People say that small is beautiful. Luxembourg is one of the world's smallest countres, but it has an importance, especially in European politics and international finance, out of all proportion to its size. Its football team, however, is not so impressive. At the time of the World Cup, 2002, it ranked number 145 in the world.
There are two rules you should know about Luxembourg:
- Rule one is everything is just round the corner
- Rule two is the banks are in charge
It's really small. (See rule one above.) You could go from one end of the country to the other in a morning. It's about 50km at its widest point, and 80km from top to bottom. Former Conservative MP Norman Tebbitt, allegedly likened its inclusion in the European Union to having Basingstoke District Council as a member. Choose your local comparator here:
- 'Golly gosh, it's less than twice the size of the Isle of Man!'
- 'Gee whiz, that's smaller than Rhode Island!'
- 'Strewth mate, Tasmania's nearly 70 times larger!'
Currently the population is approximately 400,000 but is set to almost double in the next 10 years. The population of the capital city, also called Luxembourg, is around 80,000.
Luxembourg is a Grand Duchy, so it's ruled by a Grand Duke. The current incumbent is Grand Duke Henri, and the Grand Duchess is Maria Theresa. They have five children, the eldest of whom, Prince Guillaume, is the heir apparent. It has been the custom for the ruling Grand Duke to abdicate when they've had enough, rather than persevering until they pop their clogs.
The capital city of Luxembourg, sharing its name with the country, was a fortified town for hundreds of years, and was fought over and coveted by many European leaders throughout the second millennium. Luxembourg as a city dates from 1693, when Count Siegfried of the Moselle region took possession of the fortress of Lucilinburhuc.
One of the legends of the city concerns Siegfried and the mermaid he fell in love with, named Melusina. He didn't realise she was a mermaid at first, of course, but was overcome with curiosity at her insistence that she should be allowed to bathe undisturbed each Saturday. When he discovered her secret, she fled, and haunts the River Alzette to this day. So they say.
Over the centuries that followed, French, Burgundian, Spanish, and Austrian troops, besieged Luxembourg before becoming dependent on the Netherlands, along with Belgium. Its independence was assured in the Treaty of London, 1831. In an attempt to reduce the attractiveness of the city as a military installation, the fortifications were ordered to be destroyed, although a small remnant can still be seen at the Casemates.
During World War II, Luxembourg was occupied by the Germans; the Royal family were exiled in London and Luxembourg was the base for American troops. The US Military Cemetery near the airport is a moving and spiritual memorial to those who lost their lives in the conflict. General Patton is buried there, along with over 5000 other US soldiers, most of them killed at the Battle of the Bulge.
Letzebourgish, a dialect of German with a smattering of French, has now been recognised as a language in its own right. During the Second World War, under occupation, the people of Luxembourg refused to sign a declaration that they were German, and that German was their mother tongue. Instead, they said their mother tongue was Letzebourgish.
Some useful phrases (written phonetically):
- Moyen - Hello, good morning
- Addy/Eddy - Goodbye
- Merci - Thank you
- Eng, svee, dree - One, two, three
French is the official language and is spoken everywhere, while German is also widely used. English is less well known, although it is quite common in the capital.
As a strongly pro-Europe player, Luxembourg had no qualms in adopting the Euro as its currency on 1 January, 2002. The head of the Grand Duke appears on the reverse of all the coins.
South of the city of Luxembourg is rich in iron ore, and had a successful iron and steel industry during the 20th Century. Luxembourg became the headquarters of the European Steel Cartel in 1926, and the headquarters of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. These organisations evolved into the first manifestations of what is now the European Commission, and Luxembourg is one of the sites of the EC, second only to Brussels.
Luxembourg's importance in the field of European politics belies its small size, and it is home to the European Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, and Eurostat. More recently, financial institutions and banks have become its major industry, (see Rule two) and there are offices of over 400 different banking organisations in the city. The banks are sources of most financial dealings in everyday life. Among the many different services they provide are:
- Paying any kind of bill
- Organising insurance for home and car
- Buying lottery tickets
- Buying bus tickets
Places to See
One of the nicest ways to see Luxembourg is to cruise up and down the River Moselle, taking in the wine region as you go. The wine itself is Germanic in character and white wines predominate. Try Rivaner if you like styles reminiscent of Black Tower, or a Pinot Gris if you prefer something dryer.
