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.

Verona, Arche Scaligere

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!

No Horsing Around, The Horse Meat Scandal

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Have you ever eaten something and then regretted it?  Since moving here, I’ve occasionally eaten horse.  I buy it for American visitors to taste.  If you’ve watched the news lately, you can understand why I might be regretting it.  If you haven’t seen news stories about Europe’s horse meat scandal, here’s a recap.  Horse meat has been discovered in European beef products sold in supermarkets in countries including Britain, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Ireland.  Here, eating horse (particularly in countries like France and Switzerland) is commonplace; it’s estimated that each person in Switzerland eats between 600 and 700 grams of horse meat each year.

From The Swiss Watch Blog

There are two types of horses, ones that are given the powerful and dangerous veterinary drug called phenylbutazone (also known as Bute and banned for human use because to cases severe side effects) and those without who are issued health certificates certifying they can enter the food chain.   Can you guess what happened?

from afp.com

Spanghero, a French company, labeled the horse meat it received from a Romanian slaughterhouse as beef.  According to officials, Spanghero should have identified the meat as horse from its Romanian customs code, as well as its appearance, smell and price. The company said it acted in good faith, never ordered horse meat, and never knowingly sold horse meat.  Parisian prosecutors are now investigating it as fraud.

From Business Inquirer

The geographic scope of the scandal expanded this week.  While the quality of food and the food chain in Switzerland is quite high, Swiss company Nestle (the world’s largest food company) is now embroiled in the scandal.   It suspended deliveries of all products supplied by German subcontractor H.J. Schypke alleging they sold the contaminated meat to one of Nestle’s suppliers.  German discount retailer Lidl pulled products from Finnish, Danish and Swedish stores after finding horse meat in products labeled as beef.  German ministers met in Berlin earlier this week to discuss the scandal.

Horse meat scandal dominating the front pages

Horse meat scandal dominating the front pages (Photo credit: Gene Hunt)

But, wait, it gets worse…. The Swiss program, Kassensturz, showed emaciated horses being beaten, neglected and transported in cramped conditions without food or water before being slaughtered.  Apparently it was pretty disturbing.  In response,  several grocery stores, including Coop, Denner, Aldi, Spar and Migros, pulled most horse meat products off their shelves.  Coop and Migros continue to sell some from suppliers (mostly in Canada or France) in whom they have confidence.  It’s almost enough to make me a vegetarian again.  It’s definitely enough to reduce my meat consumption and be choosier about where I purchase it.

 

Another Reason To Love Switzerland, The Future Orientation Index

World map showing countries by nominal GDP per...

World map showing countries by nominal GDP per capita in 2008, IMF estimates as of April 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, a study (Future Orientation Index) ranking the most forward thinking nations came out. Switzerland ranked #2, up from #7 the previous year. Scientists correlated data from Google searches, the CIA World Factbook and national economic performance. In other words, researchers looked at how many times people in 2012 used Google to search for “2013” than for “2011.” They discovered strong links between changes in the information users seek online and events in the real world.

Why is this important? Aside from the obvious reasons, there’s a big one, GDP (Gross Domestic Product).  Professor Tobias Preis of Warwick Business School said: “In general, we find a strong tendency for countries in which Google users enquire more about the future to exhibit a larger per capita GDP… There seems to be a relationship with the economic success of a country and the information seeking behavior of its citizens online.”

Okay, so there’s a relationship between looking for information about the future and wealth. Why is there one? What can people say about this relationship?  Co-author Dr Suzy Moat stated “[w]e see two leading explanations for this relationship between search activity and GDP… [T]hese findings may reflect international differences in attention to the future and the past, where a focus on the future supports economic success.” She continued “these findings may reflect international differences in the type of information sought online, perhaps due to economic influences on available Internet infrastructure.”

By the way. Germany took the top spot, while Pakistan ranked at the bottom of their list as #45. The US came in at #11.

 

Augustiner Bräu Is Germany’s Best Beer

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With my affinity for all things Belgian, I used to think German beer was overrated. Some may be, Augustiner Bräu is not.  The Augustinian Brotherhood of monks began brewing Augustiner beer at their monastery near Munich’s cathedral in 1328.  This makes it Munich’s oldest brewery.  In 1803, secularization and subsequent privatisation led to it becoming a privately owned company: Augustiner Bräu.  It has been at Neuhauser Straße since 1885.  It was majorly damaged during the Second World War, but was rebuilt.

Today it is one of the six official beers that produce beer for Octoberfest, but  Augustiner beer sets itself apart by being old school.  Most German breweries made their bottles slimmer and gave them a more modern design.  Augustiner kept their traditional form, known as the “Bauarbeiterhalbe” (construction worker’s half liter).

