7:30 am. The train from Mersch was slithering along the rails. Soon we would enter Luxembourg City’s railway station. But the rattling wheels lurched to a halt on the Biisserbréck (Biisser brigde). The sun was rising. From my window seat, I could spot the three towers of the Notre-Dame Cathedral on the far left, and the Méchelskierch on the right, still draped in morning mist. A view perfectly framed by the window… close to “window-art”, something that would inspire artist Chris Duke in San Francisco. But that’s another story. Let’s get back to Luxembourg City for now. My Luxembourg City…
I was born and grew up in the capital of Luxembourg. But for nearly 20 years, it never occurred to me that I was really living in a capital. Compared to Paris or Los Angeles – places I was quite familiar with as a kid – Luxembourg City was tiny, monotonous, and boring. My greatest wish was to run away as soon as I graduated from high school. Which I did.
10 years, several metropolises, and thousands of adventures later, we came back “home”. But can we really call it “home”? Luxembourg has changed profoundly within a decade.
The most striking changes affect Luxembourg’s architecture and urban landscape. The Grand-Duchy might be a bit slow with public road works. But when it comes to construction, it’s as quick as lightning. At times, the whole capital – not to say the whole country – feels like a huge construction site. Old buildings are torn down within a day, and new modern boxes keep popping up like mushrooms. How many times have I got lost in my “hometown” since we’re back?
But despite all the changes, several places in Luxembourg City still bring back (bitter) sweet childhood memories. Some of these places have become touristy, while others are still (somewhat) hidden gems to the “new” residents. Each of the spots in this post has marked me in a way or another. And while they might not be the most famous landmarks in Luxembourg City, I think it’s totally worth to pay them a visit.
The Aldringen and the Hôtel des Postes – aka the future Royal Hamilius
The Aldringen, or better known as the “Place Hamilius”, right in front of the Main Post Office in Luxembourg City’s Upper Town, is certainly not a hidden gem, but not a tourist spot either. A huge construction site since 2015, this place used to be a central bus station, with an underground parking and a couple of shops in the underground passage.
Among the shops underneath the Place Hamilius, was an Asian grocery store. As a kid, I sometimes tagged along when my mother delivered her daily homemade Vietnamese nems to the store. And whenever she chatted with the owner for too long, I would resurface on street level and enter one of the “black” buildings located at the crowded square, which used to house a municipal library. Half of the books I read as a kid came from that book heaven.
The Aldringen could definitely not be considered as a “charming” place back in the 1980s and 90s. High school students and young skaters used to hang out around the bus stations and on the stairways connecting the several platforms to the underground passage. There were graffiti, colorful chewing gums, cigarette butts, honking cars on the busy Boulevard Royal, and people arguing or yelling. But then, the Place Hamilius was a meeting point. The meeting point. A landmark even. When you had a date as a teenager, chances were that you’d meet your lover “Um Aldréngen”.
Inside the giant crevice that we see now, they’re building a new underground car park. And above it, an ultramodern complex with a large shopping mall, hype restaurants and cafés, luxurious apartments, and even a “sky garden” with a roof terrace.
I have no doubt that it will (still) be a thriving place. But as long as the upcoming “Royal Hamilius” complex is not built, we still have a fantastic view of the early 1900’s building of the Post Office. I have walked past and been inside this building many times before, but never really paid attention to its magnificence.
The other day, I was standing across the street, waiting for the light to turn green, musing about the one and only building still standing in the midst of the Hamilius construction site (because the owners refused to sell…). And my eyes suddenly rested on the postal office. It then occurred to me how beautiful the Hôtel des Postes really is. For the very first time, I was looking closely at this grand neo-Renaissance facade! I know, shame on me!
The Knuedler or Place Guillaume II – aka that plaza next to the Grand Ducal Palace
The “Knuedler” is a way more famous square compared to the Place Hamilius. It’s flanked by the Luxembourg City Tourist Office on the west side, and the Grand Ducal Palace on its east, down the rue de la Reine. Since 1991, thousands of people gather on this square once a year to attend the free summer open air music festival “Rock um Knuedler”. But the popularity of this place goes back to the Middle Ages.
In the 13th century, the site sheltered a Franciscan monastery. Since the Franciscan friars wore a belt tied in a knot, in Luxembourgish “Knued”, this place is commonly called “Knuedler”. During the French Revolutions however, when Luxembourg was under Prussian occupation, French soldiers invaded the capital and seized the monastery. Bit by bit, the medieval structure was dismantled and the materials of the monastery were finally used to build a new City Hall, completed in 1838.
