“Schlumpf” - this short word makes some hearts skip a beat! Automobile enthusiasts know where the famous museum of the Schlumpf brothers can be found. To them the car museum in Alsace’s Mulhouse is a premier destination. Here, between the Rhine and the Vosges Mountains, some 400 luxury limousines are presented in a converted former wool spinning mill. Nearly one hundred different car manufacturers are gathered, with vintage and classic cars: Panhard, Peugeot, De Dion, Ferrari, Bugatti, Benz... During the summer, some of the cars are taken out for a spin. A living museum!
The French city of Mulhouse only has 113,000 inhabitants (255,270 in the metropolitan area) - but more than 6,000 businesses. It lies in the heart of the Upper Rhine Valley and is just 25 kilometres away from the southern gateway to the Alsatian wine route. Before trying the wines there, one should visit Mulhouse, an El Dorado for technology, economy and industry. Here one can see how Europe’s wealth came into being and how the future can be shaped as a network in a sustainable and ecological manner.
Progress and tenacity
The city’s inhabitants, strongly influenced by Protestantism and Humanism, were innovative and independent throughout the ages. At the same time they preserved and maintained their historical heritage. For a long period of time, the city was an independent republic and a member of the Swiss confederation. Evidence of this independence can be seen in the magnificent renaissance Former Town Hall which dates back to the 16th century and in which the councilmen of the Republic of Mulhouse held their sessions. It is located on the Place de la Réunion, where the neo-Gothic Temple Saint-Étienne, the tallest Protestant church in France, together with other historic buildings form an ensemble which is steeped in history.
In Mulhouse, as in the rest of the Swiss confederation, a lively manufactory sector developed. In the 18th century, the entrepreneurs Koechlin, Dollfus and Schmalzer started printing cotton fabric. Imports from India, French wool and silk textiles suddenly had strong competition. Every woman in Europe wore the summer dresses from Mulhouse! Exports even reached the Ottoman Empire.
Museums of Printed Textiles and Wallpaper can only be found in Mulhouse
In the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Printed Textiles - the only such museum in the world - old printing blocks and machines, patterns and textiles from the region and the whole world are on display. Arts and crafts, industry, technology, fashion, local and social history are the subjects according to which the countless exhibits are presented. Several times a year, unique temporary exhibitions take place, such as the recent presentation of Russian revolutionaries' fabrics that had never been shown before.
Wallpaper for every house - this revolutionary idea was realised by textile entrepreneurs. In Rixheim the Wallpaper Museum shows fantastic decors from three centuries. Visitors are overcome with the wish to redecorate their house - in art deco style, with palm trees, sunrises, South Sea panoramas or the elegant decor of the French aristocracy. Even Le Corbusier did not manage to banish wallpaper from the face of the earth. Speaking of Le Corbusier: his famous Chapelle de Ronchamp lies just a short distance away!
An exemplary workers' district
Railway construction, chemical industry and mechanical engineering boosted the industrialisation and led to an increase in population. Mulhouse soon became the French Manchester. The city grew, not only by villas with white colonnades as was the fashion with the Louisiana farmers that supplied the cotton. Terraced houses of the kind found in Manchester were built and the responsible mercantile middle classes had worker’s housing estates developed that had individual gardens and community courtyards. In 1853 the Cité Ouvrière was built for 1,200 families - nowadays a must for the urban flaneur. The same goes for La Fonderie, built in 1823 in the middle of the city originally for the assembly of steam locomotives and later expanded to house mechanical looms and printing presses; today it has been preserved and dedicated as an art exhibition hall and University building.
In 1962 Peugeot started making cars in Mulhouse. Nowadays PSA Peugeot Citroën is the largest employer in Alsace with a total number of some 8,500 employees. In 2004 star architects such as Jean Nouvel were called upon for designing a modern council housing district which was built next to the Cité Ouvrière. The different cultures and origins of Mulhouse’s inhabitants lead to a large weekly market - the largest in all of north-eastern France. Here, goods from all over the world, especially from Southern Europe, Asia and Northern Africa, are sold matter-of-factly alongside the region’s specialities.
Decisively sustainable - decisively European
With its wealth of well-preserved historical building ensembles (Wesserling Park with the Ecomusée textile), with art collections, historical districts (Square de la Bourse, the New District), with technical museums (Railway museum, Museum of Printed Textiles, Wallpaper, Electricity), big parks with rare trees, free bicycles for hire - Mulhouse proves that it has arrived in this era of sustainability with flying colours. Mulhouse knows how to use its location close to the border for cross-border co-operations. Joint city council meetings between Freiburg and Mulhouse are held and the REGIO train links the cities of the Upper Rhine Valley. High-speed trains connect Mulhouse with the major European cities. And together with Basel and Freiburg, Mulhouse even shares an international airport, the Euro-Airport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg.