Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hello Châteaux: A Day in Snowy Clervaux

Sonndeg, 17 Januar.

Ever since the first snowflakes hit Luxembourg way back in October, I've wondered what this country would look like under a blanket of snow. This week, as a warmer-than-average December finally gave way to decidedly chillier temps, I finally got to find out!

The snow began on Thursday, coating the sidewalks and rooftops of Esch while I was teaching at the lycée, and has continued falling on and off for the past three days. Apart from work, I have spent the majority of the last couple days at home, enjoying the weather from the comfort of the Maison Kohlenbierg. (Can we agree that, no matter what country you're in, there's nothing better than curling up under a blanket on a snowy day?) Yesterday, however, Catherine and I decided to brave the cold to check out -- what else -- a castle.

Bundled up in our most wintery gear, we ventured north to the Ardennes region of Luxembourg and to the sleepy town of Clervaux.


Schlass Klierf, as the castle is called in Luxembourgish, was built in the twelfth century by Count Gerard of Sponheim. The castle was expanded throughout the centuries by a succession of inhabitants: the Brandenburgs, the Meysenburgs, and finally the De Lannoys. After having fallen into disrepair during the nineteenth century, the castle was almost entirely destroyed during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Following the end of the war, the Luxembourgish government purchased and restored the castle.

The castle is currently home to three museums, as well as the city's municipal administration and a (rather pricey) restaurant. Click here to read more about my favorite museum, the Musée de Maquettes des Châteaux Forts du Luxembourg!

In honor of the city's prime location during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge, Clervaux Castle is also home to the Musée de la Bataille des Ardennes Clervaux (the Museum of the Battle of the Bulge).

Located within the castle, this small and unassuming museum contains a surprising wealth of information about the infamous Battle of the Bulge. Among the museum's artifacts? Weapons. Rations. Propaganda posters and buttons. Commemorative cards and stamps. Military uniforms from both American and German officers (and a plethora of undeniably creepy mannequins wearing them). A French phrasebook for American GIs.

One of my favorite finds among the artifacts was a soldier's "Pocket Guide to Germany" bearing a strict reminder that American soldiers were under no circumstances to fraternize with the enemy.

I have since looked up the book online and found a complete copy in the United States Archives. (Click here for the PDF). It's fascinating! The guide includes -- among other things -- information about the history and geography of Germany, a guide to tackling anti-American sentiment, a reminder about the technicalities of bringing a foreign wife back to the USA, and (in the absolute last section) a language guide. The first chapter, entitled "Your Job in Germany," reminds soldiers: "Within the limits of your instructions against fraternization and intimacy, you can by your conduct give them a glimpse of life in a Democracy where no man is master of another, where the only limit of success is a man's own ability."


The castle is also home to a series of art installations. Although a little unexpected, these outdoor photography exhibitions were particularly striking against the snow.

Although we had come up north to see the castle, we quickly realized that it was not the only attraction in Clervaux. The town is dominated by a massive parish church whose bells were tolling hymns on the hour. Built between 1910 and 1912, the eglise décanale is an example of the Rhenan-Romanesque style of architecture and features stone carvings from a celebrated German sculptor.


Of course, the parish church is not the only church in Clervaux. (This is Europe, after all!) The town is also home to a Benedictine monastery. The Abbaye Saint-Maurice et Saint-Maur de Clervaux was built in the early twentieth century by a group of French monks who had previously been expelled from France following the passage of certain anti-clerical laws. They established their monastery on the top of the hill overlooking the quiet town of Clervaux. After being expelled from the country during the Second World World, the monks returned to Clervaux and have been praying, chanting, and making apple juice (no, seriously) ever since.

Catherine and I didn't anticipate climbing up to the monastery, but accidentally stumbled across the path while exploring the parish church and decided to check it out!


We enjoyed visiting the abbey church and learning a little bit more about the lives of Benedictine monks in the abbey museum. Of course, the abbey itself was stunning. But do you know what was even better? THE VIEW.

I mean ... are those trees even REAL?!

Back down in the center of town are several monuments to the Battle of the Bulge. One, located at the base of the château, commemorates Luxembourgers who died in the protection of their country. Another monument featuring a statue of an American soldier is dedicated "to our liberators."


We didn't get a chance to check out the Loretto Chapel during this trip.

The tippity top of the local monastery!

Chilly weather aside, I cannot imagine having visited Clervaux on a more beautiful day. However, from what I've seen of other travel bloggers, it seems to be equally beautiful year round! Check out this post from Hand Luggage Only to see some gorgeous pictures of Clervaux in the middle of summer. I hardly recognized it!

PS. This is my first blog post featuring photos from my new camera. Can you tell a difference?!

1 comment: