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. You can find military museums and sites in all of our neighbouring countries, but this article highlights the top picks in France all within a 3-4 hours drive.
*As always remember to check Covid restrictions when crossing the border.
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: Germany and Military Museums & Sites: Belgium
In February 1916 the Germans launched an attack on Verdun which lasted 300 days. This was one of the biggest battles of the First World War, fought as German troops tried to gain control of high ground above Verdun from which they could bombard the town with artillery fire. Verdun was the last great fortress town standing between German invading forces and Paris. It has been estimated that more than 700,000 soldiers were casualties.
The Verdun Memorial Museum
This museum is a good starting point. It recreates the stories of those on both sides of the battle through a series of beautifully presented displays, including military objects as well as those relating to everyday life on the front and in the rear. Outside visitors can look out on the battlefield landscape.
Where: Mémorial de Verdun, 1 Avenue du Corps Européen, Fleury-devant-Douaumont, 55101 Verdun
When: Open daily. 22 February – 31 March 2016 9am-5.30pm. Open until 6.30pm on Saturdays and Sundays. 1 April – 13 November 2016 9am-7pm, 14 November – December 23 2016 9am-5.30pm. Closed from 23 December until late January 2017.
Cost: Rates for access to the whole Museum: Adults €11, concessions €7. Family tickets €25. Tickets for temporary exhibition only: Adults €5, concessions €2. Group rates are available by prior arrangement.
There are numerous memorials and museums to the Battle of Verdun in and around the town which are worth a visit:
- Fort Douaumont
- Underground Citadel of Verdun
- Ossuary of Douaumont
- Bayonet Trench memorial
Do visit the website of the local tourist office to plan your visit as there is certainly lots to see.
- Top tip: Nearby is the destroyed village of Fleury-devant-Douaumont. It was at the centre of fierce fighting during the battle for Verdun. Today visitors can still trace the outlines of its streets and houses. A total of nine villages near Verdun “died for France” during World War One. They were never rebuilt and stand as memorials to those who suffered in the battle.
Fort Queuleu, Metz
Tensions between France and Germany at the end of the nineteenth century led to the decision by France to strengthen its border defences. Metz was close to the border and an important rail and road crossing, so a series of artillery forts were added. Construction on Fort Queuleu was begun in 1868. In 1870 France was defeated by Germany in the Franco-Prussian War, or War of 1870, and the area around Metz was annexed to Germany. The fort was renamed Fort Goeben.
It had fallen into disuse by World War One. However, during World War Two the Moselle was once again annexed into Germany, and from 1943-1944 one of the barracks was used by the Gestapo as a special interrogation camp. From here detainees were sent on to concentration camps. This section of the fort can be visited as part of a guided tour. Mannequins are used to convey a sense of some of the terrifying experiences of the detainees.
Where: Allee Jean Burger, 57070, Metz
When: Visits to the exterior are self guided. You can visit January to February: 9am – 5pm, March: 8am – 7pm, April to September: 7:30am – 9pm, October: 8am – 7pm, November to December: 9am – 5pm
Cost: Visits to the exterior are free, guided tours of the interior are available on Sunday afternoons or by appointment on firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a programme of special events. For further details consult their website.
The only Nazi run concentration camp on modern day French territory was established in 1941 following the annexation of the Alsace region to Germany. Here, over 22,000 deportees died. Many prisoners were resistance members taken from German occupied territories. They were forced to labour in support of the German war effort. So called “medical” experiments were carried out on site.
Visitors can see the remains of the camp whilst the museum tells the story of the site and of the people who lived and died here. The European Centre of Deported Resistance Members (Le Centre européen du résistant déporté, or CERD) has information on the history of the European resistance movements which sprang up against Fascist and Nazi oppression. The displays at the European Centre are in French, German and English. The gallery text at the KL-Natzweiler Museum is in French but German translations are available, as is a visitors guide printed in French, English and German.
Where: European Centre of Deported Resistance Members, Site of the former Natzweiler camp, DIACVG Alsace, Route départementale 130, 67130 Natzwiller
When: 1 March – 15 April daily 9am – 5pm, 16 April – 15 October daily 9am-6.30pm. Last admission one hour before closing. Closed 24 December – end of February. Closed 1 May 2016.
Cost: Admission to the site of the former camp is free, just go to the reception desk of the European Centre to collect a ticket. Tickets for admission to the KL-Natzweiler Museum and CERD cost €3. Children under 10 go free, as do holders of the Carte du Combattant, Carte de Carte de Déporté ou Interné résistant ou politique and the Carte de Patriote Résistant à l’Occupation. Joint tickets are available for admission to the KL-Natzweiler Museum and the nearby Alsace-Moselle Memorial.
The Alsace-Moselle Memorial
Between 1870 and 1953 the nationality of the Alsace-Moselle region changed four times, pitched back and forth between France and Germany. The memorial outlines the history of this period, with particular focus on the period of World War Two from 1939-1945 and the impact of living under the occupation of a totalitarian regime.
Where: Chauffour, 67130 Schirmeck
When: 1 October – 3 April 10am-6.30pm. Open every day except Monday. Ticket office closes at 5pm. 4 April – 30 September 10am – 6.30pm. Open every day except Monday. Ticket office closes at 5pm. Annual closures on 1 May, 24 – 26 December, 31 December – 1 January, 4 – 11 January open for groups and reservations only.
Cost: Adults €10, young people under 21, students, adults over 65, unemployed, veterans, teachers €8. Family pass €25. Free audio guides available.
The Maginot line was a series of fortifications constructed in France during the 1930s. They ran along the borders with Germany from Switzerland to Luxembourg and their purpose was to protect the country against invasion. A short distance from Luxembourg you can visit the Galgenberg fortress complex of blocks, turrets and underground barracks. The Maginot “line” did not simply consist of a line; it included lookouts, border and observation posts, obstacles and fortifications, as well as the barracks and supply depots to support them. In the woods surrounding the Galgenberg underground fort visitors can get an idea of the complexity of the Maginot line system and the scale of its construction by following the paths to see several smaller bunkers as well as anti tank defences, command posts and the remains of railway tracks used by the military.
Where: Allée des Platanes, 57570 Cattenom
Distance: About 30km
When: Sundays and public holidays from May 1 – September 30. Tours depart every hour from 2pm – 5pm. Meet at reception. Also open on November 11, with tours departing every hour between 9am and 5pm. Tours are available by appointment all year round by contacting them on 00 33 03 82 55 34 69 or emailing email@example.com. Sundays and public Cost: €5 individuals, with minimum price of €20 for tours by reservation, €4 per person groups of up to 6 people, €15 per person for internal and external tour for groups of 1-5 people, €10 per person for internal and external tour for groups of 6 or more visitors. Tours taking in the exterior of the site must be arranged by appointment.
WARNING: Due to the subject matter involved it is worth exercising caution at places such as the former concentration camp at Struthof Natzweiler and some parts of Fort Queuleu (which discusses the treatment of prisoners), before planning a visit with children. In some cases there are grave sites present.