© Alfonso Salgueiro

Transforming Experiences Remembrance and Travel

5 minutes

Remember, understand, hope

Travelling to commemorate can be an intense experience, especially for a German who decides to visit several World War II memorials in one day. Facing what these moments elicit and experiencing these settings for oneself is a worthwhile endeavour. A personal take on the war.

On this November morning, the sun rises through a veil of clouds and bathes the entire landscape in a pink, milky light. It’s peaceful, magical. I’m standing at the entrance to the American Military Cemetery in Hamm. Today, I’m going to visit memorial sites. They are a reminder of the Battle of the Bulge fought during the last two years of the war: German soldiers fought against the Luxembourgish, Americans, French and British. A lot of blood was shed in the Ardennes, especially during the winter months of 1944 and 1945.

Over 5,000 American soldiers were laid to rest here in Hamm. The huge black gate is adorned with a golden eagle and laurel wreaths, symbols of bravery in ancient times. The grass is frostbitten yet perfectly manicured. A few autumn leaves lie scattered around the crosses. Everything is clean and orderly.

Impressive symmetry

Amidst the countless white marble headstones lies the chapel with its colossal red granite angel reaching into the sky. Inside, the ceiling features a magnificent, golden mosaic portraying the Holy Spirit in the shape of a peace dove. The steps to the monument are low, allowing me to comfortably gaze into the distance while walking. I look at the row of crosses. Some bear the Star of David, others a Christian cross. Depending on where you stand, the gravestones appear either aligned or offset. Two fountains with descending basins splash on the green promenades between the graves. They are decorated with bronze dolphins and tortoises, symbolising rebirth and eternal life. The sculptures, paths and gravestones create a remarkably symmetrical whole.

The carvings on the headstones are discreet, almost invisible on the pure white marble. Some names sound European, even German. Did a few American soldiers have German ancestors? I wonder. Later, the Military Museum is going to provide answers to some of my questions.

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The hidden burial ground

The German Military Cemetery is nearby, hidden in the shadows. A few footsteps through a small door, past a simple, wrought-iron cross will lead you to the graves. Here, trees grow into the sky. The grey stone crosses contrast starkly with the snowy white headstones of the American cemetery. The cemeteries are very different: The American has shiny victory wreaths while the sober colours and greenery of the German site seem to assuage painful memories. It’s important to visit both memorial sites for a full experience.

Among the trees, men in camouflage are raking fallen leaves. The German soldiers are in Luxembourg for one week in November to care for the grounds both here and near the American cemetery. “We’re Bundeswehr volunteers. I like doing it. We’re preparing everything for a wreath-laying ceremony,” says soldier Carsten Westphal. He and his comrades travelled here from northern Germany for this occasion. They will also visit the National Museum of Military History in Diekirch, which is my next stop.

© Alfonso Salgueiro

Outside, two tanks indicate the entrance to the museum. The tour leads through the winding rooms of a former brewery with many arches and doors. The exhibit is impressive. Displays include historical photos and original war objects like defused weapons. Combat situations and scenes from everyday life are recreated using life-size dolls turned soldiers for eternity. Some items look like new, others are coated in patina, having laid in trenches or bomb shelters.

© Alfonso Salgueiro

In front of the National Museum of Military History in Diekirch, two tanks point the way to the entrance. The density of exhibits is impressive. The exhibition is a mixture of historical photos, original objects from the war days including disarmed weapons, reconstructed combat operations and everyday scenes.

More about the museum

War witnesses for eternity

The museum explores life and death during the war. What did people eat during battle and in shelters? What games did people play? What did they sleep on in basements? What did radio operators work with? An original Enigma cipher machine captures my attention. Military technology can be fascinating. I move on to a wooden box used to protect pets during bombing raids. Rusty weapons lie among autumn leaves. There are muddy tank treads. A DIY surgery kit for the front, including medical utensils to go. One of the dolls is having surgery. The light makes the fake blood glow red. I will carry these impressions with me into night.

The Schumanns Eck memorial trail in the forest near Wiltz is the last stop on my memorial days. Life-size photo figures suddenly emerge in the forest. They look alive even though they’re two-dimensional and in black and white. Two soldiers check passers-by. Others cook soup amid a skirmish. Two are huddled together, looking scared. One of them smokes a cigarette. They can’t be more than 18 years old. This isn’t a regular trail. Signs read “Caution! Mines!” and “Metal detectors prohibited!” The afternoon sun shines through the trees. It feels surreal.

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Pictures of soldiers come alive

It’s very cold up here, surrounded by the huge trees of the Ardennes, even though the sun hasn’t set yet. In January 1945, soldiers hid here and gave each other warmth and courage in the trenches and foxholes. Maybe they wrote yet another letter home. They must have felt unimaginably lonely. There’s a picture of a crouching soldier, his helmet on the ground. The real soldier has been dead for a long time. More than any picture in a museum, this Remembrance Trail helps me understand that this is a snapshot in time. This is a picture of a man who really existed. Nothing more, nothing less.

One group of people looks eerily real. The young fighters appear to run towards me and stare at me directly. Right beside them: a huge crater where a 500-pound American bomb was dropped. A beech tree grows almost right in the middle. Nature is reclaiming this place too. What remains, is hope.

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Stops along the remembrance path

9 results
  • © Alfonso Salgueiro
    Lancaster Memorial Weiswampach
    The Lancaster Memorial commemorates fourteen young men whose Lancaster bombers crashed near Weiswampach during the Second World War.
    Find out more
  • © Visit Éislek
    Memorial Site Schumann's Eck
    At the strategic road junction "Schumannseck", the most murderous position war raged for weeks during the Battle of the Bulge. Today, the 1944-1945 Liberation Memorial stands here in the spirit of reconciliation and understanding between peoples as a memorial against war in the world.
    Find out more
  • Luxembourg-Hamm, American Military Cemetery
    The Luxembourg-American Cemetery in Hamm is the final resting place of 5.076 American soldiers who primarily died on the territory of the Grand-Duchy, from September 1944 to February 1945.
    Find out more
  • © Visit Éislek
    Museum of the Battle of the Bulge Wiltz
    Discover the moving history of the "martyr town" during the Battle of the Bulge in the interactive museum in Wiltz. Experience history up close in the beautiful Wiltz Castle.
    Find out more
  • © Visit Éislek
    free
    with theLuxembourgCard
    Museum of the Battle of the Bulge Clervaux
    Explore the momentous Battle of the Bulge in the museum and gain insight into the decisive liberation of Luxembourg. Immerse yourself in history and discover the consequences of these historic events.
    Find out more
  • © Naturpark Oewersauer, Naturpark Oewersauer
    Circular routes
    Hiking trail Schumannseck - Site Memorial 1944-1945
    Distance: 3,12 km
    Duration: 0:50 h
    Difficulty: easy
    Find out more
  • © Visit Éislek
    Monastery of Cinqfontaines
    The small village of Cinqfontaines (Five Wells), not far from Troisvierges, is home to a former monastery built at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1941 it was confiscated by the Nazis who used it as a ghetto for Jews from Luxembourg.
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  • © Pancake! Photographie
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    National Museum of Military History Diekirch
    Discover life-size dioramas that sensitively depict the battles and lives of soldiers during the Second World War and explore the impressive collection of over 100,000 military artefacts!
    Find out more
  • © Visit Éislek
    free
    with theLuxembourgCard
    General Patton Memorial Museum
    The General Patton Memorial Museum in Ettelbruck commemorates the commander of the 3rd US Army whose troops liberated the town on 25 December 1944. The exhibition illustrates the most important events that occurred during the Second World War in Luxembourg.
    Find out more

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