After having explored all the sights of Nancy, I went to Metz for a day trip. Metz (pronounced mess in French), was German territory between 1871 and 1918 and then again during World War II. Nancy was on the other side of the dividing line. Although they are separated by only about thirty minutes by train, the difference between the two is like two sides of the moon.
I’ve visited several placed in Alsace that were similarly occupied during this time period – Strasbourg and Colmar being two examples – and they exude all of the charm I associate with Germany. I love Germany, and I was an exchange student there in high school, but Metz wears a military demeanor. I felt as though I could still hear the tramp of boots in the street. The buildings built by the Germans tend to have a heavy, masculine vibe, in total opposition to the lightness of esprit in Nancy. Still, there are some sights worth seeing. Here are some of the most interesting ones:
1. Chapel of the Templar Knights – The Templar Knights were founded to provide security to pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. They were also a major force during the Crusades. They were stamped out rather brutally in France, probably because they had become bankers to the a king who did not wish to repay the loans and found it more expedient to seize all their considerable wealth instead. Due to tales like the Da Vinci Code, interest in this group has experienced a resurgence. This Templar Chapel was started in the late 12th century and finished in the early 13th. I love its painted ceiling.
2. Cathedral of Saint Étienne – This gothic cathedral was built from the 13th to the 16th centuries. It is notable for its exceedingly high nave which allowed for great expanses of stained glass. While much of the original glass is intact, there are some modern sections, including panels by Marc Chagall.
3. Train station – Built between 1905 and 1908 – the height of the Art Nouveau movement – the Metz train station was built on order of Kaiser Wilhelm II to meet the military’s need to transport large numbers of troops quickly. Its style is such a contrast to Art Nouveau, embodying a neo-romanesque glorification of the Holy Roman Empire, complete with stained glass panels that honor Charlemagne. 4. Temple Neuf – Another example of the neo-romanesque style built during the first annexation of Metz, this Protestant Church dominates the little island in the center of the Moselle river.
5. Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains – While very simple both inside and out, this church dates to the 4th through 10th centuries! It is the birthplace of Gregorian chant. It was spared by the hordes of Attila the Hun, the siege of Charles-Quint in 1552, and the bombs of two World Wars.
Annexer (an-ex-ay) means “to annex.” During the time of annexation, the affected parts of Alsace and Lorraine were still included in French maps, but shaded black, as though in mourning. The French language was forbidden. Even saying “bonjour” could result in a fine. The names of many towns were changed or Germanified. In this year of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and the 70th Anniversary of the Battle for France, let’s remember the many ugly costs of war and strive for peace.