filled with lots of lovely visits from lots of lovely people. I started with my dad and younger sister Kirsty who spent a few days in Mulhouse before we all went skiing in Switzerland together. Next up was Anna, my fellow Edinburgh University lectrice who works in Rouen who came for a long weekend over Easter. Last but not least was my twin sister Amy who was here last week. I loved having them visit me and being able to show them around not just the city of Mulhouse and the region of Alsace but also the life that I’ve built here. I’m going to split all of these visits into a couple of different, more bitesize posts so there are multiple to enjoy!
Starting with my dad and Kirsty, I went to pick them up from the airport and took them to their AirBnB. They had booked a place right next to le mairie (the city council) which was perfect as it’s right next to centre ville and a tram stop, making it easy for them to get around. The AirBnB itself was lovely, as was the owner. I joked that it was even nicer than my apartment! Our first stop was lunch, which was going to be at an Alsatian restaurant but the AirBnB owner told us that the restaurant I had in mind just reheats their dishes and gave us a better recommendation, Le Cellier. It wasn’t open for lunch but we noted it down for later in the visit.
A lot of places in France that open for lunch will close at 2pm when most people’s lunch hour ends and we were cutting it close to that. We ended up at Le Crêperie Crampous Mad which has non-stop service through the day so no worries about it closing on us. I’ve been here a couple of times before and it is great. Kirsty and my dad went for the classic option of a crêpe complèt with ham, cheese and egg while I had one with goats cheese and parma ham.
Kirsty had arrived pretty exhausted after having just finished a week of performances of her college musical, Carrie. Her energy levels were pretty low so we left her in the apartment for the afternoon to have a nap while my dad and I went to the car museum. The hope was that she could have a few chill days in Mulhouse and catch up on her rest before we went skiing. The Musée National de l’Automobile is the private collection of the Sclumpf brothers and I didn’t really know what to expect from that. It is one of the things that Mulhouse is known for and attracts a lot of people to the city. We got there just over an hour before it closed, which was actually the perfect amount of time to wander around the collection. The museum itself is housed in an old woolen mill that the brothers bought in 1957 to hold their collection.
The museum covers 20,000 m2 with 400 cars on display from 98 manufacturers. Apparently it has the largest displayed collection of automobiles and is the largest and most comprehensive collection of Bugattis in the world. There are three sections, the Automobile Adventure area, the Car Racing area and the Masterpieces area. The main room houses the Automobile Adventure which is absolutely packed full of cars that can walk you through time from 1878 to almost the present day. Interestingly, the lamp posts that are spread through the room are exact replicas of those on the Alexandre III Bridge in Paris! There were a lot of Ferraris, Mercedes Benzs and Peugots, some Renaults, Rolls Royces, and so many more. The racing car section had some rally cars, cars from Le Mans and even F1 cars including ones driven by Michael Schumacher, Mika Häkkinen, Fernando Alonso and others. It was hidden away through in a side room so we almost missed it but it was a great surprise! Finally the Masterpieces room has 80 of the most prestigious cars from the 1930s. I actually enjoyed the whole thing a lot more than I thought I would!
To top off their first day in Mulhouse, I took my dad and Kirsty to Gambrinus, one of the most popular bars in the city. It’s a vibrant and lively spot, particularly energetic at the weekend but still has a good buzz any day of the week. It’s a good place to sample one particular local delicacy – tarte flambée or flammekueche. These are like Alsatian pizzas, a very thin and crispy pastry base, creme fraiche as the sauce and with the traditional toppings of bacon lardons and thinly sliced onions. Me and my dad both got the Munster, topped with local munster cheese, and Kirsty had the Champignon, so with mushrooms. Gambrinus has a wide selection of draught beers as well which we sampled as well. We were going to stay for a few but Kirsty’s energy levels were dipping so we headed back to their AirBnB for some more chilled drinks there.
The plan for Sunday was to have a chilled day, as befits a Sunday in general but especially in France where most things are closed. We didn’t even make it out of the AirBnB until mid-afternoon, having given Kirsty a long lie-in and then waited until the very important, absolutely cannot be missed football match finished. When we did finally get out, we wandered around centre ville in search of a caffeine kick. We ended up at a cafe that I’ve been meaning to try out for a while, Le Temps D’une Pause. It was a really nice vibe inside and there were several people with their laptops out so I’ve filed it away as somewhere I can go and work in the future.
