A Day in Strasbourg

The international office at the University of Konstanz has offered a variety of excursions to various nearby cities throughout the semester. During our March orientation program we had the opportunity to catch the ferry to Meersburg, as well as to travel to Freiburg and the island of Reichenau. Past excursions which I have been on during the semester have included visits to Stuttgart, Sigmaringen and most recently to Strasbourg.

Strasbourg is a border city located on the border between Germany and France. The river Ill runs through the city and separates at one point to form an island upon which the old city centre is located.

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We explored the city by foot, stopped by the cathedral and wandered the streets to find the best ice cream and bakeries. We ended up at La Petite France, which an old historic quarter of the city filled with half-timbered houses built on the water where fisherman used to live.

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Strasbourg is also know for hosting the Council of Europe, as it is said to be located within the heart of Europe. The Council of Europe is often confused with the European Union, however it is in fact a separate institution with 47 member states from across the European continent. In comparison, the European Union only currently has 28 member states.

The Council of Europe passes resolutions and makes recommendations on the protection of human rights, promotion of democracy and the rule of law. It is comprised of several parts, including a parliamentary assembly and court of human rights.

As a group we had the opportunity to view the parliamentary assembly in session. They only meet four times a year, so we were fortunate to be visiting at the right time. Our visit was made extra special by having the opportunity to hear listen to a speech given by the president of Slovakia.

As the language student, the most fascinating aspect of this visit was watching the translators at work. Translation booths were located on the edge of the assembly representing each of the official languages of the council. Inside, translators would simultaneously translate what was being said for all to understand. I was amazed by the translators multilingual abilities, and also to see so many languages at work at once. Each council representative could choose to speak in either English or their native tongue. The Slovakian president, for example, presented his speech in English but then chose to respond to questions in Slovakian.

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As I’d only ever been to Paris before, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to visit another city in France and to have learnt a little more about the European community and how countries can work together.

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