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The Memorial de Caen in Normandy

World War II and the D-Day Landings

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The entrance hall at the Caen Memorial, Normandy

© Mary Anne Evans licensed to about.com

Why the Memorial de Caen is worth the visit

The Caen Memorial places World War II and the D-Day Landings in context. It starts at 1918 and continues up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

How long should I allow for a visit?

You should allow a minimum of half a day to visit the museum. The memorial is divided up into sections so you can take them at your own pace, and have lunch in the very good restaurant, or a snack in the café in between seeing the different exhibitions and the two major films.

1918 to 1945

Follow the Trail to World War II
Start with the pre-World War II events. This museum puts the war into context, which is both illuminating and depressing as you realise with each exhibit how the seeds of war were planted in 1918.

You begin on a circular ramp leading you down past posters, films and explanations. Peace was a failure; Germany was trapped in an increasing spiral of debt and economic misery which spread to the rest of Europe, and in 1929 to Wall Street. The rise of Hitler was inevitable, the whole period brought to life as you walk past some amazing footage of the Nuremberg rallies in the 1920s and 30s. The rise of fascism, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the financial crash of Germany follow, and in January 1933, Hitler becomes Chancellor of the Third Reich.

You move through France in the Black Years, accompanied by songs by Maurice Chevalier, and see how France coped. A wartime newsreel presents the Battle of Britain and the turning point.

Everywhere there are objects related to the different aspects of war. Don't miss items that run from Field Marshal Montogmery's beret to the Enigma M4 encryption machine from Bletchely Park in the UK. Then World War II turns into Total War in 1941 when the USSR was invaded and the Japanese attacked the USA at Pearl Harbour. The section is impressive and graphic with topics like the holocaust by bullets, mass violence and a fascinating film on different attitudes towards the French; and who collaborated and why. Like the rest of the museum, the presentation pulls no punches and makes the onlooker question their own opinions.

The D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy galleries take you through the events of 1944. It deals both with the enormous battles and with the suffering of the locals. For instance, it's little known that 20,000 inhabitants in Normandy were killed (a third of all civilians killed during World War II).

The war with Japan follows, a particularly bitter war with 24 million Chinese killed and a huge Japanese expansionist program. The interest moves back to Europe with the last years of the war. In the Bombed-Out Cities Gallery you’re surrounded by the sounds of bombers, by sirens and explosions, giving a very real idea of what it might have been like to be in Warsaw or Stalingrad, London, Rotterdam or Hiroshima.

Throughout this part of the museum, there are films to pause at such as Operation Barbarossa, the battle of the Atlantic and the submarine war and the Japanese soldier at war.

You emerge from the exhibition a little shell shocked yourself, but there is more to come. Two films, D-Day and The Battle of Normandy take you back via archives and film footage to the morning of June 6th, 1944 when the landing began. A split screen shows the German forces waiting, and the Allied preparations in the British harbors. It becomes a war between two enemies, with the

Tip: This is a good time for lunch in the restaurant or a snack in the cafeteria!

The World after 1945

This much shorter section is a series of thought-provoking sections with objects that mix what the West was brought up with such as a pop corn machine, with life in the East -- perhaps a Communist Party card or another lifeless item. The Cold War gets started and you see photos, the remains of the U-2 plane shot down in 1962, objects around the Cuban Missile Crisis and cold war weapons. Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech becomes a reality.

There’s a good section on Berlin at the very core of the Cold War, leading up to those gloriously optimistic days of 1989 when the Berlin Wall finally fell and the world felt more secure.

Practical Information

Address
Esplanade General Eisenhower
Caen
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 31 06 06 44
Memorial de Caen website (in English)

Open February 11th to November 7th 2012 daily 9am-7pm
November 8th to December 23rd 2012 Tues-Sunday 9:30am-6pm
December 24th 2012 to January 5th 2013 daily 9:30am-6pm
Check website for 2013 dates (similar to the above)

Closed December 25th, January 1st and January 6th to 28th 2013
Last tickets one hour 15 minutes before closing

Ticket prices
Adult 18.80 euros
Aged 10 to 18 years 16.30 euros
Under 10 years free
Family pass 2 adults and 1 child or more 10 to 25 years 48 euros
Audioguides in French or English 4 euros per person.

More information

  • The museum runs Landing Beaches Guided Tours by minivan
    Full rate 77 euros per person
  • D-Day Tour 111 euros per person
  • The museum also operates good 2-day breaks including the tour of the Memorial, bilingual tour of the Landing Beaches, one night in a hotel including breakfast (minimum 2 people) and booklet. From 107 to 139 euros per person.
All information is on the website.

Getting to the Memorial de Caen

By car From Paris take the A13 or from Rennes take the A84. For both exit on northbound ring road, no 7
By bys The bus no. 2 runs regularly from the city center.

Getting to Caen

More on World War II

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  3. France Travel
  4. France Regions
  5. Low Normandy Region
  6. The Caen Memorial in Normandy -- the best museum on World War II and D-day

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