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If it’s so historic and the beer is so great, why haven’t you heard of it?  He says that the Germans are greedy and keep all the good stuff for themselves.  Another reason might be that Augustiner Bräu doesn’t have an advertising department.  In fact, they don’t advertise (with the exception of a website).  Bavarians love it so much, they don’t need to.

Augustiner is considered the last truly local Munich brewery.   If you are in Munich, you can sample the tasty beverage at the brewery’s internal tavern, the “Bräustüberl”, at the Landsberger Straße.  Michael Jackson’s The New World Guide to Beer he described it as “[t]he most elegant place devoted to the consumption of beer in Munich is Augustiner’s 1890’s Restaurant on Neuhauser Strasse.”   It’s less touristy than the Haufbrauhaus and, well, you know how I feel about the beer.  Proust!

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

The Malgre Nous, Forced To Fight Against Their Country Of Birth During WWII

Malgré-Nous is a French phrase  (at the bottom of the above monument) that means “despite us” or “in spite of us.”  It refers to inhabitants of the Alsace and Moselle (part of Lorraine) areas of France who were conscripted into the German armed forces during the WWII.   We first noticed it on monuments and memorials when we visited Alsace (Belgians and Luxembourouise were also conscripted).

France and Germany repeatedly fought over the territory.  In 1639, the French conquered Alsace to keep it from the Habsburgs.  In 1871, Alsace (and Lorraine) fell under German control when France lost the Franco-Prussian War.  With Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the area became French once again and Germans who had settled in Alsace were expelled.  When Germany invaded and annexed the area on October 18, 1940, the departments fell under German control.  By 1942, service had become compulsory and French inhabitants became part of the Wehrmacht (the German army), the Luftwaffe (the air force),  the Kriegsmarine (the German Navy) or the SS.   Others were sent to the Eastern Front to fight Stalin, many ended up in interned in Axis Soviet prison camps (like the one in Tambow, Russia). Others fought in more local battles in Normandy such as Das Reich in the Falaise pocket.

Others deserted.  They were shocked when the U.S. military treated them as deserters, not as the liberators of France wanting to fight for their homeland they believed themselves to be.  Many were sent to camps in the west of France, alongside German prisoners who didn’t look too kindly on people they viewed as traitors.  Those who defected to the Soviets were also seen as deserters or spies and shot.  Still others deserted to join the Resistance or fled to Switzerland, but their families were deported to labor or concentration camps.   This policy effectively forced conscripts to remain in the German Army.

Malgré-Nous who survived the war were considered by some as traitors or Nazi sympathizers after its end.   An amnesty law enacted on February 20, 1953, forgave crimes committed by Malgré-Nous.   Of the 130,000 men who were conscripted Third Reich in the Second World War, 32,000 were killed, 30,000 wounded and 10,500 missing and presumed dead.

The last phrase of the plaque above says “Alsace is the region of France who paid the heaviest price for the madness of Nazisme.”

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.

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.

Nice, France Is Better Than Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo

I have a huge fascination with breakdancing (also known as b-boying or breaking).  Each time we see people dancing somewhere, I can’t help but stop and watch.  I love the sheer athleticism of it.  It evolved from almost every dance, acrobatic and martial arts style including: tap, jazz, capoeira, Balkan, ballroom, folk, shaolin kung-fu, circus and swing.

Breakdancing is popular in France.  When we were in Nice, we strolled the Pedestrain Zone of the Place Masséna.  It’s essentially the main square of Nice and center of all the action.  We encountered some break dancers (videos are all over YouTube) on checkerboard pavement and stopped to check them out.

Each time I watch break dancers, I am struck by the communal spirit that surrounds them.  It makes you want to learn how to do it.  Forget ballroom dancing, we’ll be taking this dance class instead.  It looks like a pretty good workout.

Being a former gymnast, I loved the power moves because they are particularly acrobatic.  It requires momentum, speed, endurance, strength, and control (like the flare, windmillswipe, and head spin).

Downrock (also known as footwork or floorwork) describes any movement on the floor where the hands supporting the dancer as much as the feet.  Common downrock moves include: the foundational 6-step, and its variants such as the 3-step.  Basic downrock is done entirely on hands and feet.  It didn’t take long for their moves to get way more complex and too fast  for the settings on my camera.

Freezes are stylish poses, and the more difficult require the breaker to suspend  himself or herself off the ground using upper body strength in poses.  How can you not love these creative displays of agility and physical strength set to music?

Well done gentlemen.