The Casemates is the remnants of the fortress that was known as 'The Gibraltar of the North'.
Place d'armes is the main square in Luxembourg City centre. There are plenty of cafés to sit in and watch the world go by. There is usually some entertainment on the bandstand, and the Tourist Office is also nearby.
Vianden Castle is a magnificent castle in the middle of the country. Spectacular views can be had from the chairlift, which operates between April and October. The castle is in good condition, and can be explored on foot. It was used in the making of Patrick Swayze's latest movie, George and the Dragon.
Things to Do
Luxembourg is well catered for in terms of cycle paths, and has some beautiful scenery. Try the path along the side of the river Moselle, or through some of the many forests, such as the Bambush, or the Grengewald. One word of warning though, Luxembourg is quite hilly.
There is an Olympic-sized pool at Kirchberg, and a number of outdoor pools, including one with a marvellous view of the castle at Vianden. There are a couple by the banks of the Moselle at Grevenmacher and Remich.
The Nature Museum in the Grund, and the Museum of the History of the City are worth visiting.
Luxembourg is home to Auchan, possibly the world's greatest supermarket. It can be found in Kirchberg. Downtown, especially on the Avenue de la Gare, is a good selection of shops.
Other Sites of Interest
Visit General Patton's grave and the memorial to Glenn Miller in the American Military Cemetery.
Go rock climbing at Berdorf.
Food and Drink
Try Moselle river fish, or the traditional meal of stewed pork and beans, accompanied by Luxembourg's white wines. Good places to go for a drink are the Pygmalion, the Black Stuff, Scott's Pub, and The George and Dragon, which does a tasty roast Sunday lunch. And of course there's chocolate. The proximity to the chocolate heaven that is Belgium ensures ready availability of high quality, mouth-wateringly delicious, intricately decorated, exquisitely-packaged, mountains of the stuff.
A good restaurant to try is the Moussel Brewery Cantine, by the banks of the River Alzette, which does a lip smacking roast-suckling pig. Just across the bridge from it is the Brasserie Mansfield, approached through a very impressive gateway complete with flaming torches. Pizzerias are also not hard to find, and the Bacchus near the history museum, or Cantuccios beside the Glacis both come highly recommended.
How to Get to Luxembourg
Luxair, VLM and British Airways all operate services to Luxembourg's only airport, which is very close to the city. Cheaper flights are available with Ryanair to Charleoi, about 200km away.
Luxembourg is conveniently connected to its neighbours by good, well-maintained autoroutes. The Channel Tunnel provides a car-accessible link to England.
There are frequent services to most local metropolises. The service to Brussels, for example, runs at least once an hour. However, the trains are not particularly fast - the journey to Brussels takes three hours.
What is Luxembourg Famous For?
There are very few famous Luxemburgers, so anyone famous who even visited or stayed there for a few days is adopted as a national hero. Victor Hugo lived in Vianden Castle for three-and-a-half months in 1871, during his exile from France, and the poet Goethe stayed in the city for ten days. Both these men are now revered and remembered with statues and have streets named after them.
Sporting heroes are thin on the ground, too. Luxembourg has had only one Olympic gold medal winner - Josy Barthel in the 1500m Helsinki 1952 Olympic Games. However, the country does have an enviable Tour de France record, with three previous winners.
Karl Marx was born just across the German border in Trier and is reputed to have begun considering the economic reasons for social conditions while observing the poverty of the winegrowers on the Luxembourg Moselle River.
But most people associate the place with Radio Luxembourg, a commerical radio station based in the country back in the days when such things were illegal in the UK. The mention of which will cause anyone over the age of 40 to go all misty eyed. If you're one of them, or you just want to know more, visit Radio Luxembourg. Further general information is also available from the Luxembourg Tourist Office