Ugly ducklings deserve attention too
25th september 2019, par Remy
Our city of Strasbourg is filled with interesting buildings, each more beautiful than the next. This is something we talk about in great lengths in our walking tours. Yet, in a city with such a rich and long history, you always end up finding one ugly duckling somewhere…
However, as someone watching out for the downtrodden, I would like today to defend one of them : the Valentin-Sorg tower, on the Homme-de-Fer square.
The inhabitants of Strasbourg all know it, but many shift their gaze from it when they pass by. And with good reason: this tall concrete tower (48 meters high, not too bad) is honestly not the greatest beauty around. Now come on with me: if you take the first step forward, it may have some things to tell!
Also called the Stoskopf tower (named after its architect, Charles Gustave Stoskopf), it was not always considered a « wart » (a foul name given by a reader of the local newspaper in 1994). Upon its completion in 1955, it was deemed a solid and well-designed building, which benefited from war indemnities. It was also part of the reconstruction dynamic in Strasbourg, following the bombings of World War II. It remains an excellent example of post-war architecture. Back then, it did not trigger exclusively negative reactions : for some, it even was reminiscent of American skyscrapers (and that was a compliment).
Also, it was undoubtedly useful: the building’s purpose was to replace a block of smaller buildings that occupied the square’s center and blocked the traffic and the movement of people around town. These destroyed square meters of housing had to be replaced and this high tower was a clever solution.
Then came the real highlight: the Valentin-Sorg gastronomical restaurant that sat at the summit. Sometimes compared to the famous Maxim’s restaurant in Paris, it occupied the last two floors of the building and was of excellent repute. The main room would allow the gourmets seated there to enjoy the Kléber square from on high and to get a stunning view of the Cathedral.
Alas, if you are like me and so willing to go there and get a good meal, you will need a time traveling machine. The business changed hands one last time in 1991 and this was the starting point of its downfall: gone now is the restaurant and its glass casing.
After a dozen visits and controls, the safety commission decided against its re-opening in 1996. To comply with the standards, the number of persons up there would have been limited to 50 (including the staff) or a new emergency staircase or elevator would have had to be built.
The first solution was not economically sustainable, the second solution was costly and complicated to implement (let us remind that the building is 15 floors-high). And with that, our hopes to get a meal up there are ironically carried away by the wind…
A new hope?
Yet, the tower may not have said its final word! To begin with, it was graced with a new elevator in 2010. This required the use of a 70 meters-high crane, to bring the new elements up to the roof. But more importantly, when the inhabitants of Strasbourg were asked about the future of some of the city’s districts and buildings, a brilliant idea was given for this one: to turn the concrete walls into green ones, with plants! The old and outdated concrete obelisk would turn into a lighthouse of greenery right in the middle of downtown Strasbourg. A utopia thought? Perhaps, but you’ll admit that the idea is full of charm. And who knows? Maybe it will get so attractive that a bold restaurant owner will come forth and we will be able, once again, to drink one good beer with sauerkraut (almost) in the high heavens.