The Summer festival of 2004 coincided with the first visit we made to our now chosen home of Strasbourg. Then, when the town was ruled by Mayor Fabienne Keller, the festival was the low-key ‘L’Ill aux Lumières’ based around the stretch of river running from Palais Rohan to Petite France.
Every night from 10pm-midnight they closed the road from Quai de Bateliers to Quai Finkwiller to enable the public and tourists to enjoy the various spectacles without the annoyance and noise of perpetual traffic. Promenading from Palais Rohan to Pont St Thomas, either along the road or tow-path you were treated to a variety of attractions from innovative water-based art to live shows performed on barges or along the Quais. Dance or comedy would mix with arts based upon a theme that changed each year. In 2006 organisers excelled themselves by creating a giant living gargoyle that vomited water into the river every ten minutes or so. (pictured) The result was a two hour delight for locals and tourists alike, who gravitated to this stretch of river not just to enjoy the festival but also the most attractive parts of the old city.
All visitors could also be seen clutching their copies of the indispensable ‘Guide Jaune’ (yellow guide) a hefty handbook to everything Strasbourg had to offer throughout the daylight hours of the eight week Summer season.
Since the arrival of Roland Ries as City Mayor, things have changed however, and the once unmissable Summer festival of Strasbourg is slowly turning into an eclectic and somewhat humdrum affair for a number of reasons. This year the remarkably thin yellow guide was distributed two weeks late, rendering a good 30% of it’s content out of date, and resulting in tiny audiences around the city’s early Summer attractions. It also lacks basic information like a map of where to find each show. The associated website has been of little additional help – mixing up the dates and times of the opening firework spectaculars, providing a clunky/useless search facility and missing information on festivals running in parallel – such as ‘Food Culture’.
The river of lights has been replaced by a single nightly twenty minute show set in the Bassin Austerlitz, primarily with the aim of getting punters familiar with the neighbourhood that includes the struggling Rivetoile shopping centre. While it is an impressive affair of lights, fireworks and fountains coordinated to music, it’s setting of unattractive modernity repels the entire audience back into the old city within a few minutes of its end, and to their hotels shortly afterwards.
But the primary problem with the summer programme under Mr Ries’ tenure is that it requires planning to enjoy; with the majority of shows or attractions running for one or two nights, weather permitting, never to be repeated. Furthermore, and somewhat bizarrely, many are timed to coincide precisely with when everyone is indoors having dinner. This requirement for advanced planning by the audience has thus far resulted in some pretty miserable attendances throughout the Summer, and leaves the locals and tourists who have missed their chance to see something feeling frustrated at the lack of forethought by festival organisers.
This shouldn’t detract of course from the quality of entertainment on offer, if you can find your way to any of the listed attractions at the listed time, of what remains of this year’s festival, then you will not be disappointed. I just hope our Mayor has the good sense however to take note and make sure that next year’s effort at entertaining the masses makes amends for this year’s ham-fisted flop.