Officially called the Grand Dutchy of Luxembourg, this country is one of the smallest, landlocked countries in Europe. With a total population of around 517,000 people and only 2,586 square kilometers (998 square miles—nearly half the size of Delaware or approximately the size of Rhode Island), Luxembourg is an independent state of the Netherlands. The name Luxembourg actually came from a standing castle dating back to the Roman Empire. It was officially coined in 1083 as the county of Luxembourg when the counts of Ardennes maintained power. Oddly enough, Luxembourg is one of the six founders of the European Economic Community (later the European Union). It has three official tongues: French, German, and Luxembourgish (Yes, that is a language. We were skeptical at first, too. It’s actually a Moselle-Franconian dialect of German that has been enriched by with French.)
The Luxembourg flag was derived from the Grand Duke, Count Henry VI’s coat of arms which consists of a red lion on a blue and white background. Many people confuse this flag with that of the Netherlands, which has the same colors and order as Luxembourg’s. The only difference: the Netherlands uses a darker shade of blue. However, this similarity is simply coincidence as there is no historical connection. Before the 1830’s, Luxembourg actually did not have a flag until patriots were encouraged to display national colors after the Belgian Revolution. They settled on the tricolored flag, although it was not officially adopted until 1972.
Luxembourg has one of the highest proportions of foreigners to native people because of chronically low birth rates among indigenous groups, likely because of the families are extremely tight knit and create a society comprising of few non-interrelated families. Since many people live out their lives in the same area that they are born in, they have hundreds of people in extended family branches. Historical foreign ethnic groups include the Celts, the Belgic people (also known as Treveri), Ligurians, Franks, and Romans. Today they consist mainly of Portuguese, French, Italians, Belgians, and Germans. Yet, even with the many foreigners, there is a strong sense of national identity among Luxembourgers and he great majority of Luxembourg’s native citizens are Roman Catholic, with a small number of Protestants, Jews, and Muslims.
A Historical Snapshot
Luxembourg castle, in 926 A.D., was inhabited by the counts of Ardennes. In 1308 one of its counts, Henry VII, was elected as the German king and brought his dynasty to new heights as one of the most powerful in the European arena. By 1354, this new power elevated Luxembourg to the status of a dutchy.
From the 15th through the 18th century, Luxembourg changed hands at an extraordinary pace from Spain to France to Austria in that order. By 1815, the Congress of Vienna elevated its standing once gain (this time to that of a grand dutchy) and gave it to the King of the Netherlands, William the I. In 1839, the French speaking part of Luxembourg joined Belgium as a province while the smaller German speaking part became an independent state in a personal union with The Netherlands (this union was later to be dissolved in 1980 because of the differences in certain succession laws.) Throughout World Wars I and II Germany occupied the duchy and in 1944 Allied troops liberated the enclave.
In the 21st century, there has been a push to remove the dutchy from direct power and institute a more democratic system. In July 2005, voters supported a proposed European Union constitution that was rejected earlier by French and Dutch voters, which marked a turn in mentality. When Grand Duke Henri threatened to block a bill legalizing euthanasia in December 2008, it sparked a constitutional crisis as parliament moved to approve a reform that restricted the monarch to a ceremonial role only. The Royal Family as since then become the face of the nation with very little direct power over the government, although there are points of influence that they can still access.
In January 2002, the euro was formally incorporated as the national currency, replacing the former Luxembourg franc. On the present Luxembourg euro, all national sides of the coins have the portrait of His Royal Highness, the Grand Duke Henri, and a total of three different portraits of the Grand Duke appear on various values coins. The lowest value (5, 2, & 1 cent) coins contain a relatively “normal” picture, the middle worth ( 50, 20, & 10 cent) coins; a standard profile, and the higher value (1 and 2 piece) coins; a more abstract and modern presentation of the Grand Duke. Unlike the coins, euro notes are the same throughout all nations. This is likely as a way to keep the euro standard and with no need to set exchanges from country to country.
The government of Luxembourg is a Constitutional Monarchy with a legislature of 60 seats and a chief executive, currently Jean-Claude Juncker. Each legislative term lasts five years, unless otherwise removed by governmental process or resignation. The Royal Family serves little purpose in the implementation and process of the government since the constitutional crisis in 2008. Although they have no direct influence in the government, the Royal Family is the face of the nation in many ways. As such they engage in certain diplomatic acts with other countries. All in all the Royal Family is the face, not the power of Luxembourg.
