The Fields of Verdun (Where They Had A Giant Battle In The War To End All Wars)

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The Battle of Verdun was one of World War I Western Front‘s first major battles.  For 11 months in 1916, the German and French armies fought it out on the  hilly terrain north of the city of Verdun-sur-Meuse (unsurprisingly located in north-eastern France, near the Champagne region).

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I knew the area was a historical battleground for France and Germany, but driving from Alsace to Verdun, I was shocked by the sheer number of military monuments I saw from the highway.  When Charlemagne‘s empire was divided under the Treaty of Verdun (843 A.D.) the town became part of the Holy Roman Empire.  Later, the Peace of Westphalia (1648 A.D.) awarded Verdun to France.  France and Germany continued to butt heads.  Verdun was part of the defensive line that was built after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

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There were even more monuments when I got off the highway.  I had a little bit of driving time because I got off at the wrong exit.  I couldn’t believe that I just happened upon places like this in the countryside 20 miles (32K) from the battlefield.

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The Germans hoped a decisive strike and victory would demoralize their opponent, forcing a quick surrender.  Hey, it worked pretty well in the Franco-Prussian War.  Verdun seemed like a logical point of attack; it was almost surrounded.  The Germans failed capture the city of Verdun and to inflict a much higher body count on the other side.  The Battle of Verdun ended as a French tactical victory.  Unfortunately, it came at an extremely high cost to both sides, there were about  800,000 casualties!  Cemeteries surround the museum and contain 15,000 tombstones.

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L’Ossuaire de Douaumont, an ossuary next to the cemetery.  It is the final resting place for 130,000 French and Germans who died in muddy trenches. The tower is shaped like an artillery shell.

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Armies (British, French, American, and German) fired approximately 720 million shells and mortar bombs on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918.  Even today, entire areas remain cordoned off and live bombs are turned up by farmers plowing their fields.  Notice the trees are relatively young.  Artillery shelling demolished the existing forests.  It also created craters that are still visible (see the photos below).

DSC_0955DSC_0950The shelling destroyed villages of Cumières and Chattancourt.  Believe it or not, there used to be a town where the chapel now stands!

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The museum is amazing.  I was stunned by how low tech some of it was.  There were carts that had been pulled by horses (they had an ancient looking car too) and a hot air balloon.

DSC_0918DSC_0936They still had enough technology, machine guns, flamethrowers, poisonous gas, etc., to be very, very deadly.
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The museum has photos and a recreation of the trenches.  It’s hard to imagine the conditions the soldiers endured.

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After mobilization of the German Army during World War I, the government identified notable artists to be withdrawn from combat to protect them.  Franz Marc (one of my favorites) was on the list, but before orders for reassignment could reach him, he was struck in the head and killed instantly in 1916 by a shell splinter.

By the way, November 11, is Armistice Day.  On November 11, 1918, fighting ceased in “The Great War” when an armistice, a temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect.  It started on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, but the “war to end all wars” officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France.

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They Broke The Mold When They Made Brunswick (But Copied the Monument)

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Charles II, Duke of Brunswick (1804 – 1873) (aka Charles d’Este-Guelph) inherited the throne as a child after his grandfather and father died fighting (the battles of Jena and Waterloo).  Prince George (of the United Kingdom and Hanover) became his guardian.

Charles II, Duke of Brunswick

Charles II, Duke of Brunswick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Between disputes his age of majority  Charles’s invalidation of some laws (made during his minority) caused friction.  Apparently, he had his fair share of “indiscretions” too. In 1830, he lost his throne and was exiled.  Obsessively focused on recovering his lands, he allied himself with anyone he could to get it back.  He moved to Paris, where he built a huge palace that was way ahead of its time.  While it didn’t have a moat, it had tons of security features including giant walls, hidden spring guns that guarded valuables, and other unique apparatuses.   It didn’t, however, have a cook.  Since the Duke was a bit paranoid, he ate out.  Since he sounds like such a normal guy, such an average Joe, you won’t be surprised to learn that he had a memorable appearance.  He was a heavyset fellow who wore elaborate costumes that were lavishly decorated with diamonds.  Once, he told some broads that he even had diamonds sewn on his undies!  No word on whether they accepted his invitation to see his bling.

