Rediscovering Metz: a lesser-known city in France

Rediscovering Metz: a lesser-known city in France

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Metz! Ici, Metz! The snappish female voice repeated it twice. Insisting on the triple s at the end of the word. We looked at each other and bursted into laughter, imitating the SNCF voice by adding a few other s’s.

 

We were 16 back then, and never missed an occasion to giggle. Kerstin didn’t travel much to France when she was a kid. When we met, I found this absolutely scandalous. I promised her I’d show her Paris one day. But first Metz. 

 

 

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Metz was the capital of the Lorraine Region. And for the 16-year old me back then, it was the closest French city from Luxembourg where “a Luxembourgish city girl shall go for a real shopping spree”. Now thinking back, I must admit that it sounded a bit arrogant. Nevertheless, I felt quite proud to take my then-still-best-friend shopping in a foreign city.

 

Located about 43 km from the Schengen tripoint where the borders of Luxembourg, France and Germany meet, Metz is definitely a great place for shopping. But there is so much more to see and do in this French city… way more than I could ever imagine back then. 

 

 

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Ever since the Centre Pompidou-Metz, a modern and contemporary art museum opened in 2010, we had wanted to explore it. But in 2010, we still lived in Paris. Even though the TGV-Est stopped in Metz every time we traveled between Paris and Luxembourg, we never visited this city. 

 

About a year after we resettled in Luxembourg, we finally decided to explore more of the Lorraine region, now part of the Grand Est. After a few hours in the quaint village of Rodemack, we headed to Metz. There, we suddenly realized that this city has a very rich history dating back to over 3000 years ago. That it was not only an important Gallo-Roman city known as Divodurum Mediomatricorum, but also the residence of the Merovingian kings of Austrasia, AND the birthplace of the Carolingian dynasty. Between the 12th and the 15th centuries, Metz was even a republic.

 

 

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One day, we sat down on a terrace at the Place Saint-Jacques. An elderly man suddenly spoke to us in German. When we asked him if he’s French or German, he answered that he was a local citizen, born in Metz and lived in Metz his whole life. But his German was perfect, because he was born during WWII, when Metz was annexed by the German Third Reich. And his parents, he said, were also French. But they spoke perfectly German as well, since they were born shortly before WWI when Metz was part of the German Second Reich. In fact, like many other cities in nowadays Eastern France, Metz was part of the German Empire after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-1871.

 

So…, the man explained, of course I’m French, but I was also German once. Many people of my generation and that of my parents’ despise Germans, and always insist on being French. I think it’s not quite fair, he confessed. We shouldn’t deny our past since we cannot change it, and it’s part of our life. Especially now in the 21st century, we shouldn’t stress on the differences between German and French anymore. When we live in a city like Metz, or in any other border-city in the German state of Saarland or in Luxembourg, we should consider ourselves as citizens of the Greater Region, or of the SaarLorLux Euroregion. Because we share the same history for centuries, there’s no need to materialize a cross-country border in our mind when talking to each other, right?

 

 

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Metz’s history at the crossroads of different cultures that developed throughout centuries can actually be best seen in the city’s architecture and urban planning. In fact, the Place Saint-Jacques – where we were sitting – is the exact location where the Roman forum used to be. And we were facing the rue de Ladoucette, which used to be the ancient Cardo Maximus (Roman north-south street), nowadays stretched to the rue des Trinitaires and the rue Taison.

 

The High Medieval architectural heritage in Metz can be seen in the vaulted arcades of the Place Saint Louis, where we once tasted a delicious steak tartare. Whereas the Cathédrale Saint Etienne is an architectural wonder of the Late Middle Ages.

 

 

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Since Metz was a Garrison town for many centuries, it was heavily fortified. Some of the military architecture from the 13th, 16th or even 19th century are still visible today, often converted into a concert or exhibition hall. Imagine sitting in a convention centre that was once a medieval bridge castle! Wouldn’t it feel more special than sitting in a grey modern box made of concrete?

 

The Germanic architecture of the Second Reich is mainly in the Imperial Quarter of Metz, originally known as the “Neue Stadt” (new city), built between 1902 and 1914 by the government of the then ruling German Empire. In fact, many buildings were built in an architectural style that recall the German Middle Ages. Metz’s railway station for example had a Rhenan-Romanesque-revival style. Whereas the Governor’s Palace is a Flemish-Renaissance-revival building. For the private houses, the German architects added elements of the Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, or even of traditional Alsatian style. 

