6 nostalgic symbols at the Caen Memorial

The opening of the Caen Memorial Museum on 6 June 1988 was no coincidence. On the same day in 1944, the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy to begin the region’s eponymous battle. Beyond charting this specific event, the museum traces the history of the Second World War through an extraordinary museography, designed to plunge the visitor into the dark atmosphere of the greatest conflict in history.

A restored bunker

Under the museum, a strange space was revamped in 2013: the underground bunker of the German general Wilhelm Richter who spearheaded the defence of the coast. The bunker, measuring 70 metres long and 3 metres high, was dug out of the limestone in 1943 to protect the command of the 716th German Infantry Division against invasion. It was in this space, whose oppressive atmosphere has now been reconstructed, that the counterattack was prepared on 7 June 1944, after the Allied landings.

Stones for peace

At the entrance of the square, 12 stones are displayed in a window. These are the 12 ‘first’ stones that were laid at the beginning of the project, each from one of the 12 countries involved in the Battle of Normandy during the Second World War.

Globes for geopolitics

This vast picture is rather unusual; the women are busy correcting the globes by hand, as and when the troops of the Third Reich advance. In a showcase, an Austrian globe presenting the new lines of borders in 1943 symbolises the geopolitical rebalancing in progress.

The Battle of Normandy: 3 months of hell in 19 minutes

In addition to the exhibits – such as the galley post of a resistance fighter – this film retraces in 19 minutes what was the bloodiest battle of the Second World War for civilians: some 20,000 Normans died between 6 June 1944 (the date of the Allied landings) and the bombardment of Le Havre on 12 September of the same year. A real dive into the hell of a battle that lasted 100 days, instead of the expected few weeks.

Real parts of the Berlin Wall

‘The World after 1945’ recalls the special status of the German capital after the closure of its border between East and West in 1961, through two sections of the Berlin Wall of 3.6 metres high and an original Trabant, symbol of the queues of cars that have gone westward since the fall of the Wall in 1989. In a nearby room, a few objects evoke the ideology of the Cold War: a popcorn machine and neon advertising on one side, a Communist Party card and single-frequency radio on the other.

Gardens in memory of the Allies

In the ‘Memorial Valley’, three gardens have been created to honour the Allied forces who took part in the liberation. Each one features strong symbols – a waterfall symbolising life, and plaques of the 50 states, in the American garden; the names of the 122 Norman villages spared by soldiers in the Canadian garden; and cypresses representing the 15 UK divisions in the British garden.

The Caen Memorial in Normandy