When the Franco-Prussian War (between France and Germany) broke out, Brunswick moved to Geneva.  He died in the Beau-Rivage Hotel there in 1873. He left his bequeathed his fortune to the City of Geneva with one condition.  He requested they build a monument to his memory and specified that it be a replica of the Scaliger Tombs in Verona, Italy.   The city used the money to build the golden gates of Parc des Bastions and the city’s opera, the Grand Theatre.

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Verona, Arche Scaligere (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why Geneva?  Although he had an illegitimate (but acknowledged) daughter, he broke ties and removed her from his will when she converted to Catholicism.  Some say that the lawsuit he lost requiring him to support her was the real reason he left Paris.  Paris’s loss was Geneva’s gain.

Brundwick Monument in Geneva

Brundwick Monument in Geneva (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1979, Geneva built the Brunswick Monument near his final home at the Beau-Rivage Hotel (also near the other five star hotels the Richemont Hotel and the Hotel de la Paix).  It is impossible to miss if you walk along the Paquis side of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva).

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The inscription on the monument reads: “The Duke of Brunswick, Charles Frederick August William, was a distinguished linguist, horsemen and musician was born 1804. He dethroned and chased out in 1830 and thus, took refuge in Paris, but spent his last three years back in Geneva. Mr. Charles Frederick August William was an eccentric and a paranoid. 

His death in 18 August 1873 provided a tidy sum for the city Geneva. But in his will, Geneva, as his residuary legatee must provide his final resting place that is in ‘an eminent and worthy location, executed according to the established concept by the finest artists of the time, without consideration of cost”.

Thanks old chap!

Breaking The Law In France

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It looks like your average vacation shot, but apparently, this was illegal activity.  Just like the Judas Priest song, I was “Breakin the Law.”  I’ve done it too (but the photos are just too bad to post). It wasn’t intentional.  I didn’t have drugs, wasn’t intoxicated or carrying stolen goods.

The problem is what the girl on the left is wearing.  In 1799, post-Revolution France enacted a law banning women from wearing pants in Paris, the French capital.  Female renegades wore (gasp) long trousers to show their to the wealthy who wore fashionable knee-length culottes.  This began a political movement named ‘sans-culottes’ (which translates literally to no underwear).

For women, wearing any form of menswear in public required government permission in order to be legal.  Often, obtaining permission required a medical reason.  I’m guessing that “I didn’t feel like shaving my legs this morning” just wouldn’t have passed muster.  Ironically, the law didn’t seem to stop Parisian fashion houses from starting the military look, suits or menswear fashion trends every decade or so.

 

Royalists In France

French Royalists gather each January 21st, the date King Louis XVI was beheaded.  For 1600 years, France had a Catholic monarchy (remember the Avignon Papacy).  His death marked the end of the French monarchy and beginning of the French Republics.

Lafayette visits George Washington after the A...

Royalists like to point out that the French president is a political figure and believe that  as a result, doesn’t represent all the citizens.  According to them, only a king could represent all French and unify the country.  I find it hard to understand how a king that involves himself with the running of the country wouldn’t become a political figure?  I freely admit that I have a hard time wrapping my brain around concepts associated with modern monarchies.  To repeat, I’m American and so its a really foreign concept for me.

At present, Royalists don’t have any real political power (the Alliance Royale, a group that wants to choose a king by referendum, got just 0.031% of the vote in the 2004 European elections).  Nevertheless, they disagree over who is the rightful successor to the French throne.   The two most often named potential kings of France are Prince Jean d’Orléans the Duke of Vendôme, Prince Louis Alphonse Duke of Anjou, who is a descendent of the Bourbon dynasty.

Not surprisingly, there’s bad blood between these rivals and it goes back generations.  It’s good to be king and, well, there’s only one king.   Also not surprisingly, there’s a third claimant, Napoléon VII, Charles Marie Jérôme Victor Napoléon, who descends from Emperor Napoléon I.

But What Do I Know? My Favorite Posts Of 2012

I listed the top viewed posts of 2012, but thought I would post a list of my favorite posts of 2012 too.

