Renovations refresh museum dedicated to WWI battle of Verdun
By MICHAEL ABRAMS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 5, 2016
The World War I battle of Verdun lasted 300 days and left more than 300,000 people dead and 400,000 wounded. A century later, the earth is still scarred with craters made by incoming shells.
On this bloody battleground stands the Verdun Memorial Museum, which, after a two-year renovation, reopened in February in time for the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle.
The museum, established in 1967, has been completely remodeled with more audio-visual exhibits to go along with the static displays and an added third floor used as a documentation center, classroom and temporary exhibit space.
On the ground floor, the exhibit begins with the history of the Great War, then concentrates on the Battle of Verdun. The second floor focuses on life during wartime for soldiers and civilians, plus military aviation — at the time, a new twist to war.
The first audio-visual display has witnesses’ descriptions of the opening bombardment of Verdun by German artillery on Feb. 21, 1916.
Images projected on the topo-graphy of the Verdun battlefield show how the front lines changed over the course of the battle. Other exhibits on this floor show artillery, rifles, pistols, bayonets and even a field kitchen.
Also on display are the personal items soldiers carried into battle. Visitors can pull out drawers in the display cases that hold even more items, such as magazines and pamphlets.
The centerpiece of the museum is the battlefield display. In the foreground are various weapons used, while videos and photos projected on large screens show the progression of the battle from before it began to the aftermath with its shattered landscape. Images include explosions, soldiers crawling through the trenches and rescuing wounded. Audio is provided through headphones.
Hanging from the ceiling are two full-size models of French and German warplanes, which can be better viewed from the second floor.
Daily life exhibits on the second floor range from games soldiers played — chess, checkers, cards — to the food they ate. Religion on the battlefield is covered, as is life on the home front, the missing and how the dead were buried. The work by the medical corps is also highlighted, including an American volunteer ambulance squad.
The battle ended on Dec. 19, 1916, but the war would last almost two more years. The United States entered the war in 1917, and in September 1918, Americans fought two battles in the Verdun area. Their contributions to ending the war, at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, are also marked in the exhibit.
Verdun Memorial Museum
The Verdun Memorial Museum, 1, Avenue du Corps Europeen, 55101 Fleury-devant-Douaumont, France. The museum is about 135 miles from Kaiserslautern, roughly a 2½-hour drive. Take Autobahn A6 to the French border and then follow signs to Metz, then Paris on France A4. Exit at Verdun and follow signs to Champ de bataille Vaux-Douaumont.
Be sure to take your passport with you. There can be checks at the German-French border.
Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 1 to Nov. 13; and from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 14 to March 30.
Admission is 11 euros (about $12.60) for adults, 7 euros for children age 6 to 17 , kids under 6 get in free. A family pass for two adults and two children is 25 euros, additional kids pay 7 euros. Parking is free. French road tolls are 18.80 euros round trip.
There are coffee and cold drink vending machines on the top floor, but no food. Nearby Verdun has plenty of cafes and restaurants.
The museum’s website, at the moment only in French, is memorial-verdun.fr, the Verdun city site isen.verdun-tourisme.com. To read more about Verdun and the battle, go to www.stripes.com/travel/verdun-france-site-stands-as-monument-to-bloody-wwi-battle-1.273775