Shaped like a boot with the tip upwards, Luxembourg is strategically nestled between Germany, France and Belgium, giving it economic and political importance in Europe. With 500,000 inhabitants, this is one of the world’s smallest countries, a Grand Duchy (a territory ruled by a grand duke or duchess). Indians remember Luxembourg as the headquarters of Lakshmi Mittal’s steel giant Arcelor Mittal – formed after the historic takeover of Arcelor in 2006. The ARBED building which houses Arcelor was built in 1922 and is an historic landmark in Luxembourg’s history. The discovery of iron ore in Luxembourg in the 1850s and the introduction of metallurgy in 1876 led to the development of a national steel industry, and provided Luxembourg with sustained economic growth. Today, Arcelor Mittal is the world’s largest steel producer.
|Clockwise: The Schengen Monument (top left), the Grand Ducal Palace and the ARBED building|
From steel to Schengen
Luxembourg’s another claim to fame is the Schengen Agreement, an important chapter in European history. Signed in 1985 onboard the MS Princesse Marie-Astrid on the Moselle river, the Schengen Agreement was the first step towards a borderless Europe and put Schengen on the global map. A small wine-making village in south-eastern Luxembourg, Schengen was chosen because of its ideal location. It’s here that the borders of the three Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) meet Germany and France. Now the Schengen agreement allows over 400 million Europeans to travel across borders with just one visa. A memorial depicting three stars has been erected on the banks of the Moselle river to symbolise the signing of the agreement here.
Moselle river is one of the major rivers of Luxembourg and runs 39 km in length to form a natural boundary with Germany (where it is called Mosel). Moselle or D’Musel as the locals refer to it, lends its name to one of the most beautiful valleys of Luxembourg, famous for its wineries and charming hotels. The Luxembourgish Moselle vineyards (most of them family owned) have a 2000-year-old tradition of winemaking, and the region’s renowned wine route offers breathtaking views of vineyard slopes that dot the landscape. One of the interesting wineries in the Moselle village of Remich is Caves St Martin. Set up in 1921 in the aftermath of World War I, St Martin’s one km long underground cellars hewed into a huge calcareous rock stay at a constant 12 – 13 degrees and are still used to produce some of the region’s best cremants (the Luxembourgish version of champagne) and wines. A bottle of finely-crafted Riesling can be picked up for prices much cheaper than in neighbouring France.
A research hub
Apart from being at the centre of international finance, recent years have seen Luxembourg emerge as a hub of innovative research. The University of Luxembourg is one of the youngest universities in Europe and has five campuses across the country. In 2011, an MoU was signed between University of Luxembourg and PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore. There are many Indian research students at the University’s new bio medicine campus at Belval, a neighbourhood in Esch/Alzette. In Belval, a former steel industry centre is undergoing a 600 million euros redevelopment which will turn the brownfield site into a large scientific and cultural centre.
Closer to Luxembourg city, in Kehlen, is Filmland S.A, a one-stop studio-site which includes 3,000 square metres of studio space, construction workshops, production offices as well as post-production services including image and sound editing, a colour-grading suite, a final mix auditorium and special effects units. Luxembourg’s varied landscapes and its proximity to as many as five countries makes it ideal for co-production of films.
“Visitors are surprised by what they find in this small country. We were very much inspired by the Incredible India slogan so we adopted ‘Unexpected Luxembourg’ as our tagline. We are the heart of Europe so we are in close proximity to any country in the continent, so visitors can get to Germany or France or Amsterdam in a short time. India is not among our top 10 markets as yet but we had 13,000 nights from India last year and we hope to improve on that. We need to work on direct connectivity between India and Luxembourg. The key segments we are targetting are seniors, hiking and biking enthusiasts (the government has invested in cycling lanes), families with children and DINKS (double income, no kids). We also want to grow the MICE segment. We have around 6,000 hotel rooms and convention facilities for around 1000 pax.”
– Anne Hoffmann, MD, Luxembourg national Tourist Office
The old city of Luxembourg is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In the city’s old historical district lies the Bock, rocky cliffs offering a natural fortification above the Alzette river which surrounds it on three sides. It was here that Count Siegfried built his Castle of Lucilinburhuc in 963, laying the foundation for the development of the town which later became Luxembourg. Over the centuries, the Bock and the surrounding walls were reinforced, attacked and rebuilt time and again as the invading armies vied for victory over one of Europe’s most strategic strongholds, the Fortress of Luxembourg. In those days the fortress was often called the Gibraltar of the North. Ruins of the old castle and the vast underground maze of passages and caves known as the Casemates are a major tourist attraction.
Another attraction is the Notre Dame Cathedral, the only cathedral in Luxembourg. Originally a Jesuit church, its cornerstone was laid in 1613. The cathedral with it’s gothic architecture, baroque style and stained glass windows, houses the Ducal Crypt where deceased members of the Grand Ducal family are buried.
Right in the middle of the city is the magnificent Grand Ducal Palace (Flemish Renaissance, 16th century), the official residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, (presently Henri) where he performs most of his duties as head of state. The building was first the City Hall of Luxembourg from 1572 to 1795, the seat of the prefecture of the Département des Forêts in 1795, and then the headquarters of the Luxembourg Government in 1817. The state rooms on the first floor are used for official meetings and audiences as well as state banquets. From 1966 till today, soldiers of the military of Luxembourg perform guard duties at the gates of the palace.
|Clockwise: The Golden Lady Monument (top left), the Philharmonie Luxembourg, Notre Dame Cathedral and Musee Drai Eechelen (Fort Thungen)|
Another landmark that can be seen from any corner of the city is the ‘Gëlle Fra’ or Golden Lady, a war memorial dedicated to the Luxembourg soldiers who fought in the two World Wars. The Monument of Remembrance is a 21 metre high obelisk atop which stands a woman holding out a crown of laurels to two soldiers below, one of whom watches over his compatriot who has died in battle.
A stop at the Philharmonie Luxembourg is a must. Also known as the Grand-Duchesse Josephine-Charlotte Concert Hall, the Philharmonie is situated in the Kirchber quarter on the north-east side of Luxembourg. The unique oval shape of the building, designed by French Pritzker Prize winner Christian de Portzamparc, was made possible through the use of colonnade screen constructed by more than 823 steel columns. The complex also has a pyramid structure by Pei (of the Louvre Museum fame).