Sadly, natural resources and a central location, have also made Alsace one of the continent’s most fiercely contested territories.
During the Middle Ages, fortified towns and cities were conceived and built as safe havens for the surrounding population. Long before wine writers would explore geological diversity amongst Grand Cru vineyards, rocks of a startling range of color and type were quarried to build towns, cathedrals and most importantly, defensive walls. These postcard-perfect towns withstood the test of time, but many could not stand up to gun powder in 1944.
From the start of the Industrial Revolution, Alsace, a prime source of steel for tanks and agricultural riches to feed the troops, was coveted by the Germans.
The last battles of World War II left a string of flattened five hundred year old villages in their wake. They were no match for the artillery and bombers of 20th century. Ammerschwihr, the home of Domaine Martin Schaetzel, became a stronghold for the retreating Germans and was leveled. In the days leading to the Battle of Colmar its architecture, patrimony and much of its population was decimated.
The last reversal was earned by the American and French armies as they fought their way west over the mountains on the southernmost flank of the final Allied push into Germany. As the Allies rolled towards Colmar, the Germans established defenses in Ammerschwihr. In November and December, 1944, American bombers, artillery and soldiers literally razed the city on their way to a broader victory.
Along with most of the town, the Schaetzels survived the worst of the bombing and the resulting fires that swept through the city by hiding in the 17th century caves of their neighbors at Domaine Kuhn. While the fires raged, Riesling, Geuwrztraminer, Pinot Blanc and whatever else the Kuhn’s had grown in 1943 saved the townsfolk. The cellar’s wooden door caught fire, but the wine was used to soak the door from the inside out and the fire was repelled.
Jean cannot remember a meal with his father where the war, its destruction and its cost was not discussed.
First Hand Accounts
The 36th Division from Texas
pushed its way over the Vosges,
through Ammerschwihr and into