Continuing the game of catch-up with more sketches and sounds. As always, headphones are advised.
My wife and I have spent a lot of time camping around Europe, to save money but also for the convenience of staying close to our sites. Outside of populated areas, camping next to bunkers proved to be a great way to spend more time with them. Listen to some sounds from the campsite:
We had a very, very rough crossing of the English Channel from Poole. With my body pressed to the floor of the boat, bottles flying off the shelves in the convenience store, I thought of Allied troops on their way to the beaches of Normandy. (Does that make the ferry ride another kind of war memorial?) We stopped off on Guernsey, one of the UK's Channel Islands, though it is much closer to France. This was the only British territory occupied by the Germans in WWII.
This fire-control post, type M-5, reminds me of Mendelsohn's Einstein Tower. I wonder if the engineers of Organisation Todt (O.T.) which built the Atlantik Wall didn't have some postcards in the drafting studio.
(Even more relevant notes on the Einstein Tower and war
Another bunker, this one located at Batz-sur-Mer on the Loire-Atlantique coast, encourages me to believe that a 1937 Architectural Record was on the drafting board when the engineers of O.T. were planning the bunker types that were to proliferate across the new German empire. Yes, your innocent Falling Water inspired some beautiful bunkers.
I don't have the photo but this bunker was disguised as a French villa--the austere forms were in fact useful for propaganda photos by O.T. but not so desirable for surviving Allied bomb raids.
On the Pas de Calais at the north of France, we inspected some of the finest bunkers of the Atlantik Wall. My all-time favorite bunker is this one, a type 600 anti-tank gun emplacement with two stairs running up to the top. It is tilting about five degrees into the sand. The beach has probably retreated from where it once stood, waiting for the landing crafts that never came. Like so many thousands of bunkers on the Atlantik Wall, it is a beautiful memorial to waste.
Listen to me walk inside:
Near Wissant, the Batterie Todt was capable of striking England from the shores of France. These four massive batteries are sitting in farm fields and woods, peacefully rotting away. They make for enormous tree planters and pigeon roosts. Only one is being re-used and it's a giant museum stuffed with guns and costumed mannequins--I don't really like that sort of thing, but I do find the mannequins humorous. I get bored very quickly with the guns and the battle details. I prefer the bunkers empty or re-used as something other than a museum. As museums, the bunkers are like life-size doll-houses.
Listen to some pigeons in the giant bunker of Batterie Todt:
After we bid farewell to the Atlantik Wall, we left the coast for the first time in five weeks and headed for the Maginot Line in Lorraine, near the French border with Germany. Driving across farmland, no longer with our bunkers on the coastline to guide the way, we felt a bit lost. But then zooming down the highway, my wife spotted a Maginot Line bunker in a cow pasture. We pulled over and I asked the farmer if we could check it out. He laughed. Who would want to step around a bunch of cow pies to look at an old piece of concrete?
The Maginot Line is really the king of all bunkers, made famous by being "useless." In fact, the Maginot Line is an incredible piece of engineering, bringing together the most up-to-date technologies (from the 1920s and 30s) in electric lighting, telephone and radar, submarine equipment, diesel power generation, etc. I asked the President of the Maginot Line Alsace Region if he thought the Maginot Line was a model form of living, and he replied that it was more advanced in terms of communal life, state-of-the-art cooking equipment and ventilation, and electric appliances. The only thing missing was daylight, but never mind that, the Maginot Line had more mod cons than Villa Savoye.
On the myth of the Maginot Line being a military failure: it was only as useless as Hitler's Atlantik Wall-- built so impenetrable that it forced the enemy to attack elsewhere. After some brief challenges on the Line that were easily repelled, the Germans invaded Belgium and rolled right over the Ardennes, where there was no Maginot Line and the terrain was wrongly thought by the French to be difficult to penetrate. The Maginot Line had only seen limited action and most forces stayed inside until the Armistice of 1940. It had in fact done its job, forcing the Germans to find another solution to attack France.
The Maginot Line found later use by the Germans as underground factories, and then as a fallback as Patton's 3rd Army advanced. After the war, the French made some adaptations and employed the Maginot Line as a Cold War fortress. Even today some of the Maginot Line is controlled by the French military for radar stations and explosives storage. A good number of the bigger forts, however, can be visited. I visited two fortresses, one at Hackenberg and the other at Schoenenberg
. I am sure that I will look back on these visits as one of the highlights of the year.
We got to ride on an underground train several kilometers from an ammo storage to a turret still powered for operation
. Listen to some of the machine sounds:
Not every part of this Grand Tour is overtly of a military nature. You have to do some pilgrimages. To fulfill a childhood fantasty, we made a day trip out to Mont St. Michel on a wickedly windy day. Listen:
But then you discover that St. Michael is the patron saint of war, and that the successful defense of Mont St. Michel from the English during the 100 years war led to its production as a national icon. It is a fortified church on an island, a symbol of war and power if there ever was one.
Next time, a traverse of the militarized landscapes of Deutschland.