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Château Francais in Alsace on the Cleantech Europe Summer Trip

May 30, 2023 Kaiser Wilhelm’s symbol, the eagle, painted on the ceiling of the château’s great hall.

Yesterday evening, several Burch kids and I decided to hike up to the Schlossberg Observation Tower near our hotel in Freiburg. Today, I realized what a mistake that had been. Don’t get me wrong – the view of Freiburg from 200 meters up (that’s around 650 feet!) was breathtakingly beautiful. But today’s activities will surely have my legs crying out in pain tomorrow.

We – including two students from Bryn Mawr interning for Innovation Academy – got up bright and early to board a chartered bus, backpacks and water bottles in tow. With our driver Alfred at the wheel, many of us talked or slept during the hour-and-a-half ride to the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg in Alsace, France. Once there, we were treated to a tour of the castle. Something I learned was that the castle was not actually French, but rather the region Alsace was German territory during its initial construction in the 15th century and also later in the early 1900s during its reconstruction. During the latter period, some parts of the château were reconstructed with the artistic romanticization of the Middle Ages – which would have been ancient even to people we consider historic. Apparently, the former German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm instructed the restoration of the grounds, and because of this, there are many symbols of his eminence shrouded in what appears to be 15th-century interior design.
Kaiser Wilhelm’s symbol, the eagle, painted on the ceiling of the château’s great hall.

After we toured the castle, we headed back on the bus and drove to Ribeauvillé, a medieval town in Alsace. Once off the bus, we picked up our lunch sacks and started walking through the town, and we didn’t stop walking until we were far removed from the village and had come across the Sanctuary of Notre-Dame de Dusenbach hidden in the forest. The highlight of this stop was seeing three kittens on its roof; we all stopped in our tracks for five minutes, passing Ivara’s binoculars around to get a better look. That would be the last bit of joy I felt for a while. I don’t know exactly how long the hike to the sanctuary had been, but the hike after that felt even more grueling and interminable: the strap to my bag was digging into my shoulder, the incline was steep and rocky, and my lunch sack had ripped, leaving me having to cradle it like a baby as I struggled up the mountain. And yet, although I was huffing and puffing and my thighs were searing, I think it was worth it.

The view of Ribeauvillé from the Château de Saint-Ulrich.
The view of Ribeauvillé from the Château de Saint-Ulrich.

After a quick lunch (which we all scarfed down), we explored the ruins of three castles: the Châteaux Saint-Ulrich, Girsberg, and Haut-Ribeaupierre. I spent most of my time at Saint-Ulrich – after climbing up the rook, I was treated to a stunning view of Ribeauvillé and the surrounding countryside. It was incredible being able to pinpoint where our hike had started and how far we’d come. The ruins were also grand and imposing: you could feel the history steeping off of them. Once we’d all sufficiently explored and taken pictures, we started heading down the mountainside and back into the town, boarding the bus which took us to yet another destination.

This time, it was the town of Neuf-Brisach, which was used to guard the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire. Its octagonal shape and fortifications indicated a rich military history, but we opted instead to visit the MAUSA Vauban – a museum dedicated to street art. It housed areas in the walls of the city where graffiti artists could create and display their works; there were even some spray paint cans lying around, suggesting work in progress. My favorite piece was this geometric kaleidoscope that climbed up the walls and the ceiling. Afterwards outside the museum, we met a dog named Elvis and kindly asked his owner if we could pet him. He was very well-behaved.

My favorite piece from the MUSA Vauban.
My favorite piece from the MUSA Vauban.

That concluded the day’s activities. We all got on the bus bone-tired, and I’m sure we all will be sleeping very deeply tonight. I know I will! But I also think we all had a really fun time today. Signing off, and can’t wait to see what happens next.

About the Author

This article was written by Cynthia Wang ’26, Majoring in Environmental Science QES B.S., intending Information Science B.S. Connect with her on LinkedIn.