What is great about Europe is that you have so many countries bordering each other and that the cultures you find existing so close to one another can be as opposite as day and night. Traveling can be a great adventure, as you can cover short distances and land in a whole new world.
When I was back at home, I stayed in the Eifel area for a good one and a half weeks of my trip. The Eifel area is about as rural as it can get: Farmers sowing their fields, children visiting schools with 200 students or less, and villages inhabiting anywhere from 60 to 1,000 citizens. Yes, very rural! The Eifel is adjacent to Belgium and Luxembourg, and where I stayed it was only a good 45-minute-drive to the border of each. Needless to say that I took advantage of the proximity and was in Luxembourg at least once during this momentous trip.
Now Luxembourg by itself is not a big country. In fact, you can drive through it within 2 hours by car, and that’s when you don’t drive particularly fast. Growing up close to the border of this country, I’ve come in touch with many Luxembourgers and the language they speak. Letzebuergesch sounds like a mix between French and German and is the national language of the country, even though it is dying out for several reasons.
First, the country only has 500,000 citizens, who learn French and German in school from the early beginnings. Then, the high amount of immigrants from other countries is determining the country’s culture more and more over the past decades. Currently, it is filled with lots of Portuguese people and I am sure the demographics will change over the years. Finally, Luxembourg of course stands for one thing: International trade and finances, similar to and nearly as wealthy as Switzerland. Meaning, speaking other languages than Letzebuergisch is highly encouraged when working in this business and the capital. Some of my friends from school have applied for jobs in Luxembourg. They told me that during their interview they were asked how many languages they could speak. French was always a plus, but if someone spoke an unusual combination such as English or Russian, this was even better. So I believe any language other than the nation’s mother tongue is greatly encouraged in the working world of this country.
Having a job in Luxembourg means that compared to German standards it will pay a high amount of money. Therefore, what most employees do is simply commuting from Germany to Letzebuerg each and every day. Trier, for instance, is only a 30-minute-drive from the nation’s capital. The real estate prices in Germany are much lower than on the other side of the border so that even more and more Luxembourgers are increasingly moving to this borderline area of Deutschland because they want to save up on money.
As you have probably gathered, the part of the Eifel I grew up in has been subject to an intercultural exchange: Germans drive to Luxembourg to buy gas which is 20 Eurocents cheaper by the liter (about 75 cents cheaper by the gallon). Luxembourgers drive to Germany to shop at the local supermarket or to go out to clubs and bars. Germans, on the other hand, work in and explore Luxembourg City on a daily basis.
Now, this might all sound more exciting than it actually is. But it does make for quite the cultural mix. For example, the Eifel has a dialect which is called Platt. I also call it the farmer’s language. However, people who speak Platt are able to understand Letzebuergesch and vice versa. I don’t speak either but I do understand it and after some hearing practice I was able to understand Letzebuergesch after years of not being exposed to it. I guess that’s another language skill I should add to my resume.
Similar to the Eifel area, Luxembourg consists mostly of small towns and villages; aside from Luxembourg City, which has around 90,000 citizens. Vianden is one of these smaller towns but beware, it hosts more international flair than most towns in the adjacent Eifel do. Vianden has the oldest castle in the entire country of Luxembourg. It is one of those towns that come into existence from late spring to early fall, as it is based on tourism and people traveling here from the surrounding countries. When I visited Vianden, it was a bleary, gray day (yet, another one!). No one was walking around outside and only a few shops were open. On our quest to find a nice café or restaurant, we miserably failed. “How do people survive during the winter when their joints are closed?” is all I could wonder about. This question remains a mystery to me, so in case you know or have a theory to share, go ahead!
Luckily, the castle was open for business and that was the main reason we had come here, anyways. Vianden Castle overlooks the town from a rocky monument. It is believed to have been built from the 11th to 14th century, as the first mentioning of a Count Vianden was around 1040. Built on Roman fundaments, it has risen to a medieval beauty and to date is still being restored by its current owners. A big part of castle life are the knights who once went in and out of their “home”. Therefore, every year in the summer Vianden hosts a Knight Festival for 9 long days in and around the castle. During this time, people perform shows, such as fights, songs, and beautiful birds of preys (who were part of daily life back then). Even a medieval market is open to public, which has food, products and other necessities inspired by the old times (to find more about Vianden Castle, go here).
I would highly recommend visiting this small little town if you are in the area but most likely it is more fun to do during the summer months, as you will find many more attractions open to public, such as the chairlift (catapulting you high up in the air). Oh, and possibly a nice café that is not closed!
[For more pictures on Vianden Castle, go to A Picture Every Day: Vianden Castle and Surroundings]