The Robertsau, a farming village
The Robertsau is surrounded by the river Ill, the Marne Rhine Canal and the Rhine itself and was initially inhabited by fishermen, gravel dredgers, boat builders and smallholders, the latter of whom mainly lived on small islands around the arms of the Ill and the Rhine and made use of local resources, including horse manure from the many nearby barracks. Market gardening was the main focus for these smallholders and the area was known as the breadbasket of the city. Although farming now is on a much smaller scale than in the past, substantial traces still remain, such as the glasshouses in rue du Capitaine Fiegenschuh and the many old farmhouses dotted around the district.
With the crowded and often unhealthy conditions of the inner city, the Robertsau became a haven for nobles and the bourgeoisie.
In 1801, baron de Bussière acquired a vast estate, which he gradually turned into a 24 hectare park, designed in the English style, and in which he built a château. His granddaughter, who married the count of Pourtalès, played hostess there to the elite of the Second Empire. In 1975, Schiller International University moved into the building. The 60-hectare Bussière farm is currently the seat of the Rhine Forest Conservatory.
Development up to the late 19th century
The building of the Rhine dike in the second half of the 19th century was a key factor in the development of the Robertsau. As flooding became less frequent, industry started moving in to replace the district's craftsmen. Examples included a candle factory and the Robertsau paper factory, which replaced a mill on the Muhlwasser in 1872 and used hydraulic energy. Its production peaked at 25,000 t per year by the end of the 20th century, before it closed down a couple of years ago.
With the progress made in farming technology and the influx of gardeners from Strasbourg, market gardening, with its five crops every year, became a major contributor to the local economy. The tradition lives on in the district, with some 900 allotments created since the early 20th century (the city has a total of 4800 allotments).
As the population grew, new roads branched out on either side of rue Boecklin, the central thoroughfare of the original village. These roads were straighter than the winding routes to be found nearer the Ill and the Rhine, paving the way for a more urban housing structure. Housing also stretched along the route de la Wantzenau, which now features an attractive mix of half timbered houses and more modern structures.
In 1913, city architect Fritz Beblo, began the construction of the North Cemetery, set in an area of calm around a rectangular lake. Beblo was seeking to create a new architectural manifesto, between classicism and modernity, which would offer a balance between the city and nature. When Beblo took German nationality after the signature of the Treaty of Versailles, his ex-assistant, Paul Dopff, took over the project.
The port aux pétroles
In addition to its vast areas of farmland, the Robertsau also saw the creation of the port aux pétroles area for the storage of petroleum and chemical products, after the First World War. The port facilities have been continuously upgraded since the area moved to the Rhine at the end of the 19th century. In 1924, work began on providing docking and loading facilities in the bassin Albert-Auberger to cope with the development of barge traffic on the Rhine, while additional work was also carried out to construct new protective dikes.
Urbanisation since 1950
The post-war period saw the Robertsau undergo considerable expansion, with, for example, the 1,760 social housing units built on the 25 hectare site in the Cité de l’Ill,, between 1958 and 1961. The Cité's Schwab tower, with its 16 stories, is now a well-known local landmark.
The Robertsau has also extended its boundaries towards the north and south east, with new housing developments and it now stretches right up to the city's central districts.
The Wacken and the European institutions
The Wacken is an island covering an area as large as the oval island of Strasbourg itself and stretches between the rivers Ill and Aar. The area was cut in two by the Marne Rhine Canal in 1850. Located along the glacis of the 17th-century fortifications, it was a favourite walking spot for the local population and has seen its landscape change through various projects since 1835.
In the early 20th century, the Tivoli sector was urbanised with beamed houses, the only ones allowed in the glacis area, before the 1922 law. Located next to the place de Bordeaux, the new entry point to the town since the construction of the Neustadt, the sector represents the outer boundary of the Wacken, as does the cité Ungemach garden-city development, located on the Ile Sainte-Hélène, between the Ill and Aar rivers. Ungemach was created by an industrialist with firm ideas about family life and hygiene, and who made his fortune from supplying provisions to the Army during the First World War. The land was leased out on a long-term basis by the city, and work began in 1923, under the supervision of architects P de Rutté and J. Sorg. The final development comprised a mixed bag of 180 houses, varying in size from between 100 to 230 m², with gardens of 300 to 550 m². The development is now owned by the City, and there is a strong demand for its houses, which are managed by the authority's housing company Habitation moderne.
The Wacken took on a new role in 1927, with the construction of the Exhibition-Fair, which became the Foire européenne (European fair) in 1933. The exhibition area and the nearby Palais de la musique et des congrès (concert hall and convention centre) are part of a modernisation and expansion project, led by the City.
A business district was built in the Wacken in the 1970s, followed by a number of European institutions. The European district, located below the Marne Rhine Canal, in the Orangerie district, now stretches from the Wacken to the Robertsau, with the construction of the new Court of Human Rights in 1995 (architects R. Rogers & Partners and C. Bucher), the new European Parliament building (also called the Louise Weiss building) in 1995 (Architecture Studio Europe), the European Pharmacopoeia or European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines and Healthcare in 2007 (architects Art Building - Denu & Paradon) and the Agora of the Council of Europe in 2008 (architects Art and Build - Denu & Paradon).
The sector is continuing to develop with the Wacken-Europe project.