Rising from the ruins and rubble of the devastating aftermath of the 1950 Korean War, Seoul managed to regain its dignity and stand tall once again, going on to achieve a period of unprecedented economic growth, dubbed the “Miracle on the Hangang River.” The European countries that played a part in this remarkable feat claimed a stake in Seoul and together with local Koreans, infused parts of the city with the unique flavors of Europe.
This is a journey through the “European villages” of Seoul.
Streets lined with exotic, French-style cafes and restaurants, the wonderful aroma of bakeries, and snippets of the French language heard here and there are some of the unique characteristics of Seorae Village in Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu.
There is even something distinctively “French” in the way the French locals walk their dogs here, which is just one of the reasons people call this place “Little France.”
Seorae Village first began to take shape when the French School of Seoul (Lycée Français de Seoul) relocated here from Hannam-dong in 1985, prompting French families to move in order to stay close to the school.
In contrast to the stores and shops on the main roads of this area, the smaller backstreets are lined with villas in which many French people have taken up residence, recreating a neighborhood of France in Seoul.
However, you will find much more than French cuisine here. Seorae Village is a hub of international gastronomy, featuring restaurants from various countries, including Italy and Mexico, making it a favorite dating spot on the weekends.
Strolling along the streets, densely packed with cafes and restaurants, you will eventually come to the French School, where passersby often take photographs of each other leaning against the impressive building.
There are around 1,200 French residents in Korea, and about half of them live near the school.
A famous destination in Seorae Village is Montmartre Park. Go past Seoripul Park, and you will enter a forest of lush trees that takes you to a hill with a gentle slope, where white rabbits can be seen hopping around casually. This is Montmartre Park, built by Seoul Metropolitan Government and Seocho-gu Office in 2006 to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Korea and France.
At the time, many French residents lived along the nearby access road, which they called “Montmartre Road,” and from which the park naturally derived its name. Although Seorae Village is situated in the middle of Gangnam in Seoul, a relaxing stroll along the wide grassy areas of this park will transport you to the real Montemartre in Paris for a short but magical moment.
Antoinette Sontag, a Russian woman of German origin and the sister-in-law of Karl Waeber, the first Russian consul general to Korea, is famous for being the person responsible for making King Gojong a coffee lover. To show his appreciation, he presented her with a hanok (traditional Korean house), which she transformed into a western-style hotel. In 1902, she opened a restaurant and café on the first floor, which became Korea’s very first café. Sontag took cream and sugar in her coffee, known as the “German” way, and with that, Korea’s coffee culture was born.
Sontag is no longer with us, but she was the first person to bring a small taste of Germany to Korea.
When major German companies, such as BMW, Lufthansa, and Paulaner Brewery, gather to celebrate Oktoberfest, Germany’s traditional beer festival, the entire neighborhood of Hannam-dong suddenly becomes “German.”
As the most preferred neighborhood among foreign expats, Hannam-dong hosts a community of some 400 German residents. Also located in the area, the German School Seoul International offers German curricula from kindergarten through to high school. Many Germans live in comfort here in high-end villas with large gardens overlooking the Hangang River.
Korea and Germany maintain particularly close ties based on their shared experiences as divided countries. Also, in the past, many Korean miners and nurses went to Germany to work, helping build the foundation for Korea’s economic development.
Later, Germany managed to achieve unification, becoming the envy of Korea, and the mutual exchange between the two countries regarding their experiences of separation and unification has further deepened bilateral relations.
During the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, England dispatched the second largest military force, after the United States, to fight on behalf of Korea. The strong ties of friendship that had been maintained between Korea and England before the war served as the background for England’s active support in the conflict.
The Anglican Church first put down roots in Joseon in 1890, when it provided modern education for Korean people and set up an orphanage to care for Korean children.
In 1914, the Anglican Church of Korea founded the Saint Michael’s Theological Seminary, which has now become Sungkonghoe University. Located in Guro-gu, the university can be reached via Exit 2 of Onsu Subway Station,
The Anglican Church was the beginning of Korea’s relationship with England, and it has become a symbol of the strong friendship between the two countries today.
Since ancient times, Turkey has maintained a presence in the minds of Koreans and in the history of the country. Long ago, the country was known as “Gokturks.” “Gokturk” is the pronunciation of the Chinese characters for “Turks,” which is what the Turkish people call themselves.
Later, Turkey became one of the countries that dispatched troops to fight in the Korean War, and the two have been “brother countries” ever since, forging a strong friendship.
In 2002, the Korean people welcomed and cheered the Turkey team at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. When Korea and Turkey met face-to-face in the third place playoff match, the Turkish people are said to have wept with emotion at the sight of the massive Turkish flag on the grandstand.
Now, a piece of Turkey can be found in Seoul at Ankara Park in Yeouido. Ankara and Seoul became sister cities in 1971, and a park named after Turkey’s capital city was created in honor of this alliance. In 1992, a building from a traditional Turkish vineyard was set up inside the park. Soon after, the City of Ankara donated traditional folk items and decorated the interior of the building, which was opened as Ankara House in 1995.
The traditional everyday items exhibited in Ankara House include furniture, kitchenware, farming equipment, and other daily tools and utensils that were actually used in a Turkish vineyard in Ankara. Of the handicrafts kept in Ankara House, the silver-framed mirrors and traditional costumes, which have been worn by the Turkish people for weddings and festivals since the early 16th century of the Ottoman Empire, are considered highly valuable by the Turkish people. This is a place where you can experience a smaller, but no less valuable, version of Turkey in Seoul.