Reims and the Unconditional Surrender

Reims architecture
Reims architecture

Reims and the Unconditional Surrender

by Nicole Shaffer
Stripes Europe

Less than three hours from the Kaiserslautern Military Community sits the French champagne capital of the world, Reims. Within the winding chalk tunnels and caves below the city, storied Champagne houses age bottles of France’s most famous exports. Local guides take eager tourists on vineyard tours, through orchestrated tastings, and into the cool cellars where the sparkling white wine awaits completion. Nearby, within the city center, stands a majestic cathedral in which centuries of French kings were crowned. Cafes and bistros line the cobbled streets, offering sumptuous regional fare. While a stop at this gateway to the Champagne region is a definite bucket list item to be checked, another reason to visit Reims holds a bit more significance than you might realize.

There’s more to Reims than the bubbly.

The Second World War brought about devastation which the world had never seen. Cities were leveled, landscapes were left unrecognizable, and much of Europe lay in ruins. After six years of warfare, an end to the fighting was finally at hand- and Reims was at the center of it all. On May 7th, 1945, at 2:41 am, within the walls of an unassuming college schoolhouse, a secret meeting took place that forever changed the course of history. For it was in Reims, at General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces headquarters, that the actual unconditional surrender of the German Third Reich took place. As Eisenhower waited in another room, representatives of the four Allied Powers (France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States), watched as General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces, signed the instruments of surrender. May 8th is recognized as the end of World War II-Victory in Europe Day- even though the initial signing took place the day before.

Today, a small museum located near the Gare de Reims train station, the Musée de la Reddition, memorializes the capitulation. Free for children and military veterans (including American service members), the Museum of Surrender brings visitors into the map room where the signing took place, and where the original table and chairs still stand. The name of each representative marks the seat in which each man sat. Allied maps remain on the walls, frozen in time, and so all of Europe appears to witness the end of conflict, and the dawn of a new day. The museum provides an excellent video in English that presents the war’s impact on Reims as well as the surrender. Military artifacts and newspaper articles adorn the walls, and the significance of this unassuming brick building (which still functions as a school) comes to life. Hours of operation and additional information can be found on the Reims museum website

When you visit the Champagne region of France, sample its famous sparkling wine. Stop in for a glass or two in one of the plush Champagne House parlors as an expert sommelier educates you on the exquisite notes and flavors of each label. But also take the opportunity to imagine Eisenhower and his staff managing the European Theater from within the small rooms and hallways of a nondescript building in Reims. Take note of the floor to ceiling maps marking troop movement and supply routes. Appreciate being in the room where it all came to an official end, the place where the rebuilding of humanity became a possibility. And, finally, toast to peace.


*Historical information for this article obtained from the National Archives and the International Money Fund.


Nicole Shaffer is an active duty Army spouse, homeschool mom of three, and a Trip Leader with EuroTrip Adventures. She loves to encourage families to get out and explore and chronicles her family’s travel adventure on her blog and social media page: Army Wife, Travel Life.

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