5 European war memorials to visit

Cemetery outside of the Douaumont Ossuary | Photo by Stefan Rotter
Cemetery outside of the Douaumont Ossuary | Photo by Stefan Rotter

5 European war memorials to visit

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Europe has been ravaged by war many times over. From the Roman Empire, Napoleon, World Wars I and II, history and the lessons learned from these vicious times are all but forgotten. Being stationed in Europe gives us, as Americans, the opportunity to learn more about the conflicts in which our ancestors fought. While many monuments, including the D-Day beaches of Normandy and the Luxembourg American Cemetery (Gen. Patton’s final resting place) are highly visited, here are five slightly lesser-known memorials and monuments worth a stop.

Mémorial Verdun — Verdun, France
The Battle of Verdun during World War I was the biggest and longest battle between France and Germany during that war. From Feb. 21 to Dec. 18, 1916, fighting raged along the hills in northeast France. The village of Fleury-devant-Douaumont switched hands between the French and the German 16 times before it was eventually completely decimated. With close to 1 million injuries and deaths, Verdun was also one the most costly battles in history.

Today, visitors can see the trenches and fox holes that remain. With interactive displays and exhibits, you can peek into what the battlefield looked like during the war. There is also a sobering memorial at the Trench of Bayonets, where French troops were buried alive after their trench caved in during shelling, leaving only the tips of their bayonets protruding the surface. You can also pay respects at the Douaumont Ossuary, where the unidentified remains of more than 130,000 French and German soldiers have been entombed.

Churchill War Rooms — London, England
With constant air raids and bombing, the British government created an underground lair. The majority of troops movements and directives during World War II were given from this intricate labyrinth of tunnels and alcoves beneath the streets of London. Complete with code-scrambling communication devices and BBC broadcasting equipment, Winston Churchill utilized the rooms from 1940 through the end of the war in 1945. Essentially abandoned after the war, public access to the rooms was not granted until 1984.

Visitors can walk through the various rooms and envision what life must have been like during the height of the war. The Map Room is guaranteed to take your breath away. Huge maps cover the concrete walls, and pinholes and colored yarn still mark the various battlefronts and movements. You can also learn more about the former boisterous prime minister through interactive displays.

Birkenkopf — Stuttgart, Germany
A little closer to those stationed in Germany, this rather unusual memorial to World War II is located on the western edge of Stuttgart. During the war, Stuttgart was an industrious city that produced materials for the German war machine. This, in turn, made Stuttgart a rather large target for Allied bombing raids. As a result, more than half of the city (including the entire city center) was destroyed. With more than 530 million cubic feet of rubble, the Birkenkopf bluff was created.

At more than 1,600 feet high, the Birkenkopf is the highest point in Stuttgart. Visitors trekking to the top will recognize the slowly fading facades of destroyed buildings as they approach the top. A 20-foot-tall cross has been erected at the top, along with a plaque commemorating the memorial to the dead and providing a warning to the living.

Centre de la Mémoire — Oradour-sur-Glane, France
On June 10, 1944, this quiet, serene village in France witnessed unimaginable tragedy. When 648 residents woke up that morning, they did not know that only six would be alive by the end of the day. The 2nd SS Panzer Division stationed nearby was given false information that an officer was being held captive in Oradour-sur-Vayres. The SS division mistakenly arrived in Oradour-sur-Glane and rounded up all of the residents, most of which perished when the church and barns were set ablaze or were shot trying to escape.

While a new village was built just a few kilometers away, the destroyed remains of the original still stand. The Centre de la Mémorial offers visitors a chance to see what the village was like before the war with interactive displays and exhibits. After visiting the museum, you can walk along the pathways to quietly reflect among the ruins of this once-lively village.

Museum of Surrender (Musée de la Reddition) — Reims, France
On May 7, 1945, the small unassuming Reims Technological College became part of history. Home to the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), officers of the German armed forces sat in a small room and signed an unconditional surrender in the presence of American, British, French and Russian officers.

Today, the college has been repurposed as the Lycée Roosevelt and still functions as a school. However, it now shares space with the Musée de la Reddition. Visitors can see the former headquarters’ Map Room, where the surrender was signed. Maps still adorn the walls, as well as the casualty and supply reports from the day. The museum also houses an impressive display of uniforms and artifacts from the war.

(Note: Some of these museums and monuments might have restricted hours and access during the pandemic. Check their websites for more details.)
 

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