Saturday, December 27

We take a tour of the Bastogne War Museum in the 70th anniversary of "the Bulge".

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Ardennes Offensive” (or the “Battle of the Bulge” as it has become known) what better time thean the middle of an atmospheric Belgian winter to visit the Bastogne War Museum? The venue was holding many special events and celebrations to mark the anniversary and we were there for the celebrations and thought you might want to get a peek inside this freshly built remembrance of history..

We visit:
Bastogne War Museum
Location: Bastogne in the Walloon region of Belgium.
Open all year around (although atmospheric in the snow December is probably a bad time
to go in hindsight)
The museum is open every day (10am - 6pm) this week except on Thursday December 25th.

The best way to get to Bastogne is to drive by taking route E411/A4 in the direction of Namur-Arlon. The Bastogne War Museum is a new place of remembrance devoted to the Second World War, located very close to the famous Mardasson Memorial. The museum is housed in a brand-new building with striking architecture.

Through the prism of the Battle of the Ardennes, a tour of the new museum gives visitors an insight into the causes, events and consequences of the Second World War in a modern and interactive environment.
The Bastogne War Museum has set itself the task of meeting the needs of a public most of whom have no first-hand experience of the war. As a result, their notion of the war will at best be drawn from books; at worst, their understanding of it will be confined to some vague images from film and television. The museum aims to be of equal interest to the uninitiated and to those with more knowledge of the subject. The Bastogne War Museum’s ambition is to honour the memory of those who fought for our freedom and to uphold the values of peace and freedom.

Introductory sequence
This first area aims to create a break with the reception area and serve as a prelude to the permanent exhibition. The display consists mainly of keywords and a mosaic of images projected near the imposing ‘Desorbry' Sherman tank. The four characters who will guide the visitor, reappearing at regular intervals throughout the visit, are also introduced here.
We follow these four characters through the museum on their own journeys…
As they follow the route through the museum, visitors will repeatedly encounter four characters who are introduced at the entrance to the museum. These four protagonists are present even within the recreated displays, and they allow the visitor to develop a critical view of the different aspects of the war. 
Through their different first-hand accounts, they provide points of view that suggest a new approach to understanding history, not least because their view of the facts differs. Robert Keane (a corporal in the US 101st Airborne Division), Hans Wegmüller (a lieutenant in the German 26th Volksgrenadier Division), Mathilde Devillers (a young teacher from Bastogne) and Emilie Mostade (a 13-year old schoolchild) each explain in their own way what the terrible years of the war were like for them.
The pre-war years and the rise of extremist movements. A classroom themed projection wall shows you the build-up in the pre-war years and you discover the factors that fuelled the rise of extremism across the world. 
This sequence finishes with the visitor entering a life-size reconstruction of a military headquarters and watching cinema news from the time on a 3D screen.
 After this comes the discovery of the period from the invasion of May 1940 to the liberation in September 1944. A variety of themes are richly illustrated with both documents and everyday objects, most of them on display to the public for the first time. They enable the visitor to gain a better understanding of what life was like under occupation in Belgium and around the world.
Towards liberation
The next sequence takes the visitor into the heart of the fighting that occurred from spring 1944 onwards. From Normandy to the Russian Front and the Pacific, visitors are able to discover exceptional exhibits, some of which have come from the other side of the world. The focus then shifts to the liberation of Belgium.
The recapture of Belgium by the allies is featured..
Before discovering the major offensive which caused turmoil in the Ardennes in December 1944, the period of autumn 1944 is presented, including the menace of the notorious German flying bombs which fell on Belgian cities.
The Battle of the Ardennes
As visitors arrive at the extension to the building, the flight of civilians from the Ardennes in December 1944 is movingly symbolised by suitcases and carts from the period. The first showcases present the opposing military forces, arranged to face one another. Visitors then discover the big names of the battle and the story of the fighting – including the encirclement of Bastogne and the famous ‘Nuts' episode, of course.

A nice little Hetzer ( actually a postwar G-13) is there to meet you and although not a bulge veteran and the markings are erroneous it sure does help you understand the low profile of this tank.
Also the uniforms of the flyers who driopped supplies are included
Also the inclusion of a almost new looking Kubelwagen is great to see close up..

Second multi-sensory diorama
This room has been set up to recreate the edge of the forest in the Bastogne region. Visitors find themselves in what could be a shell hole. In front of them, the forest floor is strewn with debris and pitted with holes. Without being able to see them, visitors sense the presence of soldiers dug into fox holes to protect themselves from the cold and the bullets. 
At the end of the room and along the sides, oversized photographs extend the scenery of hills stretching away into the mist. Halfway across the room, two vertical screens (around 3.5 metres high) are ‘embedded' in the forest. It is on these that the battle unfolds. In between the screens, the trunks of pine trees fill the space in order to lend depth to the scene. An uneven dark grey material covers the entire surface of the room's ceiling, and serves as a screen for images projected from below, showing cloudy or clear skies, aircraft, parachutists and so on.
Daily Life at the Front
Continuing the Battle of the Ardennes sequence, visitors here learn more about the lives of the American, German and British soldiers at the front. Images, videos and objects provide an insight into the soldiers' personal hygiene, meals and leisure time. 

Sherman "Absentee" is seen shot straight through with a German shell..
As well as the infantry, items belonging to tank personnel, nurses and airmen from both sides are exhibited. The personal effects of several men who lived through this period expose visitors more closely to the ‘little stories' which come together to form the big picture.
Further along the route, the last clashes of the Battle of the Ardennes and the plight of the civilians are presented.
Relics from Bodenplatte are also on display

As well as the people who looked after the sick and what equipment they had
The final phase of the battle is described - the allies gaining the upper hand with better supplied troops
 A WWII German bike is pretty well preserved..
Third multi-sensory diorama
 Finally, the third multi-sensory diorama takes us into the daily life of the region's inhabitants during those dark days.

The room, which is slightly trapezoidal in shape, has been set up to recreate two scenes: a tavern in the Bastogne region and a cellar where civilians are hiding. Visitors enter the main room of a recently closed tavern. The bar, tables, chairs and accessories are all still in place. Only the blackout material in the windows, the candles everywhere, the white sheets over the chairs and a thin layer of dust show that the war is here.
The visitors sit on chairs and watch what happens next. At the point when the bombing of Bastogne on 22 December is presented, the room is plunged into darkness for a few seconds. When the light returns, it is a single oil lamp, and the room has changed: we are in the cellar of the tavern. After spending a few minutes in the cellar with our characters, the main tavern scene is restored.
After the battle ...
Some more heavy weaponry of the allies..
 Some great trench art also is on display at the museum as well as some relics of the battle
Also an anti personel mine somewhere you might not see it.. 
 The fallen are remembered
From the focus on the Ardennes, we finally return to the larger context, and in particular several important elements of 1945, including the consequences of the war in Germany, the liberation of the camps, the German and Japanese surrenders, Nuremberg and the creation of memorial sites. Finally, the key period of the end of the war, marked in particular by the founding of the UN, the emergence of Europe and the start of the Cold War, sets the scene for the main developments of the years that followed.
 The fall of Germany and the end of the war is also looked into which is not often the case in many museums..
The visit is concluded with an audio tour (outside) of the Mardasson Memorial (the ‘Road to Freedom' and the symbolism of Mardasson). 
The Bastogne War Museum is open all year and we would recommend you take a visit – they have done a lot with what they have on display and if you are in Belgium it's only a short drive from wherever you are!

Thanks to Francois for being a great guide!