As expected by its size, Luxembourg has a small and extremely compact economy, but is both stable and high income—primarily as an effect of its proximity with Germany, France and Belgium. Luxembourg is historically renowned for it’s low-inflation, low-unemployment featuring solid growth and diversity. The country continues to benefit from an astonishingly high standard of living as the GDP per capita ranks among the highest in the world—and highest in the EU—despite residing in the relatively unstable euro zone. Many banks in Luxembourg are foreign-owned, foreign-run which could cause various financial issues when considering the shaky state of banks in the surrounding countries. As a step towards the prevention of foreign influences, Luxembourg authorities have increased the supervision of domestic banks in order to monitor and restrain the entanglement of foreign and domestic financial affairs.
Although Luxembourg boasts one of the most stable economies in Europe, its lack of natural resources could drag it down under if the rest of Europe tanks. Luxembourg only has two main natural resources with iron ore and arable land. That is why the steel industry has long been a dominant and primary industry in Luxembourg. The large deposits of iron ore have led to the booming of the steel industry in the 1800-1900s, but the industrial sector has become increasingly diversified with other major industries emerging in rubber and chemical production. The growth in GDP of approximately 27% has more than covered the decline of the steel industry and Luxembourg continues to look for ways to grow and diversify its economy.
Despite Luxembourg’s size and small population, it still boast many world-famous celebrities. From artists to film directors, many Luxembourgers have made a lasting mark in their countries and on the world around them. Among the greats are Georges Lentz, Gabriel Lippmann, and Victor Hugo.
Although Georges Lentz primarily resides in Australia (since 1990), he was born in Luxembourg in 1965 and studied music at the Luxembourg Conservatoire, the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique, and the Hannover Musikhochschule. His high profile international works have established him as one of Australia’s leading composers, yet he is not a prolific writer. Lentz is known for falling into patterns of self-doubt that leads him to hold back new compositions from publication and rarely accept national and private commissions. Paired with his tendency to work on each piece for years at a time and his flakiness of jumping from one piece to another before completion has been his career’s underpinning. Even with this flaw, he continues to write astonishing pieces that often concern astronomy, aboriginal art, and the Australian landscape while reflecting his personal spiritual beliefs, questions, and doubts. His works are widely played throughout the world including much of Europe, Australia, Japan, and China and he has won many awards for the works that he allows to reach publication, including the Paul Lowin Prize for orchestral composition (the most prestigious composition prize in Australia). Most of his works fall under contemporary or classical sci-fy with one of his top works, Guyuhmgan, attracting critical acclaim at the 2002 UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris.
Born Jonas Ferdinand Gabriel Lippmann in Bonnevoie, Luxembourg, Lippmann was a Franco-Luxembourgish physicist and inventor, and later a Nobel laureate (1908) in physics for his method of reproducing colors in photography based on the phenomenon of interference. Essentially, he invented color photography. Although he was best known for his discovery and invention of a method that could replicate color in photographs, he also contributed to many other sectors of physics including integral photography, the coelostat, the capillary electrometer, and evolving a method for a more precise measurement of time. Woah! Hold it there! What all did you just say? First take a breath. Let’s start from the beginning with integral photography.
Integral photography utilizes a multiscopic 3D display which allows the viewer to see 3D without any special glasses; an example would be a Valentine card with a 3D image that appears to move or remain in 3D as the person tilts the card. The coelostat (otherwise referred to as a telescope) is an astronomical tool that allows a region of the sky to be photographed without apparent movement by compensating for the Earth’s rotation. The capillary electrometer was used in the first electrocardiography machine. The Lippmann electrometer is a device for detecting small rushes of electric current by measuring the surface tension and distance the Mercury in the tube “leaps up.” As for his ideas on time measurement, he sought more precision by lowering variability through the elimination of the personal equation in measurements of time. By using photographic registration, he was able to devise a method of comparing the times of oscillation of two pendulums of nearly equal period to provide a more accurate measurement of time. Still confused? Me, too. But I have to say, I like the mustache.
