Wed03012017

 

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If you are an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and are a tour guide in Luxembourg city, you think that you know most of the links to the Midwest; but if your son has been studying at the U of M for 6 years, you certainly learn new details.

The 19th and 20th century saw several waves of emigration from the Grand Duchy. Due to the poor living conditions, having practically nothing else but agriculture, a massive departure of Luxemburgers took place, especially to North America. Luxembourg lost as much as 40% of its population at that time.

Before the industrial period, 80% of the population made their living from agriculture which offered very weak production, while the remaining 20% included handcraft and local commerce. Luxembourg lived in massive and permanent poverty that led to emigration. Such emigration even continued to take place after the industrial start-up, because a part of poor farmers refused to work in mines and steelworks, rather preferring to leave for transatlantic destinations where they hoped to earn a decent living in agriculture.

For many decades, the American Building at the corner of rue Philippe II - rue Notre Dame, was a travel and emigration agency which, between 1897 and 1937, booked the departure for overseas for some 20,000 emigrants. The company, Derulle-Wigreux & Sohn, had a virtual monopoly of the emigration business from Luxembourg to the United States. The “building-to-be-preserved” was constructed in 1907, and it features an impressive gilded American eagle on top of the cupola.

Most of the Luxembourgers who emigrated to the USA settled in Wisconsin and Minnesota; both states have a town or a township named Luxembourg.

Minneapolis and St. Paul, the capital of Minnesota, count 60% of the  state’s residents, around 3 million. Many know about Luxembourg, mostly thanks to the Schleck brothers famed for the cycling exploits. Minneapolis, with its fast-growing downtown, was once the flour capital of the United States. Its mill museum presents that during the Great War (as WWI was called), flour from here was shipped to Belgium as a humanitarian act within the "Millers’ Belgian Relief Movement", worth 500,000 USD at the time.

If you ask any American, everyone remembers when the Metrodome, the home of the Vikings footballers, collapsed in 2010 under heavy snow. Minneapolis has now a new stadium, forming a huge viking ship. The US Bank stadium was said to be constructed of building materials from the United States. However, it was discovered some two years ago that 20% of the steel construction, namely 3 thousand tons of huge trusses, arrived from - where else - but Differdange. Though ArcelorMittal has over 25 steel works in the States, the so-called HI-STAR grade 65 steel can only be produced in tiny Luxembourg. This high-strength steel has saved 30% weight on the stadium’s roof structure. The trusses are more than impressive. The total cost passed 1 billion USD, and the Vikings play only 10 games here, where 65,000 fill the stadium, since it opened last September.

The Minneapolis Institue of Arts hosts a temporary exhibition, unique in the country, on Martin Luther. Luther nailed his 95 theses on the doors of several Wittenberg churches 500 years ago. With his positions against what he saw as abusive practices by preachers selling plenary indulgences, Luther established the Protestant Church in 1517. Among the hundred edificies from Europe, one would see the pilgrim’s garment of Emperor Maximilian I that was previously held in the Abbey of Echternach. Maximilian visited the town during a pilgrimage in 1512 and donated the garment he was wearing in the procession and the worship service, to the Benedictine monks.

Minneapolis is truly a great place. One article cannot have everything, such as the Mall of America (Minnesota has no tax on clothes). It is so warm in summer and so cold in winter that the absolute difference passes 100 degrees. In winter people hardly walk on the streets downtown. 68 blocks are interconnected by the world’s longest skyway system that is 13 km long as passes through office buildings, department stores, banks, etc. Bus stops are equipped with heating devices. Snoopy is from there, and, and …

Photos by Robert Földes

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We love the Netherlands, it is a fact. When my wife heard about the Frick Collection in the Mauritshuis, we booked 2 nights in a tiny downtown hotel in The Hague – excellent price per quality ratio.

Having been in the seat of the government twice before, we first thought that 2 nights would be too much. But we had a great surprise in store.

Of course, our first visit was the Royal Picture Gallery, the Mauritshuis. Friday lunchtime, there were no crowds; however, the Frick Collection was beyond our expectations. In New York, it occupies a huge "palace”, in The Hague, it is in a bit more than one and a half rooms.

But the history of the Frick family was worth learning. Henry Frick lived the American dream. At the age of 22, he started to produce coke (heated coal) and became a millionaire within 8 years. During a later strike in his company, he hired a small army to break it down. Frick was shot by a Russian anarchist, but survived. With his wife, he regularly visited Europe, and the London Wallace Collection had a great impression on him. He started to collect art. In 1912, they had tickets for the Titanic on their return from the Old Continent, but his wife sprained her ankle, "forcing” them to postpone the journey.

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Once in the Mauritshuis, you can not miss Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring (the story of which was made into a Luxembourgish film co-production), Rembrandt and Dr. Tulp’s Anatomy Lesson, Frans Hals, and ... and the building itself. It was William I, the first Dutch king, first Grand Duke of Luxembourg, who established this museum. He partially used the collection of his father, Stadtholder William V of Oranje. Look at Luxembourg after the Congress of Vienna in 1815 - William I got the Grand Duchy, elevated to this rank by Congress, as his personal property. He hardly visited us, only collected taxes here. "Suppressor” here, art sponsor, from this money, there!

In the Hall of Knights and the Parliament, we learnt some more about William II, son of the tax collector. His statue, a COPY of the one on the Knuedler, is standing on the Buitenhof.

To complete the 75–year Dutch period, we visited the museum exhibition "Escher in the Palace”. Who is Escher and what is the Palace? The latter was the home of Queen Emma of William III, who lived there with Wilhelmina after the death of the King. The King–Grand Duke, with whom the Nassau-Orange family died out in Luxembourg. This palace is the only one that can be entirely visited. Maurits C. Escher? A great artist from the town, though I knew only one of his creations – but had never heard his name before. He was the master of optical illusion. Bored in childhood, repeating first class in the gymnasium (school), failing the final exam – he was inside the adventurous mind of a teenager.

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Despite some stormy wind and heavy rain, we made some delightful discoveries in the city. Berlage, whom we already discovered in Amsterdam, where we learnt that the last post office in the Netherlands closed in 2011. We saw the original staircases in Berlage’s de Bijenkorf, the Dutch department store and the "memorial” display reading that Ms. Peek had laid the first stone of the first Peek & Cloppenburg in the main shopping street. The great philosopher, Spinoza was a citizen of The Hague. The US Embassy building is the work of the Hungarian-American "chair designer”, Marcel Breuer, and the Passage was built in the same period (mid-19th century) like those in Brussels and Milan.

The city is dotted with intimate cafés and restaurants; elegant shops often reserve their original interior. The Hague, the seat of the Dutch government and the Parliament’s 2 two chambers, is definitely a place to visit.

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