Vauban is one architect whose name probably doesn't draw much attention among American children, but his name is all over eastern France and western Germany. He was a master of designing cities suitable for defending itself against conventional ground attack, large scale fortresses in open terrain with huge bastions and perfect fields of fire. Waterways were often rerouted to form moats as part of the defense. The signature style was like a cartoonized sun -- a heavily walled interior (like an octagon) with pointed stone bastions jutting out from all directions. Some of these cities have remained preserved after Europe's major wars between 1871 and 1945 (see Rocroi), while others have been modernized. Those of the latter category have since returned as modern cities, especially in the case of Saarlouis, located in the heartland of the predominantly German industrial state of Saarland.
But Vauban's influence is everywhere. Some of the outer bastions have been removed or damaged, but most of them are intact and still shape the city. A number of the barracks (Kasernen) that formed the octagon have been converted to other uses. The inner city has been painted over and decorated to the point where it no longer resembles the interior of a fortress. The introduction of post-World War II aluminum and glass further hides the city's history.
The first photograph shows a perfect example of this -- it is of the Kleinen Markt downtown, made from the section of city wall called Kaserne IV, which is the left half of the photo. Like the other surviving kasernes in the city, this structure is plenty wide and strong, enough to serve as storefronts and offices in this case. Other kasernes, according to city maps and the city home page, have been converted into residences. One now houses the city museum in half the kaserne, the other half holds the city police station.
The outer bastions still shape much of the land, as the second photograph suggests. The photo shows the artificial Saar canal that wraps around the northwest corner of the city. The Saar itself is another kilometer in the distance. In the right, you can make out the wall of bastion #6, and the varying heights of the bushes above suggest the upper firing points. Not as obvious is the opposite bank that had been built up as well. I did not walk completely around the city, but there were other impressive scenes where one could imagine how daunting the task would have been to take the city as a 19th-century rifleman.
The object being built in the middle of the canal is a floating stage, in preparation for the city's summer festival that would take place the following week. To the left of the photo was where the bleachers were, on the Island of Vauban, an island bastion formed when the canal was constructed.
The bastions themselves have also been converted for other uses, mostly restaurants. A portion of the one in the second picture has been converted to a Greek restaurant, and a whole section of the wall that lined the canal's right bank in this photo housed an entire bar district. That are is the site of a major renovation project, as the city is hard at work restoring those kasernes and bastions that had fallen to neglect.
Well, once beyond the old influence of Vauban, what else of the city, you ask? Plenty. The interior of the city was very active commercially, filled with people from late Saturday morning to when I left in the afternoon. The third photo shows the center of the shopping district. The old block sandstone architecture has been painted over with bright colors, and decorated in modern form. Businesses operated much longer hours than I've found elsewhere in the country.
Saarlouis doesn't have a lot of distinctive buildings -- which was to be expected given the city's utilitarian purpose. The one structure that varied the skyline was the 17th Century Ludwigskirche occupied the center of the Grosser Markt, which itself looked like it had been bombed into submission during the war (or badly damaged by fire, not sure which). The Evangelical Church and the Landesamt (State Office Building) just outside Kaserne XII at the outer edge of downtown were better preserved and seemed to show the French influence a bit more.
I must also say that Saarlouis' downtown looked like a happening spot at night. Between the row of bars in the bastion I mentioned earlier and the very bright club district shown in the fourth photo (formed by Sonnenstrasse and Bierstrasse -- Sun Street and Beer Street, go figure), Saarlouis had plenty of places to hang out, and as I prepared to leave these places were starting to get fired up.
If you aren't a Vauban buff, Saarlouis is probably ok if you are in the area on business (and given the massive American-brand car plants in the region, that is a definite possibility) or visiting family, less so for pure tourism unless you are on your way to Alsace or nearby Trier or Saarbruecken. But who knows. If you are a city person, you may find the history, the shopping, and the nightlife very much to your liking.
Trip taken 5 July 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin