Most of the massive fortifications were dismantled during the nineteenth century to stop the French from stealing it any more.
Such was the perception of a Frenchman's wit at the time:
"Morbleu! Take Luxembourg! Pah! She is undefended! Where is
the challenge in that? I will not sully my hands on her, the little slut! Let's attack Moscow instead! Wherever that is."
Hence the word 'impregnible'. Unfortunately the French did not themselves learn this lesson, and went ahead and built the Maginot line two generations later,
presenting the Germans with an irresistable challenge...
I wandered along the ramparts that remained, the gun positions carved into the living rock, followed the geometric lines
of the bastions that Vauban designed to inflict the maximum amount of casualties with mathematical precision
on anyone who wanted to take the city. It was this perfection of design of course that made Luxembourg the key of Europe, desired
by all, with all the sieges, burning and looting that implies. I suppose the Luxembourgious themselves were quite happy
to see the walls go, and replace the 'defensive fortification' strategy with a 'hiding between Belgium and Germany' strategy
that works so well today.
The people of Luxembourg like to retain the mystery of their little home. In addition to being rather hard to find, they conspire
to speak a langauge among themselves incomprehensible to any living being. Either desribed as German with French influence,
or French with a strong German undertow, of one thing you can be certain. They will immediately change it as soon as they twig
that you understand.
It sounds French, it sounds French, you begin to comprehend - oui, c'est vrai, we will soon
cut off his members and feast on the juice inside...Stop! He understands... und suddenly they're off
into another dialect, Verdammt, er versteht noch
mais ganz possible zut alors, ja, wir mussen suprise him and destroy him with Eurovision song entries - he must tell noone where Luxembourg is to be found...
Bruges / Brugge (whichever you choose to say, is equally a bugge)
Bruges is a living skeleton of the past, an old Flemish lace weaving town perfectly preserved just as it was on
a fateful day centuries ago when all the Flemish weavers suddenly turned to each other and said stuff this for a lark,
lets all go off to Amsterdam for drugs and girls. And never came back. So the town, all pretty brickwork and cathedral spires
and canals, is a seventeenth century gem, minus the smell, and the vermin, and the scrofula. And the human life. Oh, there are
people there, all right, don't get me wrong, there are tourists (me),
and the only people who can stand large numbers of tourists, that is, knick-knack re-sellers, coffee-house price-gougers and
lace makers (where else in life do we ever encounter a lace maker, except on holiday?). But that's not life. Tourism is something
we do in between life.
Bruges was a strangely sorrowful town. It is so well preserved that you almost see it as it was, when it was alive, full
of industry and children and dogs and markets and squalor, and life. And now it was simply a giant open air museum, hawking
postcards of itself, like a drawn old trooper retelling battered stories of his youth for tuppence a go. Now the real people of the
city wouldn't dream of going near it's ancient traditional markets if they actually want to buy anything. No, they go to the same
place we all do, down a dodgy alleyway near the railway line where hawkers sell packs of soap by the ten and pink baby clothes
out of stalls made from plastic bags and scaffolding.
As a valuable industrial town, Bruges was also heavily fortified, but all that now remains are a couple of gateways and the double
moat system. The are grassy ridges and windmills where the walls once stood. Once again, I saw how the Flemish
people had evolved their defenses beyond all that difficult and sticky siege business. Any attacking force not dispersed in
the attempt to take a definitive windmill-over-Bruges photograph, wouldn't stand a chance of reaching the main square without
being hopelessly demoralised, if not downright fleeced, by the endless lines of Genuine Lace Shops, over-priced cafes and
And having escaped Bruges, our sad demoralised beseigers, pockets empty, heads clanging from endless Belgian debates over whether French is better than Flemish or what?
they might decide to go and take Luxembourg instead, in which case they're still wandering Europe today, asking directions...