 

 

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The whole area of the Imperial Quarter of Metz was a stylistic laboratory for the architects of the German Second Reich. To germanise the architecture, the architects refused to use the local yellow Jaumont limestone (which can be seen on all the other older buildings in Metz, such as the Cathedral). And instead, they had pink and grey sandstone, as well as basalt and granite imported from Rhineland.

 

During the first half of the 20th century, it must have been a shock for the locals to see these new styles in the Imperial Quarter of Metz. But today, they are part of the city’s architecture and we can’t imagine Metz without the German buildings. I guess, this is what the elderly man was trying to say: you can’t ignore the past. It’s part of the city’s history now. And German culture is as much a piece of Metz as French culture.

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Rediscovering Metz: a lesser-known city in France © Travelwithmk.com

 

Rediscovering Metz: a lesser-known city in France © Travelwithmk.com

Follow Mei:

Traveler - Storyteller

Mei is a 30-something Archaeologist, born and raised in Luxembourg. Besides traveling, she loves eating sushi and stinky cheese (although not at the same time), as well as listening to Kerstin's funny stories while driving on long road trips. She's afraid of heights, but adores panoramic views. Her favorite places are those she chose to live in: Paris, Greece, San Francisco.

38 Responses

  1. Leah
    | Reply

    Metz really does have a touch of German doesn’t it! Those castles looks just like ones you see in German brochures! I’ll have to remember this when we’re next in France

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Haha… well it’s a bit different from the Neuschwanstein or Lichtenstein castles for instance. But you should visit them all to compare the French and German castles and fortresses! 🙂 And remember to visit Luxembourg too, we have many castles here! 🙂

  2. Juliette
    | Reply

    I did not know anything about Metz so thanks so much for this! The architecture looks beautiful, love the different styles. Very cool to see the different heritage coming through. And amazing to still see some of the military aspects of it too, the past is never forgotten.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Nope, the past is not forgotten, and pretty much alive in Metz! 🙂

  3. Lara Dunning
    | Reply

    I’m very intrigued by Metz’s history, architecture and culture. Thanks for putting it on my radar! I haven’t made it to France or Germany yet, but one day!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Metz certainly is an intriguing place! 🙂 We hope you’ll visit France and Germany soon, Lara! And also our little country Luxembourg, since it lies just in between! 😉

  4. Candy
    | Reply

    Such an interesting and informative post. I didn’t know about the mix of French and Germans in Metz. The photos of the architecture are stunning and filled with so much history. It make me want to visit Metz.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thank you Candy! We hope you’ll visit Metz next time you’re in France!

  5. Mirela
    | Reply

    The city looks very interesting. I hope to get to go soon, I’ll mention it to my boyfriend 🙂 (He’s from Paris, but every now and then we get to explore a bit farther, though visiting his family and friends is the priority.)

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      We hope you’ll get to visit Metz too, Mirela! We can totally relate that you guys end up going to Paris more often than other places in France. When we lived in Paris, we rarely left the capital because there’s always so many things to do and see with friends!:D

  6. Yukti
    | Reply

    What a beautiful and stunning architecture from Metz. Thanks for sharing an offbeat destination which not many people know about it. It is good that it lies on the border of France, Germany and Luxembourg.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      You’re welcome, Yukti. If you get a chance, come visit the SaarLorLux region! 😉

  7. Kate Flores
    | Reply

    French and Germans mixed in one place – very interesting! But as you said, this is 21st Century. I wonder what’s their tradition like, do they follow their German roots or their French citizenship? Also about the food, yays! Anyway, I’d definitely go here one day and see it for myself! Great post indeed!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thanks Kate! In fact, they don’t really have German roots, but a blend of both cultures. So we think that most Metzois feel a bit more French than German. People from Strasbourg however seem to have a closer connection to German culture.

  8. Alison
    | Reply

    Since France is my favourite country, I had better get bustling over to Metz! What a great post to inspire a visit to Metz. Always the best when you can talk to a local and get their perspective to help you understand a place better. Thank you for this …. Metz here I come!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thank you Alison! We hope you’ll get to explore Metz soon. And let us know how you’ll like it. 😉

  9. FS Page
    | Reply

    Its amazing to know you are rediscovering Metz after such a long time. I would also love to visit my childhood places. Cathédrale Saint Etienne looks like a architectural marvel. Metz is a lovely city and I loved all your photographs that make me want to visit this soon.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thank you! We’re glad our post inspired you to visit Metz soon! 🙂

  10. Rudderless Travel
    | Reply

    Is there any place in France that is ugly? Wow love this city. Love the dragon statue in the picture it reminds me of dragon bridge in Ljubljana. I can definately see the German type influence in the architecture. Great another French city I need to add to my list lol

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Haha! You’re right: France is a beautiful country! We didn’t plan to stay there long when we moved there in 2003, but ended up living in France for a decade. 🙂 By the way, we haven’t been to Ljubljana yet, so need to visit someday!

  11. Heather
    | Reply

    Cute story (yours) and interesting story (the elderly man’s)! I love hearing about the perspective of the WW2 era from people native to Germany and surrounding countries. I hadn’t even heard of Metz before reading your post. I love the architecture though and its color and it’s always a bonus if there’s great shopping!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thanks Heather! We definitely recommend you to visit Metz someday. Just sit down on a terrace and smile… the elderly people will be eager to tell you their life stories! AND give you some shopping tips! 🙂

  12. Kate
    | Reply

    The history of Metz reminds me of the history of South Tyrol, a region I love due to the blend of German and Italian influences. Now I must visit Metz to get a feel for the blend of German and French cultures. I love seeing how this blend changes the traditions, cuisines and language. Such a fascinating history!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Strasbourg is another French city that has a blend of German and French cultures. If you haven’t visited, we’d recommend you to explore both Metz and Strasbourg for the excellent cuisines and architecture! 🙂

  13. Lisa
    | Reply

    The architecture in Metz is truly incredible! I mean, I’d have to do some shopping too 😉 haha! But I’d also love to spend time exploring places such us Cathedrale Saint Etienne. Beautiful pictures 😍

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Such a hidden gem, right?! And you can definitely shop til you drop in Metz! 🙂

  14. Susanne Jungbluth
    | Reply

    Metz is a beautiful French town. I love the French houses and the flair on the streets. Your pictures show exactly what I love about France!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thanks Susanne! And some parts of Germany is beautiful too! 😉

  15. Jen Joslin
    | Reply

    What a beautiful city with an interesting history. It’s great that you were able to speak to locals and gain their perspectives. I really like what the older man said about not denying the past. It’s true that borders don’t necessarily define cultures or people, especially when they continue to shift over time. Thanks for putting Metz on my radar!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      In fact, there are a lot of people living in the Lorraine region (but not necessarily originally from there) who come to work here in Luxembourg. Unfortunately they don’t all share the same perspectives as this old man’s we chatted with. But those who are really locals do, since they grew up in a place with a mix of various cultures, just like us in Luxembourg. 🙂

  16. Debbzie Leksono
    | Reply

    I’ve never been to Metz before but it’s a kind of city I would easily fall in love with. Since you mentioned it was heavily fortified. I just loooove castles and medieval thingy. Probably the mix of German and French architecture what makes this city looks really pretty and have interesting history. Anyway…the shopping part makes me curious too, lol

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      You’ll love both the shopping and the architecture, Debbie! Go visit Metz soon! 🙂

  17. Vaisakhi Mishra
    | Reply

    Added metz to my Europe list! The place is so pretty!!! The medieval architecture with the Bavarian touch, you can totally see its rich french-german heritage through the buildings in Metz. Love your pictures btw!

  18. Kathleen C
    | Reply

    What an interesting post and the photos are so pretty. I really love how Metz looks. The oldness of Europe is such a site to see. The man in Metz has a very good point about not forgetting out past. I have thought that very thing a lot lately about some of the things happening in the United States. Lovely post.

  19. Loredana
    | Reply

    Metz looks like a wonderful city to visit – not only for the shopping part, but for the architecture and history:) Yes, I love Germany – and the German buildings. I’ll add this city to my bucket list for my next trip in Germany!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Hope you’ll get to visit both France and Germany soon, Loredana! 😉

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