Luxembourg City: Economic Epicenter

by Teresa Bitler

Jun 1, 2019
June 2019

ONE OF THREE HEADQUARTERS for the European Union — along with Brussels, Belgium, and Strasbourg, France — Luxembourg City’s location, natural resources and diversity make it one of Europe’s most important business cities. Amazon, Skype, iTunes, PayPal and similar multinationals maintain European headquarters here, not to mention many others who operate offices in the city.

The Gibraltar of the North, however, had much humbler beginnings. Initially it was just a castle; but because that castle was surrounded by ravines, it evolved into a strategic fortress fought over by the French, Germans, Dutch and others.

Every time a new country took control, the city absorbed some of the conquering country’s customs and people who remained behind. In fact, control shifted so regularly, the country of Luxembourg didn’t really have its own cultural identity until the 1867 Treaty of London forced the destruction of the city’s fortifications.

Soon after the discovery of iron ore here in the late 1800s, Luxembourg became one of the world’s wealthiest nations, and, as its capital, Luxembourg City became the country’s economic epicenter. International banking began to flourish in the city, followed by other industries including telecommunications and agriculture.

Today more than 160 nationalities live and work in Luxembourg City. Since real estate is expensive, many workers commute from elsewhere in the country or nearby France, Germany and Belgium. As a result, the city’s population swells from roughly 120,000 to more than 200,000 on weekdays during business hours.

Many of the commuters drive, making traffic a major issue. In an attempt to reduce congestion, Luxembourg City is investing heavily in public transportation. An extensive bus system already connects most of the city, including the Old City, once protected by the fortification’s now-destroyed walls; the Grund in the ravines below; and the business district of Kirchberg. The new 600-foot funicular, opened in 2017, connects the Grund to Kirchberg.

Plans are underway to eventually connect public trans-portation to the city’s central bus station and Luxembourg International Airport, less than four miles away in suburban Findel. By 2020 all existing public transportation will be free of charge in this small, safe and walkable city. It’s worth noting Luxembourg does not permit Uber to operate in the country, and taxis are extremely expensive.

Footpath along the Alzette River in the Grund district

Footpath along the Alzette River in the Grund district © MADRABOTHAIR – DREAMSTIME.COM

Most Luxembourg citizens speak at least three languages, making it easy to navigate the city and conduct business in it. In grade school students begin lessons in Luxembourgish, a German dialect with French words, and later learn German and French. They often study English, and some even speak a native language, like Portuguese, at home.

Business etiquette in Luxembourg is formal. Luxembourgers expect business meetings to begin on time and be brief unless conducted over a meal. Choose from several meeting spaces available for rent throughout the city, including ones at Neumünster Abbey and hotels like Le Place d’Armes and Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Ducal. Meetings generally are not conducted in informal places like coffee shops.

For a business meeting over lunch or dinner, head to Place d’Armes, a centrally located square in the Old City known as “the parlor of Luxembourg.” Brasserie du Cercle, Le Grand Café and the restaurants inside the Hotel Le Place d’Armes all offer good choices. Am Tiirmschen, located near the Bock Casemates fortification walls in the Old City, serves traditional Luxembourg dishes such as smoked pork with beans, bacon and dumplings.

Business lunches typically begin at 1 p.m. and last two hours, while dinners usually begin at 8 p.m. or later and last even longer. This allows time to get to know associates, but avoid getting too personal. Luxembourgers are private and find personal questions intrusive.

Restaurants in Luxembourg tend to serve French dishes in large portions, so after lunch or before a heavy dinner schedule time for a workout. Green spaces comprise nearly one-quarter of the city, providing plenty of opportunities for walking and jogging. If you are based in the Kirchberg business district, the trails behind Fort Thüngen and the Museum of Modern Art lead into a forested area that feels miles from the surrounding city.

Or get your steps in on the 3.5-mile Circuit Wenzel, which begins at the Bock Casemates. You can walk or jog the well-marked circuit with the stairs down into the Grund and back out, without stopping, or make it a sightseeing tour with a visit to the casemate fortifications and a detour through the Old City.

If you have additional downtime, purchase a one-, two- or three-day Luxembourg Card, allowing free access to more than 60 attractions as well as free second-class transportation throughout the country. Or focus on free local sites like Cathédrale Notre- Dame; the Grand Ducal Palace; or the outlying Luxembourg American Military Cemetery, the final resting place of U.S. Gen. George S. Patton.

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