How about a less confounding famous person, Victor Hugo? Even though he was born in Besançon, France, Hugo stayed Vianden, Luxembourg for an extended period of time in 1871 and the house has now become a commemorative museum for this French romanticist. Victor Hugo is considered one of the best French writers, both as a poet and a novelist. His first notable literature that flung him into the spotlight was a compilation of poetry. His fame now rests not only on his many volumes of critically acclaimed poetry, but also his novels and dramatic achievements. Among his two best known are the novels Les Misérables, 1862, and Notre-Dame de Paris, 1831. Growing up in a time of much political turmoil, most of his works touch upon the political and social issues as well as artistic trends of his time. In his early childhood, his father was a high ranking officer in Napoleon’s army until Napoleon was dethroned and the Bourbon Monarchy regained control. The opposing political and religious views of Hugo’s parents reflected the forces that would battle for supremacy in France throughout his life and had a great influence on his body of works. When he was young Hugo was a committed royalist, but his views changed as the decades passed and he eventually became a passionate supporter of republicanism which also was reflected in his works and particularly resonated in his novel Les Misérables. The forced exile of him and his family by Napoleon III may have contributed to his acute shift in political ideology. He also produced more than 4000 drawings before his death in 1885 by pneumonia. His death generated an intense national mourning. He was revered as both a towering figure in literature and as a statesman who shaped the Third Republic and democracy in France. His funeral procession was attended by more than two million people in Paris from the Arc de Triomphe to the Panthéon, where he was buried. Today, you will find that most large French towns and cities have a street named after him.
Festivals and Holidays
Luxembourg may be the 20th smallest country in the world, but it is not short on festivals. Luxembourg has a slue of holidays that are unique only to itself as well as participates in with many other countries in Europe. Among the myriad of holidays, a couple that stand out the most are the Octave and the Schueberfouer.
In honor of Our Lady, the Octave is the year’s principal religious event. It usually takes place during the second half of April, over a period of two weeks, where parishioners from the Belgian province of Luxembourg, the Eifel in Germany, and France’s Lorraine region make a pilgrimage to the Cathedral in the Luxembourg capital. The tradition began in 1666, when the council of the then province of Luxembourg chose the country’s patron saint as Maria, Consolatrix Afflictorum, and calling upon Her to protect the people from the Bubonic Plague. The pilgrims form a procession on the outskirts of the capital, then proceed on foot to the Cathedral. After devotions in the Cathedral, the pilgrims can obtain food and drink at the Octave market (Oktavsmäertchen) on Place Guillaume (Knuedler). The market has long been a part of the Octave tradition, and some stands sell religious articles and souvenirs. The Octave concludes with a festive procession which carries the statue of Mary through the capital’s streets with a cortege that includes members of the Grand Ducal house, legislative representatives, the Chamber of Deputies, the Courts of Justice and other governmental institutions.
No one really knows how the former market, now a fair, came by its colloquial name, the Schueberfouer. Some say it came from Schadebuerg, the name of a fort at Plateau du St-Esprit, where the market was originally held; others, from Schober (haystack or barn), who argue is because the fair takes place around St. Bartholomew’s Day, the traditional post-harvest holiday. John the Blind, Count of Luxembourg and King of Bohemia established the holiday in 1340 and has since then been ingrained into Luxembourger tradition. The market of used to last eight days before the festival was established, but its successor, the Schueberfouer, is normally in town for about three weeks and is always there for St. Bartholomew’s Day on August 23rd. Today, the Schueberfouer, or simply Fouer, as most Luxembourgers call it, is hosted in the capital’s Limpertsberg district on the Glacis fairgrounds, which sprouts roller coasters and a Ferris wheel for the festival. Stubborn survivors of the market tradition can be found among the small stands which line the Allée Scheffer but, as always, food and drink take center stage. One speciality deserves a mention: Fouerfësch, whiting fried in brewer’s yeast, traditionally eaten with Fritten (chips/French fries) and washed down with a beer or a glass of dry Moselle wine. On Kiermes Day (always a Sunday), before the city’s mayor presides at the brief ceremony to announce the official opening of the fair, there is Hämmelsmarsch (the March of the Sheep). Troupes of musicians, dressed to resemble 19th century farmers, wander through the streets of the capital behind a shepherd and a little flock of prized sheep. On the last day of the fair, the closing fireworks (Freedefeier) light up the night, marking an end to the fair and to the summer.
Luxembourg is divided into three major governing districts: Luxembourg,Grevenmacher, and Diekirch. These are further divided up into 12 cantons and 106 communes. Luxembourg is completely landlocked, surrounded by Belgium to the north, German to the east, and France to the west and south. This close proximity to these countries allows for the cultures to mix. Much of the architecture and art pieces found throughout Luxembourg have blatant influences from the surrounding area and even Luxembourgish has its heavy German and French influences. There are a few must-see landmarks in Luxembourg including the Bock, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Palace of the Grand Dukes.