A decade later, the equestrian statue of the Grand Duke William II of the House of Nassau-Orange (in French Guillaume II d’Orange-Nassau) was set up in the center of the Knuedler. Obviously, the square was soon named after the reigning Grand Duke. And it was actually on the steps of this very statue where Kerstin and I used to hang around when we first met. Not the most romantic spot indeed. But we always had a good laugh when looking up, to stare right at the horse’s buttocks. And from this privileged seat, we also enjoyed a stunning view of the City Hall.
I’ve always liked this spotless neo-classical facade, designed by architect Julien Rémont from Liège. For as long as I can remember, a market is held twice a week on the Knuedler square. As a kid, instead of gaping at juicy fruits and vegetables, I always wanted to mount one of the bronze lions that are still guarding both sides of the large steps leading up to the City Hall.
A huge chunk of the Knuedler is currently another construction site. Luxembourg City is building a new underground parking, which makes it impossible to sit at the foot of the equestrian statue. But when the construction works are finally over, I’ll probably head out on the “Knuedler on Ice” skating rink, which is one of Luxembourg City’s highlights during the Christmas market event.
The Holy Ghost Plateau – aka where you get the best view of the Lower Luxembourg City
Not far away from the Knuedler spreads the Plateau du Saint Esprit, or the Holy Ghost Plateau. In the 1990s, this square served mainly as a residential area. Since one of my sisters lived nearby, I spent a lot of time on this plateau, sometimes for hours to admire the panorama view of the old town way below in the valley, commonly called the Grund.
Back then, I didn’t know that another religious community also thrived on this square in the Middle Ages. In fact, the Holy Ghost Monastery, built in 1234, was seized and occupied by the French just like the Franciscan monastery on Knuedler. Only here, it happened about a century earlier during the French siège under Louis XIV. Once the French soldiers had dispossessed and chased the Sisters away, the famous military engineer Vauban began building a huge citadel on this fortress. 560 soldiers then inhabited the former monastery, while the church was used as a warehouse. What was left of the building was finally demolished in 1790.
More than 210 years later, the Cité judiciaire (Luxembourg City’s Supreme Court) was built on the exact same site where the Holy Ghost Monastery once stood. I already left Luxembourg when they started the construction in 2003. When we came back 10 years later, I was shocked to see a huge modern building standing on the Holy Ghost Plateau. Luckily, they didn’t ruin the panoramic view of the Grund… my favorite view of Luxembourg City.
The Héichhaus – aka that skyscaper next to the famous MUDAM and Philharmonie
Recently, I’ve had several meetings at the Department of the Environment. They were all held on the 22nd floor of the Alcide de Gasperi Tower in Kirchberg, Luxembourg’s international banking district and home to various European Union institutions.
Built from 1960 to 1965, this 77-meter high “tower” used to be the tallest skyscraper in Luxembourg – not just in the capital, but in the whole country. It is hence commonly called the Héichhaus, literally the “high building”. I recently learned that this building, which used to house the European Parliament until 2001, was actually named after Alcide de Gasperi, because he was the first president of the European Parliament.
Now whenever I’m up there on the 22nd floor, I have difficulties to concentrate during the first 5 minutes of my meetings. Every time, the breathtaking panoramic views take me back to a long, long time ago…
In fact, this building used to offer a public lunchroom on the 22nd floor. In the 1980s, the cafeteria sometimes ordered fresh Vietnamese nems from my mother. I tagged along a couple of times when my sister delivered the food. I was a very shy kid, so I always stayed quiet. But standing on the highest floor of the tallest building of Luxembourg, I felt like reaching heaven. Facing the scenic views, I couldn’t refrain from spreading my arms, and pretending to fly over Luxembourg City. Never did I imagine that I’d be standing on the same spot as an adult…
Today, the upper floors of the Héichhaus hold several departments of the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Infrastructure, whereas the lower floors house the Council of the European Union.
It’s actually a pity that they didn’t keep the cafeteria on the upper floors of the Héichhaus, when the State of Luxembourg reopened the building after the 10 years long renovation works. But luckily, there are other spots in the neighborhood that offer unexpected views of Luxembourg City.
One of these would be the Three Acorns Park (Parc des Trois Glands), just across the Museum and Fortress Dräi Eechelen, located right behind the “new” concert hall Philharmonie and the famous Museum of Modern Art (MUDAM). That very museum designed by the Sino-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei, who also built the glass Pyramids of the Louvre, and where I completed an internship more than 10 years ago. But that’s yet another story to be told…