Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Jewel of Europe – especially for a WWII history guy

I was excited to explore Paris to see the most visited city on the continent, as I had never been there before. I planned on making it a part WWII visit and part “see the stuff you gotta see in one day visit”, and little did I realize how the two would combine. The major locations I visited all have interesting stories about or connections to World War II – no surprise, since the city was occupied by Germans since the fall of France in 1940 until liberation in August of 1944.

The Eiffel Tower, one of the most recognized landmarks in the entire world, looked a little different during much of the war, as a huge Nazi flag hung from it for four years. I found out that just before the Nazis came in to Paris (and Hitler took the famous picture in front of the tower), parts mysteriously disappeared from the hydraulic pumps that operate the lifts. So, Hitler and the Germans had to take the stairs – a small victory for the French underground. Once the city was liberated, those parts suddenly reappeared and the lifts were once again operational. Hitler though about demolishing the tower and using the steel for military purposes I will have to find out what stopped him from doing so.

The Arc de Trioumphe was a central location in the grand parade of Charles DeGaulle when he re-entered Paris on August 26th. He began at the site by relighting to flame on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and then led the walk (not march) down Champs-Ellysses, through the Triumphal Way.

In the Louvre, many of the great works of art were grabbed and hidden before the Nazis could get a hold of them. It was also the location where Hitler kept one of his great souveneirs of the war – the Bayeux Tapestry, which (in his mind) demonstrated that he was similar to William the Conquerer.

Notre Dame (one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen) is also symbolic of the French resistance. Most of the incredible stained glass windows were taken out before occupation so they would not be damaged and replaced with plate glass. Also, a huge mass was celebrated there on Liberation Day, one of the largest ever attended at the cathedral.

I could describe the sites in more detail, but I know they are fairly well known. I think it’s important for me to put them into historical detail, partially to remember that Paris, France, and the world are very fortunate that these amazing sites survived the war, unlike many other parts of Northern France, Germany, England, and other European locations.

I didn’t get to visit two specific sites on my list – Musee du l’Armee at Invalides (I had the closing time wrong and couldn’t go the next morning) and the Deportation Memorial itself (line was too long on our tour). While I was disappointed (in myself) for not seeing them, it just gives me another reason to come back to Paris – but with Cathy.

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