The Bock is a promontory in the northeastern corner of Luxembourg City’s old historical district. This promontory offers a natural fortification with its towering rocky cliffs over the River Alzette, providing three sides of natural defense. Count Siegfried built his Castle of Lucilinburhuc here in 963, providing a basis for the development of the town which became Luxembourg (City). Over the centuries, the Bock and the surrounding fortifications were reinforced, attacked, and rebuilt time after time as the armies of the Burgundians, Habsburgs, Spaniards, Prussians, and French vied for one of Europe’s most strategic strongholds. The warring over the bulwark did not stop until the Treaty of London was signed in 1867, which called for the demolition of the fortifications. The ruins of the old castle and the vast underground system of passages and galleries known as the casemates (Casemates du Bock) continue to be a major tourist attraction.
The Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Luxembourg) is located in the heart of the Grand Duchy’s capital and overlooks the city center. A skillful combination of classic gothic elegance, it blends into the skyline of the capital. The church is a noteworthy example of late gothic architecture; however, it also has many Renaissance elements and adornments added on. In the 18th century, the church received the miraculous sculpture of the nation’s patron saint, Maria Consolatrix Afflictorum. Currently, it is the only cathedral in the country and is the place where both the Octave and the Te Deum, celebrated national holidays, are performed. As part of the festivities to mark the Accession to the Throne of His Royal Highness Grand Duke Henri, a thanksgiving service is also held in this Notre Dame Cathedral.
The Grand Ducal Palace, or Groussherzogleche Palais, is located in southern Luxembourg. The Palace is the official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg since 1890 under the reign of Grand Duke Adolphe, and is also where he performs most of his duties as head of state of the Grand Duchy. Originally the building served as the first City Hall of Luxembourg from 1572 to 1795. In late 1795, it became the seat of the prefecture of the Département des Forêts which later became Luxembourg’s government headquarters in 1817. The building again evolved after 1817 to become the residence of the Governor, a representative of the Dutch King-Grand Duke in Luxembourg. Under the Grand Duke Adolphe’s reign, the palace was exclusively reserved for the Grand Duke and his family. As such, it was comprehensively renovated with a new wing in the courtyard (known as the Bade wing), which contains family rooms and guest accommodations. During the German occupation of Luxembourg in World War II, the Grand Ducal Palace was downgraded and used by the Germans as a concert hall and a tavern, called the Schlossschenke. Later, in 1992, A full internal and external four year renovation to restore the building to its former splendor started. Now there are marked differences in the styles of each wing of the palace. The older part between the two towers features the Renaissance style of 1572 and the middle part is in Baroque style, also known as Balance (1741-43), which was modified to the Renaissance style in 1891.
Many Luxembourg dishes incorporate German, Belgian, and French influences. There are many foods that can be found at festivals that I suggest you attend and try, but some of the notable and more regular food that you will find in Luxembourg include Thüringer, Kochkäse, and Brennesselszopp. Thuringers are sausages that are served with a variety of condiments. Prior to German Thüringer Rostbratwurst sausages acquiring PGI status (essentially traditional status) in the EU, a type of Luxembourgish sausage was locally known as a Thüringer. Now, it is often referred to as “Lëtzebuerger Grillwurscht,” or Luxembourgish grill sausage. Another typical food that you must go out of your way to try is Kochkäse, a primarily Luxembourgish cheese that is soft enough as to use as a spread. And don’t forget your soups! How about a traditional spin on creamy nettle soup? Brennesselszopp, features nettles, potatoes, and croutons for garnish. This green soup may not look particularly appetizing at first, but once you get your first taste you will be asking for more. Of course a European country is not complete with out the complimentary wine or lager, so don’t forget to order some of the local specials while there. You won’t regret it! For pictures and these recipes, click here.
Most of the traditional souvenirs from Luxembourg include Knippecher (little chocolates) and wine as Luxembourg boast some of the worlds best vineyards, but other specialties of the area include beautifully handcrafted porcelain dolls and crystals, locally brewed beer, Ardennes ham or smoked meat as well as Péckvillechers (traditional bird whistles, usually made of clay or glass) that come in every shape, color, and form. As in any country, I would suggest simply shopping around to find something that fits your fancy, whether it is a traditional taste of Luxembourg or a small trinket to set on you dais at home.