Sailing the River Rhine Part 5: Luxembourg's Outsized History

Eric Anderson, MD & Nancy Anderson, RN

Luxembourg is tiny, but the country sits at the crossroads of Europe, and has the history to prove it.

Critics sometimes complain the United States is too Euro-centric: Our immigrants, they say, have come from all over the world for decades; centuries actually. Agreed. But the American language is English and travel in Europe is surely easier for us monolingual natives where at least some in European cities speak our language.

That is one of the charms of a vacation in Europe. Other charms might be those that satisfy Americans’ interest in European architecture and its history—especially in its medieval era. Even today with that continent’s difficulties with massive illegal immigration, first-time visitors to Europe might feel they have somehow come to Disneyland. Other more experienced visitors might have lost that feeling and wondered, with the difficulties they have with today’s airlines and the cost of travel including how tourists—especially Americans—are gouged in some countries, whether they can continue to come.

For such “been there-done that” burned-out tourists there is a place that has somehow been below their radar because it was never on the way to someplace else, a place that might be, if not magical, at least fresh: Luxembourg. It is a place of human dimensions—like our Vermont but without Bernie Sanders!

So we, who had never been to Luxembourg before, felt like the clichéd kids in the candy shop. This was going to be exciting! (Eric was born in Scotland; Nancy was born in Ohio with mixed German, Irish, and French ancestry.)

One nuance in European travel is we don’t really know the details of European history and given how such history has put neighbors at each other’s throats maybe such ignorance is better left as is. So we know nothing of what our Uniworld guide points out as where our coach will park: the 1923 Gelle Fra monument.

It turns out to be a tribute to the 3,700 Luxembourg nationals who served in the French army in World War I, 2,000 of whom died. The Nazis tried to destroy it in October 1940 when they occupied Luxembourg in World War II. The centerpiece Gelle Fra (Golden Girl who represents Nike, the Queen of Freedom) was hidden below the main stand of the national soccer stand and not discovered until 1980! The restored monument was unveiled to the public in 1985.

The Gelle Fra monument with the Queen of Freedom mounted 69 feet high above two of her soldiers, one mourning his dead friend.

It’s the time for the changing of the guard. It does seem that this city-country of a mere half million surely loves a parade. It appears we meet the same unit of military everywhere we go for the next hour! It’s hard for such a small country to make an impact in wars that span the globe but in fact its losses in World War I of more than 1% of its population killed in the war is a higher percentage than that of many nations who fought in the same war. So the citizens have reason to be proud.

Maybe Luxembourg does love a parade!

The citizens can also be proud of how they look after the US Army Cemetery in a city just south of the Ardennes where so many Americans fought and died in the Battle of the Bulge. The United States took 81,000 casualties (killed and wounded) in this, “the largest battle the US Army had ever fought in history.” Buried here are 5,076 including General Patton himself, who, although killed in an auto accident at the end of the war, had long asked to be buried with his men when he died.

The cemetery entrance

Patton’s grave. Click here for details of Patton’s funeral. He died of a pulmonary embolus 12 hours after his broken neck accident

Such tourist attractions: the River Moselle, beautiful Western European architecture mostly French, shop signs from the late Middle Ages

Middle image tribute to those interred in the vault of Notre Dame. Lower image: Some of Notre Dame’s famous stained glass windows

You’ll find lots of statues in Luxembourg, from the famous Grand Duke, William or Guillaume II, to the beloved Charlotte Grande Duchesse. William II is a good example of the confusing picture of European royalty. William II was the son of William I, Prince of Orange, his mother a Prussian princess, Wilhelmina of Prussia. William II was educated at Oxford in England. He married a Russian Princes, Anna Pavlovna, his wife for 33 years. Their son was William III of the Netherlands. All this ought to be appreciated by our kids who never had to learn this stuff! Or would want to.

If you pass Charlotte’s statue and a tourist isn’t posing with her, grab the photo and move on; you won’t see her often by herself. Luxembourg is small and compact, walkable and clean -- and proud of its history and place in Europe. Countries like that (Sweden comes to mind) can be a bit formal, and more than a bit stuffy and pleased with themselves. Luxembourg does not seem to have such hubris.

Images: Top, Crown Prince William II; Middle, Charlotte Grand Duchesse. Lower image comic art of Guillermo Forchino

Substantiating the concept that Luxembourg is not stuffy are some of the things we see in shop windows. One store exhibits the work of Guillermo Forchino. Attempts to find out more about this comic artist bring up a website AllSculptures.comabout which we have no personal knowledge except to notice that the dentist figurine ($189) cost more than the doctor one ($175) which is about right: dentists sure charge more for an office call than a physician! We also notice a lawyer costs more than a doctor but Madame Doctor at $235 costs even more, although it looks as if she came with all her “accessories.” Says the sales department of the website: “Forchino’s 3-D creations depict images pulled right from the Sunday comics.”

We may meet such people when we travel but isn’t it great we never see our patients as comic characters?

Next up: Trier, France

Photography by the authors

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.