Sunday, June 03, 2007

Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

In 1927, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was granted a Royal Charter and, over the last eighty years, has grown fitfully to become the largest broadcaster in the world with 26,000 employees and an annual budget of around $8 billion. Beginning in 1922 as the British Broadcasting Company Ltd., a brainchild of four or five wannabe radio manufacturers, the effort was powerfully validated by the Royal Charter status and has pretty much danced to its own tune since. Ever zealous of its perceived position of guardian of public morals, British values and overall British taste, it frequently acted as bully-boy in efforts to keep competing and “degenerate” broadcasters off the air. In the early to mid fifties, we gangling teenagers knew nothing, and cared less, about such sinister doings – all we wanted was to hear the latest teenage music, a genre that was completely off the BBC radar. Throughout the British Isles, there were three radio channels, period. No other choices existed, no commercial radio, no country, rock, easy listening, nothing – just The Home Service, The Light Programme and Radio Three. This situation actually, was not materially altered until the advent of the offshore Pirate Stations in the mid-sixties, that increasingly ate into the listening audience of the venerable BBC, eventually prompting an inquiry by the government in the early seventies and culminating in a welter of changes in broadcast philosophy.
But back to the fifties. There was at least one illicit option to hear sinful commercial radio in the English language and, almost to a person, everyone between the ages of 12 and 25 tuned to 208 meters on the medium waveband every night to get their fill of the depraved sounds of Kay Starr lasciviously crooning the Wheel of Fortune or, worse yet, Patti Page singing her siren song How Much is that Doggie in the Window. Not only was this deplorable behavior frowned upon by parents and the establishment alike, it also did contain elements of international illegality and, with these ingredients alone, was pretty much assured of a wide audience regardless of program content. So, just who was this malignant Pied Piper, tearing at the very fabric of British sangfroid and openly defying the subtle brainwasher that was the BBC? None other than Radio Luxembourg. Since 1933 in fact, this tiny country had broadcast programming in English, French and German using internationally alloted frequencies intended for domestic use. Having acquired the frequencies the company simply ignored transmission power limitations, built some honking great megawatt transmitters and blew away every other broadcaster in the area. So it was that we have always nurtured a particular fondness for this diminutive principality. Sadly, Radio Luxembourg closed its doors in 1992 - the victim of its own success since there were now dozens of similar format stations available locally with high quality FM stereo sound.
Like NY, NY, Luxembourg, Luxembourg is so good it has to be said twice. About half the size of Delaware or 2/3rd the size of Rhode Island, Luxembourg, the country, has a population of a scant 480,000. Luxembourg, the city, is home to about 76,000 people in an area of less than 20 square miles. With a turbulent history, having been sold at one point due to the lack of a male heir, lopped in half following a squabble with Belgium, occupied by Germany for the duration of WWI and then jackbooted over again in WWII by Hitlers henchmen, the Head Honcho finally swore off neutrality and became a serious joiner. The Duke and his entourage, starting in 1942, joined the Allies, the UN, NATO and, as soon as it was invented, the European Economic Community. Luxembourg has subsequently become yet another example of the contradiction To the Vanquished come the Spoils for, even after all that slapping around, they now enjoy the highest GDP per capita in the entire world and are one of the wealthiest per capita countries to boot. Puzzling, isn't it?
All of that aside, Luxembourg (the city), remains, to us anyway, a confusing place. Odd mixes of old and new, the city center sits on a plateau, perched precariously in places atop precipitous cliffs that drop into the narrow valleys of the Alzette and P├ętrusse rivers, which merge in the old town. The 230' gorges cut by the rivers are spanned by various bridges and viaducts, including the Adolphe Bridge, Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge, and the Passerelle. Although not a large city, the layout is complex - set on several levels, straddling hills and dropping into the two gorges while still retaining tracts of farmland within the city limits. Notable was the absence of cheesy souvenir and fudge shops - seems that the rent has been driven out of their league by the presence of numerous Haute Couture establishment and other exclusive emporia more suited to the pocketbooks of the natives. At Hamm, a district of the city, there is an American Cemetery containing the graves of more than 5,000 American dead, including the remains of General George S. Patton.

Saint Laurentius Church


Luxembourg City Hall


Notre Dame Cathedral


Cathedral Entrance


Cathedral Interior


Equestrian statue of Guillaume II in Guillaume Square


The Grand Ducal Palace


The Duke's Crest


One of the Dukes "Minders"


Exit point for security forces across from the Palace


St Michaels Church


Gateway under the old castle approach road. Massive
fortifications were built on the Bock, a huge sandstone
formation riddled with casemates, tunnels through
which supplies were moved and from which cannons
were fired


Part of the fortifications of the Bock


View down into the old town from the Bock


Chapel of St Quirin


Huge courtyard of the Neumunster Abbey


The Gella Fra Monument to WWII Volunteers


Detail of the monument


Another view of the Notre Dame Cathedral


The Adolphe Bridge


America's cultural contribution

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