Walking Tall at Obernai Fetes
When I arrived in Strasbourg to work as an English teaching assistant it was late September it was unseasonably warm and sunny. As autumn finally (and somewhat surprisingly) descended upon Strasbourg the leaves turned brown and amber and yellow and red, and on a clear blue Sunday morning I met up with some of the other assistants for La Fête d’Automne in the town of Obernai. The first proper chill in the air making coffee and a giant, pistachio macaron absolute necessities.
Plans to Obernai
No matter how many times it happens I never seem to learn a simple lesson: a spontaneous train trip on a Sunday in France is not always as straightforward as it sounds. After dragging out of bed bright discovered that the train to Obernai did not leave until the afternoon. I took my time breakfasting in the Strasbourg central station, sipping cafés and nibbling patisseries before boarding the train.
The Alsatian region in the northeastern corner of France is dotted with tiny, German, chocolate-box towns, except they are French. Hearing snippets of conversations in the Germanic regional dialect, Alsatian, seeing the exposed timber buildings and smelling the hearty sausage, it is easy to forget that I was on the French side of the border.
The Sights and Smells of Obernai Fetes
During the festival the bite-size town-centre of Obernai is peppered with stalls offering autumnal treats. One of my recently discovered favourites is nouveau vin or new wine. It was once described to me as, “more than grape juice, but not quite wine,” a pretty accurate description actually. I handed over my two Euros and in return received a plastic cup of a cloudy, pale yellow beverage, to me it tastes a bit like (North American) apple cider with a kick and is absolutely worth the trip.
The smell of grilled sausage was overwhelming and I indulged in protein for the first time in what seemed like centuries. The steaming hot sausages served in a fresh, crunchy baguette did not disappoint. First I tried the traditional white sausage, I nearly burned my mouth as I pierce the skin and searing hot, savoury juices spilled out. Next was the spicy, bright red merguez from North-Africa, and a reminder that France’s complex cultural mix penetrates even the most traditional of events. I sat in the town square watching the townspeople, some of whom were dressed in traditional Alsatian folk costumes as the sun warmed my back and strong mustard stung my nostrils.
Everyone Loves a Parade
The highlight of the festival was the parade through the town. Groups from sister and partner towns were well-represented including Belgians dressed in their national colours, yellow, black and red, teetering on stilts, entertaining the gathered crowd with tricks that makes me hold my breath, worrying that one will tumble to the ground. An entirely unexpected but wildly entertaining and vibrantly colourful Bulgarian delegation wow the crowd in impressive feather covered costumes.
There was small exhibit to educate visitors about the local plant life and produce, including a stall that offered honey from the town’s beekeeping co-op. As a souvenir I brought home a jar of local forest honey. The honey possesses all the aromas and sensations of the forest, the flavour of pine is tangible, but not overpowering. Now when I go to the cupboard for a little taste I am whisked back to a chilly and glowing autumn Sunday in Obernai and my first taste of Alsatian folk-culture.
La Fête d’Automne is a yearly event that takes place on the third weekend of October in Obernai, France.
Written by Nikita Oliver-Lew