  1. Duomo’s Rooftop, A Sculpture Garden In The Sky – I just like the pictures.
  2. Dubai’s River, It’s Other Waterfront – I liked how different Dubai was from Geneva and loved its mix of cultures.  While you can see cool skyscrapers lots of places, there aren’t many where you can see the old wood dhows and the people from all over the world who trade on Dubai’s waterfront.
  3. Millennium Trilogy Walking Tour Of Stieg Larsson’s Stockholm – Part Two – I loved The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Men Who Hate Women in Swedish).  When we went to Stockholm, I toured the sites mentioned in the books.  Most of them were in the super-cool Sodermalm neighborhood.
  4. Mohawks Welcome But Not Required At The Groezrock Festival– We love live music and a European Music Festival is something to experience.  This one had a great lineup and was well worth the resulting fatigue (better described as exhaustion).
  5. The Toblerone Line, One Sweet Barrier– We looked all over Switzerland for this puppy.  Once we found it, we couldn’t stop seeing it places (Reichenbach Falls, near Thun, etc.).
  6. Why I Love Running– One of my favorite things.
  7. Weingut Otto Laubsenstein – Fantastic people + fantastic wine = unforgettable time.
  8. It Wasn’t Premeditated, Our Hike Up Rochers-de-Naye – A reader suggestion and one of the best views in Switzerland.  If you’re not up for hours of hiking straight uphill, you can always take the train there.
  9. The Shock Of Your Life – Culture Shock – I tried to keep it real.
  10. Les Contamines – Although we’ve done a lot of skiing, this was one of our favorite days because we spent it with wonderful fr

Schwingen In Switzerland’s Top 10 Posts Of 2012

Since everyone seems to come out with a Best of 2012 list at the end of the year, I thought I would list my top 10 most viewed posts this year.

  1. Everything You Don’t Need And Can’t Live Without – I don’t like to sit still, don’t nap and hate to be bored.  I realize that it doesn’t always make me the most relaxing person to be around, but it’s generally pretty entertaining.  When we had a free Sunday, I decided to go check out a little shindig they had going on in the cool Carouge neighborhood.  Unexpectedly, this post was selected for Freshly Pressed.
  2. Tschäggättä Parade To Celebrate Carnival In The Lötschental Valley – One of the best things about Switzerland is its festivals.  This one was unlike anything I’d ever seen.  This was my first post to be Freshly Pressed.
  3. More Pictures of the Versoix, Switzerland Ice Storm – Remember the picture of the frozen car?  Well, since it was taken in a suburb of Geneva, I couldn’t help myself.  I went to get the shot.  On a side note, it would have been smart of me not to wear high heals when doing so.  A couple of nice Swiss gentlemen helped me off the ice.  Yep, I’m an idiot, but the pictures are great.
  4. Our Basement Bomb Shelter, Otherwise Known As Our Storage Unit – I’m glad other people are as intrigued by this phenomenon as I am.
  5. Mt. Blanc, The Tallest Mountain In The Alps – I am profoundly grateful to have seen such beauty.
  6. The Spaghetti Tree Hoax, Aka Happy April Fool’s Day From Switzerland – Hilarious.  Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.
  7. My Introduction to French Cinema, A List of Great, Entertaining and Fun French Films – While I posted this before Jean Dujardin won the Oscar, some of his comedies made the list.
  8. Why Didn’t Hitler Invade Switzerland? – This was a hard one to write as it’s a difficult question.  I hope I didn’t screw it up too badly.
  9. Another Cultural Difference…Men In Spandex – Sometimes, it’s the little things…
  10. What The Heck Is A Bidet? – Please feel free to comment with any additional uses you can think up for a bidet.

 

Passage De Monetier, A Not So Secret Passage

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is an historical passage in Geneva’s old town.  You enter at the top of the Rue du Perron (by No. 19) and exit off the alley Monetier, at the base of the old ramparts.  The passage zig zags between medieval buildings for around 100 meters (328 feet), narrowing to 50 cm (20 inches)!

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Given layout between residential buildings, darkness and narrowness, it’s not surprising that this secret passage is open to the public only during the last two days of Geneva’s Escalade festivities.  The rest of the year, it is closed.  Get in on the action this weekend while you still can!

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Occupied since Roman times, Geneva is ancient.   Over time, Geneva grew and extended its fortifications.  The passage began as a simple path between early fortifications sometime during the 600-1100 A.D. that protected the hill of Saint-Pierre (on which Cathedral St. Pierre sits).