After our coffee we walked down to Place de la Réunion, the main square in Mulhouse where you can find the cathedral and hôtel de ville (the old town hall), and decided to go to the historic museum that is in the Hôtel de Ville and is actually open on Sundays. Free entrance was a bonus! I thought it was going to be really small but it actually had a lot inside, telling the history of Mulhouse. The museum was founded in 1864 and covers three different topics – local archaeology, the history of the city and Sundgauvian folk art. The original interiors of the town hall have been preserved in some rooms and in others, traditional Sundgauvian living conditions have been replicated (Sundgau is an area in the south of Alsace). There was also a whole room dedicated to Alfred Dreyfus and the Dreyfus Affair. Alfred Dreyfus was a military officer of Jewish descent born in Mulhouse in 1859. In 1894 he was convicted of treason for revealing military secrets to the Germans. New evidence came to light in 1896 but the military justice system refused to admit its mistake and it took until 1906 for Dreyfus to be completely exonerated. The Dreyfus Affair divided French society at the time and is still a well known symbol of miscarraige of justice and antisemitism. It was something I had heard of before but didn’t know much about and I definitely didn’t know that Alfred Dreyfus was from Mulhouse!
After visiting the museum, we walked towards my apartment so they could see where I live and then back to the AirBnB for some dinner.
Unfortunately I still had work this week so I wasn’t able to spend the day with my dad and sister on Monday or Tuesday but I set them up with some plans in my absence. On Monday they headed out to Strasbourg and enjoyed the beauty of the city while I was running assessments with my classes. I finished work at 4pm and headed back to my apartment quickly before meeting up with them just after they got back from Strasbourg. We decided to go out for a wee apéro, basically the French version of an after work happy hour. We went to Gambrinus again so that Kirsty could experience without her exhaustion induced haze!
After a drink there we headed back to the AirBnB to have raclette for dinner. For anyone that isn’t aware of what raclette is, it features my favourite food group – melted cheese. When you have raclette at a restaurant, they bring out half a wheel of cheese and clamp it over a flame so that it starts to melt and you can scrape the cheese off to eat with your chosen accompaniments. At home raclette involves using a portable grill with little trays to melt slices of raclette cheese under. You give it a few minutes until its molten and bubbly before dripping it over the usual sides of boiled potatoes and saucisson plus whatever extras you want. Cornichons, or gherkins, and mustard are must haves with raclette.
I was working again the next day, my busiest day of the week as after I finish my classes at the university I have to race over to Epitech, an IT school where I do a weekly conversation workshop. I finished there at half 5, raced home to change and freshen up before meeting my dad and Kirsty at Le Cellier for dinner, on the recommendation of the AirBnB owner. The two of them filled me in on their day, a rather chilled one after their big day trip to Strasbourg the day before and before a whole day of travelling to our ski destination in Switzerland the next day.
Le Cellier is an Alsatian restaurant so it was only fitting that we started with a bottle of Alsatian crémant, a sparkling wine. Kirsty had started with snails (when in France, right?) and I shared a charcuterie board with a mix of Alsatian meats and cheese. For mains, Kirsty had steak-frites, choucroute for my dad (basically sauerkraut topped with various meat and potatoes) and I had a new Alsatian dish, for me at least, bibeleskæs. It’s a kind of cottage cheese-creme fraiche concoction with garlic, shallots and chives. Mine was served with a little lettuce, a large block of munster and a little pot of cumin seeds. It was nice and surprisingly filling but not my favourite. It was still good to try a new Alsatian dish though. We were all pretty full but we decided to share a café liégeois, coffee ice cream topped with chantilly cream and with a shot of espresso to pour over.
It being the first Tuesday of April, we had arranged to meet some of my friends at Shamrock, an Irish pub where they sometimes have live music. The band was already in full swing by the time we got there and the place was more packed than I’ve seen it but we still managed to get the last table in the place. It was a good evening, everybody chatting. Kirsty had a bit more energy than any other day so it was nice to see her socialising and getting on with everyone.
And that concludes my first visitors in Mulhouse! They left the next morning to head to Grindelwald in Switzerland for a few days of skiing and I followed in the early afternoon after I had finished my classes for the week. It was lovely having them in Mulhouse and being able to show them all my favourite spots, everything I’ve discovered since living here. There might not seem to be that much to do as a visitor in Mulhouse but I think we managed to fill the days pretty well and there’s more than you might expect if you dig beneath the surface a little.