Living in Luxembourg we are fortunate to be within easy reach of many fascinating sites relating to some of the most significant events in history. In 3 articles, City Savvy’s Miriam Scargall lists her top military museums and sites to visit in France, Germany and Belgium but within 3-4 hours drive from Luxembourg. Finally – Germany.
Visiting the places where important world events occurred gives you an understanding you just can’t get from books or pictures, and a chance to really empathise with the people who lived them at first hand. Many of these sites recall some of the darker moments of human history. Many present past events which can be difficult to think about or explain. These places might be about war, but they are also sites of reflection and inspiration.
- See also Military Museums & Sites: Luxembourg, Military Museums & Sites: France and Military Museums & Sites: Belgium
Siegfried Line Memorial Museum
Like the French Maginot Line, the Siegfried line was built in the 1930s. It consisted of thousands of defensive bunkers, tunnels and tank traps and stretched along the German border from the Netherlands all the way to Switzerland. In German the Siegfried line is also referred to as the Western Wall or Westwall.
This museum is in the old Gerstfeldhöhe fort, a surviving A-werk, or fortress. Over 14 kilometres of underground passages were part of the plan for this fort, as was a narrow gauge railway, hospital, and barracks for 800 men. Today there is lots to see and much remains intact; probably because this impressive structure was never used during World War Two. Kilometre after kilometre of passages blasted from the rock, a barracks and a large collection of uniforms, vehicles and material relating to World War Two are there for visitors to see.
Where: 2 In der Litzelbach, 66955 Pirmasens
When: Open Saturdays and Sundays 1pm-5pm. They have a closed period over the winter season, November – April. Please check the website for details.
Cost: Adults €6, concessions €4. Children under 6 go free. Guided tours are available by prior appointment.
Many different types of fortification were constructed along the Siegfried line, or Westwall. Besseringen B-Werk is the only complete surviving example of its type of fortification, built to construction standard “B”, which gives it its name. It has over 44 rooms and you can see how the 80 or 90 men stationed here would have lived, worked and relaxed. The bunker could be sealed off and operate separately in the event of attack as it had its own power supply and air filtration systems.
Where: B-Werk Besseringen, Near L 174, 66663 Merzig
When: Open Sunday afternoons between 2pm and 6pm from April – September. Last admission is at 5.30pm.
Hinzert Concentration Camp and Museum
A camp was first established here in the 1930s to house workers constructing the West Wall. A year later it became a police detention camp, with the workers occupied on military construction projects. From 1940 Hinzert was placed under control of the Inspector of Concentration Camps and was used for political prisoners. “Night and Fog” prisoners from France passed through here. Many of those incarcerated were resistance fighters from nearby Luxembourg.
Today visitors can spend time in the museum learning more about life in the camp. You can visit the site of the former SS barracks and the prisoners area, as well as a memorial chapel. In the nearby forest lie “sites of inhumanity” including mass graves. One of these belongs to Luxembourgish prisoners of the camp.
Photo credit: By Cayambe (Own work) (photo has been cropped) CC BY-SA 3.0(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
Where: NS-Dokumentationszentrum Rheinland-Pfalz, Gedenkstätte SS-Sonderlager/KZ Hinzert, An der Gedenkstätte, D-54421 Hinzert-Pölert
When: Tuesday to Friday 9am – 1pm and 2pm – 5 pm, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays 2pm – 5pm. Closed on Mondays.
- Top tip: the cemetery of the memorial site and the “Sites of Inhumanity” are open daily from 9am to 5pm (until 7pm from April to September) depending on the weather. Free guided tours are available, please check their website for further details.
Observation Post Alpha Memorial, Geisa
Point Alpha was a Cold War observation post for forty years, overlooking the Fulda Gap. Had the Cold War developed in to actual warfare, this valley system was believed to be one of two possible routes for a Soviet tank attack on the heart of West Germany and US military bases there. Both sides had plans to deploy nuclear weapons here in the event of armed conflict. In the mid sixties the US Army took over operation of the observation post. Those stationed there were responsible for monitoring Soviet radio traffic and maintaining surveillance of the nearby border with East Germany. Following the reunification of Germany the facility was closed.
It was reopened as a memorial to German Division and Reunification. Border installations have been reconstructed so visitors can see what the border between East and West Germany would have looked like. The border evolved from a barbed wire fence to a massive concrete fortification complete with areas protected by land mines. The museum discusses the history of the border crossing and the Division of Germany. Visitors can then discover more about the “peaceful revolution” which ended in the Reunification of the country. It’s a fascinating journey through some of Europe’s more recent history.
Where: Gedenkstätte Point Alpha, 1 Platz der Deutschen Einheit, 36419 Geisa
When: April – October open daily 9am-6pm, November – March open daily 10am-5pm, December – February Tuesday – Sunday 10am-4.30pm. Closed 24 and 25 December.
Cost: Adults €6, concessions €5, family ticket €18. Group rates are available. Guided tours on different themes available by prior appointment, refer to their website for full details.
WARNING: Due to the subject matter involved it is worth exercising caution at the former concentration camp at Hinzert before planning a visit with children.