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In the Middle Ages buildings weren’t glued to each other.  As new fortifications and buildings were built, Passage Monetier became a passage or alley.  It took on its current route around 1300-1400 A.D. and allows access from one neighborhood to another without detours.  Without indoor plumbing alleys served as an open sewers and it probably didn’t smell great.

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The Savoyards came along the Aarve River, assembled at Plainpalais and attacked from the back of the city.

There’s an urban myth that says the passage had something to do with the surprise attack by Savoyard troops sent by Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy during the night of 11–12 December 1602 to attack Geneva.  Alas, it is just that, a myth.  Neither attacks, nor the battle that night  took place near there.  Its opening merely serves as one of the festivities comprising L’Escalade festival which celebrates Geneva’s win and usually occurs in 12th of December.

L'Escalade à Genève, 1602. The Escalade in Gen...

L’Escalade à Genève, 1602. The Escalade in Geneva in 1602. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

War Memorials On Armistice Day, Also Known As Veteran’s Day

We’ve done our fair share of traveling in France lately.  We’ve noticed virtually every town there has monuments to local citizens who died in service of their country.  The lists of names, often including those deported and killed locally, are a touching remembrance.

Veterans Day annually falls on November 11, but to make it a bank holiday/federal holiday it is observed on Monday, November 12 in the United States .   Why November 11?   On November 11, 1918, the armistice ending World War I was signed.   On that day, hostilities between the Allied countries and Germany officially ended.  Germany

Technical innovations like the machine gun, poison gas, tanks, and aircraft appeared in battle for the first time in World War I.  Scientific advances and industrialization joined to create enormous death tolls.  Germany lost 1,800,000; the Soviet Union lost 1,700,000; France lost 1,385,000; Austria lost 1,200,000;  Great Britain lost 947,000.  While that may seem small in comparison to some of the other countries listed, about 1/3 of Great Britain’s male population died in The Great War!   Extrapolating, it’s difficult to imagine the devastating effects on  experienced by some of the other countries listed, especially those who had the war fought on their soil.

Although we haven’t seen quite as many such monuments in Germany, we did see a few there too.  We came across the one below in Bad Munster, near Bad Kreuznach in Germany.

After WWII, the holiday was expanded to remember those who served in that war.  In the US, we’ve had a significant number of wars over the last century  Veterans Day honors and thanks veterans for their service to their country.

War requires sacrifices and troops bear more of them than most.  It is important to remember those sacrifices and the people who made them.  War isn’t a triviality.  It’s important to remember that it carries with it a human cost.  Whether you call it Armistice Day or Veterans Day, it is a time to remember the price paid, the sacrifices of those that have served and honor those that did.

Reims Cathedral, It’s History Has More Drama Than A Telenovela

When I visited Champagne, I had to stop by and see the cathedral in Reims.  I’d heard so much about it and had to see it in person.  Yeah, from a distance, it might look a lot like many other French cathedrals, but this one is different.  It’s beautiful, light and airy, but that’s only scratching the surface.  It’s fascinating because of its dramatic history.

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is considered by many to be the world’s most perfect Gothic church.   Located in eastern France (an hour or so away from the WWI battlefield of Verdun),  it was almost completely destroyed during the First World War.    On September 19-20, 1914, 25 German shells struck the cathedral which then caught on fire, causing massive damage.  It became known as  the “Martyred Cathedral” a symbol of destruction during the Great War and brought out strong emotions in the French.  Strong emotions are an understatement.  Several injured German prisoners found refuge in the cathedral but were killed outraged French.

In 1924, billionaire American John D. Rockefeller, gave money to restore the cathedral.  Fabulously wealthy Andrew Carnegie kicked in some money too.    Today, it’s mostly restored, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely worth the few million they poured into it.

Reims has been a town since Roman times. In 498, Clovis was baptized as the first Catholic French king at the church.  This was a big deal.  If you don’t believe me, Pope John Paul II visited for the 1500th anniversary of the event.  I can pretty much guarantee that no world leader will mark the 1500th anniversary of anything I have done or anywhere I have been.  Monkey see, monkey do.  All the cool kings wanted to do it like Clovis did and it became the site for coronations of French kings (until the revolution).   Joan of Arc famously knelt in front of Charles VII when he was crowned King of France there.  Today, they have a Gallery of Kings, statues of the famous kings who were crowned there.

