Today, we will cast an eye on five famous people who have sojourned in Luxembourg. Let us begin with the person who redesigned the fortress of the capital. In this day and age, many old and new buildings bear the name of Vauban - the famous marshal and architect. However, the Grand Duchy has also inspired several great writers, such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Victor Hugo and Ernest Hemingway. We will also delve into Wilhelm Voigt's stroke of genius.
Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707)
The architectural charm of the city of Luxembourg owes a great deal to the countless foreign rulers - the Burgundians, Prussians, French, Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs - who governed the country and left their respective stamp on the urban landscape of the capital. And yet, to a great extent, it was due to the compulsion of the French military engineer Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban that the face of the city and, in particular, the fortress witnessed a radical transformation.
Marshall Vauban, who also acted as an advisor to Louis XIV, carried out major expansion and refurbishment works on the fortifications of the city: in the lower town, notably in Pfaffenthal, he built defensive bastions into the defensive ring around the city in the outlying areas, these included the Bourbon Fort and Niedergrünewald Fort; he also constructed the barracks on the Rham and Saint Esprit plateaus.
Nowadays, the name of the French architect is synonymous with the image of the fortress of Luxembourg. In short, Vauban the engineer transformed the Grand Duchy into the most important fortification in Europe. Several old buildings such as the Vauban Towers and the Vauban Villa, as well as more contemporary buildings such as the Lycée Vauban bear his name.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Following a short stay in Luxembourg on 26 August 1792, during a military campaign which led him to France, the German poet and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe embarked on a second journey to the Grand Duchy on 14 October of the same year.
Haunted by the horrors of war, looting and desolation, the famous German visitor left France, during the retreat of his troops after the Battle of Valmy. He was accompanied on his journey by Liseur, a Luxembourg hussar. They travelled from Lorraine to the Grand Duchy without encountering any major problems.
During his second spell in Luxembourg, Goethe took the time to describe in full the charm of the fortress of Luxembourg. But what impressed this man of letters the most was the liberty pole in Schengen, located at the Luxembourg-Franco-German border; the pole was topped with a Phrygian cap and bore the inscription "Passers-by, this land is free". Goethe made a watercolour painting of this pole and the surrounding landscape.
The "Goethe memorial stone" on the Rock in the Bock in Clausen commemorates the period the great German poet stayed in Luxembourg. The monument was erected in 1935 upon the request of the "Assoss" Luxembourg students' association. The medallion and inscription are the work of the Luxembourg sculptor Albert Kratzenberg.
Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
Victor Hugo was enamoured with Luxembourg. Likewise, Luxembourg was captivated by Victor Hugo. Those who require further proof only need to visit the house where the French writer resided during his political exile in the Grand-Duchy in 1871. The residence, which is located in Vianden in the north of country, on the German border, was transformed into a museum in 1935. At present, visitors can delve into the life of this great poet.
Victor Hugo visited the Grand Duchy on several occasions between 1862 and 1865. On his travels, he explored several parts of the country including Clervaux, Vianden, Echternach and Larochette.
On 30 May 1871, Hugo was expelled from Belgium for having offered political asylum to members of the Paris Commune. Unable to return to France, due to his opposition to Napoleon III, the poet took refuge in Vianden and stayed there for several months.
Clearly, Victor Hugo was enchanted with this picturesque village and fell in love with its charm. He wrote: Today, in its splendid landscape that one day will host visitors from all over Europe, Vianden consists of two equally reassuring and magnificent things: one sinister - its ruin, the other joyful - its inhabitants.
In memory of its host, the city of Vianden placed a bust of this great man of letters opposite the museum; the bust was created by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. On the facade of his former dwelling, a plaque reads: “It is in this house, from 8 June to 23 August 1871, that Victor Hugo resided during his fifth and final visit to Vianden”.
Wilhelm Voigt (1849-1922)
Wilhelm Voigt, the son of a cobbler, was born on 13 February 1849 in Tilsit in eastern Prussia, a town close to Kaliningrad, directly on the Lithuanian border. At the age of 14, he was sentenced to 14 days in prison for theft. This, it seems, proved to be an ominous precursor because between 1864 and 1891 he was convicted four times for theft and twice for forgery; consequently, he spent many years in prison. In 1890, he tried to steal the treasure from the court of Wongrowitz and was subsequently sentenced to 15 years behind bars.
However, Wilhelm Voigt was to become famous thanks to the movie The Captain of Köpenick, starring Heinz Rühmann, which recounts his grandest stroke of genius. On 16 October 1906, he masqueraded as a Prussian captain and arrested the mayor at the Berlin-Köpenick town hall in order to steal the city's treasure.
He was detained and sentenced to prison. Later, he was pardoned by the emperor William II and given early release from Tegel prison on 16 August 1908. The whole of Germany expressed amusement at his genial masterplan. According to a report from a correspondent in the Daily Mail, the emperor referred to the guilty man as a "great guy".
Upon his release from prison, Wilhelm Voigt spent 12 years of his life in exile in Luxembourg city. He worked as a waiter, cobbler and even played the role of Captain Köpenick in a circus.
Wilhelm Voigt is buried in the Grand Duchy. His tomb is located in the Notre-Dame cemetery in the district of Limpertsberg. The inscription on the gravestone reads: "HAUPTMANN VON KOEPENICK".
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
The famous American writer Ernest Hemingway visited Luxembourg on two occasions: the first time for the Liberation and the second time at the end of the Battle of the Ardennes. He came to the country as a war correspondent and reported from the Luxembourg front for the American magazine Colliers in December 1944.
The distinguished author of The Old Man and the Sea wanted to chronicle the liberation, from the landing of the allied forces to their entry into German-held territories.
On 17 December 1944, in a convoy of eight journalists on route from Paris, Hemingway arrived at the American headquarters in Luxembourg city. He travelled to the command post of the 22nd American infantry regiment, which was located in an old converted mill in Rodenbourg, a small village between Junglinster and Betzdorf in the east of the country.
From the hillside close to Breidweiler and Consdorf, he observed the American army in combat. His article on the heavy fighting in the region around Echternach, Berdorf, Lauterborn, Osweiler and Dickweiler was published in Time & Life magazine in January 1945. Hemingway returned to Paris in early January of the same year.
A memorial stone in Rodenbourg commemorates the presence in the Grand Duchy of this great writer who was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1954.