Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mulhouse, France

When I last visited Yvon in Mulhouse eight years ago, we didn't have time for a side trip to the Peugeot Museum in Sochaux to see the bike Bernard Thevenet rode to victory in The Tour de France.   Every year since, Yvon has been asking, "When are you going to return to Mulhouse to see Thevenet's bike?"  We'd been to his birthplace in Le Guidon and had met up somewhere in France every year, usually somewhere along The Tour de France route, but it had never worked out to swing by Mulhouse over along the German border until this year.

I arrived in Mulhouse two days before Yvon, as he's been spending most of his time with his girlfriend on the other side of the country.  I chose to reach Mulhouse before Yvon, as I wanted to be in one of the larger cities in France on the first weekend in June when the entire country celebrates the bicycle with a Fête du Velo.  Mulhouse  would be a fine place to be, as it has a strong cycling community and an extensive network of bicycle paths and is on the Velo Euro route that goes from the Atlantic to Bulgaria.

The Mulhouse Fête du Velo activity was a ride around the city to various schools to encourage cycling to school as well as commuting in general.  More than a hundred cyclists gathered in the Place de la Reunion beside the town's central cathedral for the ride and not a one was wearing Lycra. The convivial crowd was accompanied by several police officers on bikes who corked intersections so we could remain in mass.  There were a good many children, most on bikes, but some also as cargo.

Before the ride set out I chatted with a guy who had been among those who campaigned to establish   the first bike path in Mulhouse thirty years ago.  There had been a commemorative ride a couple weeks ago. He was quite proud of the tremendous number of bike paths all over the city now.  It was comparable to a Dutch city with a bike way on nearly every street. 

He was one of several cyclists on Bromptons.  I rode along with one of them who said it was easier for he and his wife to put the fold-up bikes in their car rather than mounting a regular bike on a rack. His wife wasn't on the ride as she preferred to shop.  He had traveled extensively (Africa, Tibet, China, the US), but never by bike and was most interested in my experiences.  He was heartened to hear that Air France gladly accepts bikes and even provides boxes for them.  He was all set to book a flight.

The ride ended where we started after two hours of meandering all over the city. Cold water in five gallon jugs awaited us on a table under a tent.  And beside the jugs were bottles of mint syrup, my favorite additive, to please the taste buds, as is a national imperative.  

In the US, the water would have been laced with Gatorade or some other synthetic electrolyte that may or may not have been gastronomically sensible.  The French do-it-yourself menthe a l'eau was another shining example of their way of making life a little more liveable.  I was happy to toast one of my Bromptom companions with a "Vive la France."

It wasn't the only occasion that my palate would be pleased in Mulhouse.  Besides the fine cheeses and fruits and vegetables and olives that accompanied the meals Yvon prepared, our lone meal out was a uniquely French experience.  It was lunch at a cafeteria for city employees, current and former.  As a retired postal worker Yvon was entitled to partake of the bargain four euro meal and could bring a guest.  We had our choice of three entrees (steak, duck or omelet) including a heap of French fries and chopped green beans along with a variety of salads, deserts, cheeses and fruits.  Wine and beer were among the beverages.  It was a veritable feast. All larger cities offer such a service and Yvon could drop in on any.  

I was hoping Yvon would tag along with me after I left Mulhouse so I could take advantage of more of this fine dining but he had other matters to tend to.  We still had a fine two days biking and museuming.  Yvon is a volunteer greeter for the tourist office, so was well versed on all the city had to off.  Its automobile museum with the official title of "Cité de l'Automobile--National Museum--the Schumpf Collection" has the largest collection of automobiles in the world.  A sprawling, nicely reconditioned former factory contains 520 cars, mostly from the collection of Fritz Schlumpf, who made his fortune in textiles.  He had secretly amassed his collection and had it hidden away in this factory.  It didn't become known until his workers went on strike and took over the building.  The workers held the collection hostage for two years while they were on strike.  To raise money they began charging admission for people to see the cars.  The French government eventually bought the collection to pay off the debts of Schlumpf and his brother and made it an official museum in 1982.

The collection was Eurocentric with not a car from America nor even a mention of Henry Ford.  There was a heavy emphasis on the early French cars of Bugatti and De Dion-Bouton.  The only reference to America was a photo of an astronaut on the moon as a reference point for 1969.  There were scattered videos and a large screening room with racing footage from Monaco dating to the 1930s and also the Paris-Dakar race.  The museum is popular enough to be open every day of the year except New Year's Day.  Behind the museum motorists could race their own car on a small figure-eight course.  

There were a few Peugeots in the collection, but they were a mere sampling compared to the several hundred on display at the Peugeot Museum forty miles away in Sochaux.  Mulhouse also has a Peugeot factory, the city's largest employer with 12,000 workers, about the same number who work in Sochaux, where the Peugeot brothers started their business in 1810 originally manufacturing saw blades.  They were clever and innovative and manufactured almost anything steel-related that had a sizeable market--hammers and knifes and bands for corsets and coffee grinders and washing machines and radios.  They were among the first to manufacture bicycles in 1882 and then automobiles nine years later, which came to dominate their production line.  The museum likewise was dominated by the automobile.  It was as overwhelming as the musuem in Mulhouse. Its collection included 450 cars, though only 130 could be on display at a time.  In contrast to the Mulhouse museum, it had a heavy emphasis on accessories, and non-automotive products.  Only one small alcove, though, was devoted to the bicycle.

Sandwiched among the fifty or so bikes were two that were raced to victory in The Tour de France.  The 1967 bike of Roger Pingeon and the 1977 bike of Bernard Thevenet.  Missing was Thevenet's 1975 bike--the PX-10, an exact copy that I bought in 1976 with tubular rims for $250 and then rode coast-to-coast across the US the following year, though on clincher rims.

This museum was as French as the automobile museum in Mulhouse.  There was no mention of Eddie Merckx riding for the Peugeot team early in his career or Tommy Simpson either, winning the World Championship on a Peugeot.  America received a mention though in the list of Peugeot automobile wins.  The first came in 1894 in a race from Paris to Rouen and the latest up Pikes Peak in Colorado in 2013.  The gift shop had nothing bicycle-related, just books and models devoted to the car along with t-shirts and other garments with the Peugeot logo 

If these two automobile museums hadn't sated me, I could have spent a couple more days taking advantage of the many other museums of Mulhouse devoted to trains, electricity, wall paper, printed fabrics, history and fine arts.  One of the nicest features of the city was  free WIFI in the downtown district, something that ought to be available everywhere in every city and probably will be sometime in the future.  Yvon's branch library didn't offer WIFI.  Fortunately it was just a couple miles into the city center on a bike path paralleling one of the several tram lines in the city.  A tram ticket was little more than a euro and was quite popular.  One could hear the hum of the tram from Yvon's 16th floor apartment that he has had for thirty years.  As always, it was a great pleasure to be under the comforting wing of Yvon.  We are looking forward to connecting once again during The Tour after the peloton leaves the Pyrenees and heads to the Alps.  


Zekeriya KAZANCI said...

Hey George,
That's great museum that I have to see. I have just you an e-mail. I hope you get your e-mail back. I was about to send you money :) but it is a good thing that I read your blog that I know you are in France not in Istanbul. Take care my friend.

Tim Furlong said...

Sorry George. I think I lost my arrow in the move.