Here Saint Remy Baptized Clovis King of France

In 1211, when the existing church burned down, the built a bigger better one on the site of an earlier church (just like Geneva’s Cathedral St. Pierre).  Part of what makes Reims Cathedral such an amazing building is the amount of light inside (particularly in comparison with others constructed around the same time).  The architects designed the windows so that they would let in as much light as possible.

Notre-Dame de Reims did not escape the French Revolution unscathed. Fleur-de-lys and clovers were removed because they had been symbols of the monarchy.   They were replaced during the restoration.  Thanks Mr. Rockefeller.

Large circular windows at the ends of the cathedrals are known as the “Rose Window.”  It took me a few cathedrals to figure that one out.  Luckily, we’ve seen a few this year (Toledo, Milan). The church is known throughout France for its impressive stained glass windows.  During the restoration, some more contemporary have been used.  I like the one depicting Champagne making from the 1950’s.  Who would have thought church windows would depict hooch? The windows designed by Marc Chagall from the 1970’s (above) were my favorites because they were ethereal and dreamy.  You wouldn’t expect something so massive to look so light.   They plan on continuing with the different windows, making it interesting to for visitors compare and contrast the different styles.

By the way, if you go there, hunt out the “Smiling Angel” (also known as  “Smile of Reims”  and “L’Ange au Sourire”).  Decapitated by a burning beam in 1914,, during the fire of September 19, 1914 it the destruction and then with the restoration of the city. 

 

No World Wars In Western European Since 1945 = Nobel Peace Prize

Yesterday, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  In 1993, I was living in Belgium and the Maastricht Treaty  (aka the Treaty on European Union) was taking effect.  It was all over the news…and I didn’t understand any of it.  I asked and a lovely Belgian friend explained it to me.   Before I tell you when they told me, lets detour to quick history lesson.   This is a list of just some of the battles that have the battles that have taken place on Belgian soil:

 

  • World War I The Battles of Flandres – There were five, yes five.  The First Battle of Ypres, the Second Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele, the  Battle of the Lys,  and the creatively named Fifth Battle of Ypres.  Germany and the Western Allies faced off once again in Belgium.  Industrialization increased the scale of wars and they took on a far more devastating nature.  Battles with over 50,000 fatalities became common.  Mustard gas doesn’t seem like a particularly good way to go either.  Belgian farmers still turn up canisters of gas when they plow their fields in the spring!
  • When the Germans wanted to invade France’s Mangiot Line fortifications built after WWI, they just went to Paris via Belgium.  Like many of the occupied countries during WWII, most of them weren’t too happy about their visitors.
  • Battle of the Ardennes (also known as the Battle of the Bulge and the Siege of Bastogne) – After the Allies landed in Normandy, they made their way to Germany.  If you’ve read the last few bullets, you know the easiest way from France to Germany (and vice versa).  Southern Belgium has the Ardennes mountains, which happen to be a good place to entrench (and freezing in the winter).  The Germans mounted an offensive and surrounded almost 20,000 American troops.  It’s famous for General Anthony McAuliffe‘s line, ‘Nuts,’ in response to the German’s request to surrender.  Although I have heard that  ‘Nuts’ was the only printable equivalent of the word that was actually used, it goes without saying that a battle ensued.

You get the idea.  If you got tired reading that list, you can imagine how tired the Belgians were of the wars themselves.

My Belgian friend explained to be that linking their economies and cultures so thoroughly that untangling them was more difficult and costly than waging war was the only way to prevent it from happening again.  At that time, many people were alive who’d lived through the occupation and the war.  I met people whose family members were shot dead in front of their house by the Nazis.  When you think about it, Belgium is a country that only experienced intermittent periods of peace before foreign powers again waged war on their soil.  As a citizen of the tiny country that was continually caught in the cross-fire, they were hopeful that the European Union would help put an end to the seemingly never-ending series of wars waged by European powers like England, Spain, France, and Germany on their soil.

You can’t read the news today without reading about the European Union’s problems.  Some countries, like Switzerland, have good reasons for not joining (which they haven’t in order retain their neutrality and independence).  Nevertheless, as someone who likes a lot of Europeans and likes to travel, there hasn’t been a war on Belgian soil since WWII and I will happily celebrate that.