Today was the much anticipated visit to Robert Schuman’s house in Scy-Chazelles, a conveniently short bus ride just outside of Metz. When we got there, we had a nice presentation on what the European Union is and how it has had ups and downs since the Schuman Declaration in 1950. We also got a play a competitive round of EU-related Jeopardy, which I think everyone really enjoyed (even those of us who lost).
If anyone didn’t know who Robert Schuman was before this program, I’m sure they can recite his life story by now. The Franco-German rivalry that we’ve been studying in many of our site visits was actually personal to him, as his family had been French or German and Luxembourgish, depending on which country had control over the area of Lorraine his father was from. Schuman actually lived in Metz for a significant amount of his life and was a representive for Thionville (just a 30 minute drive north) in the French National Assembly for almost 40 years, so he was very familiar with the situation in Lorraine after both WWI and WWII.
Most importantly for our program, he was the person behind the construction of the European Coal and Steel Community, which he announced in the Quay d’Orsay on May 9, 1950 during his time as the French Foreign Affairs Minister. Unlike the general sentiment at the time, Schuman wanted to welcome the Germans (and anyone else who wanted to join) into a union, rather than punishing them like they had after WWI. We actually got to see the desk where he wrote the document, and a copy of the text.
His house was actually very modest, but interesting at the same time. I probably could’ve spent hours just looking at his book collection on the shelves in almost every room in the house. The guide also told us that he collected autographs, and we actually got to see the signatures of the Belgian monarchs from 1950 and the signatures of King George VI and the Queen Mother Elizabeth. Apparently, he also had signatures from famous philosophers and writers like Goethe and Kant, as well as French kings (unfortunately we did not get to see those).
After visiting the inside of the house, we went outside to the gardens. They were filled with all kinds of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and also these really interesting signs that tell the story behind the national anthem of each member state.
Also in the gardens was a monument called the “Flamme de l’Europe” which I imagine looks quite nice at night.
We also walked across the street to the chapel where Schuman is buried. It’s quite modest, much like his house, and interestingly all the flags of the EU member states, most of whom weren’t members when Schuman died, are inside. I thought that was a touching tribute to the vision that he had and how it is still carrying on today.
This was an excellent final site visit of the Lorraine region, and I think it was also a great way for us to review what we’ve learnt so far and to put one of the “founding fathers” of Europe into a more personal perspective.