Normandy

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Normandy

Normandy
Where Europe’s freedom began again

The largest invasion in history took place on the sandy beaches of Normandy over 50 years ago. The landing of the Allied forces on June 6, 1944 marked the beginning of the end of World War II. Between the now peaceful focal points from back then there are fantastic motorcycle routes.

Dieter Lobkarn

08/12/1996

The old man is standing by the sea. The waves roll evenly on the sandy beach. He seems to be deep in thought. A row of medals and badges glistening in the sun is pinned to the chest of his suit jacket. A second man, already over 80, joins him and they shake hands. He also wears medals on his jacket. The two are war veterans from Great Britain. A tour bus brought them here to the Norman beach, which today still bears its former code name: Sword Beach. A group of video-armed tourists pounces on the two old soldiers. Questions patter on them. They provide information in a calm voice. One of the two is a Scot and was deposed further west at that time. The Englishman actually went ashore where he was. “Luckily I was in a jeep, the landing craft flap opened too early, the car in front of me sank in the water, the ship drove over him. I blew up the beach in the fire of the Germans and survived. ”Sword Beach was the easternmost of the five invasion beaches that the Allies took on June 6, 1944. To the west followed Juno Beach, where Canadian troops attacked, the second English beach Gold Beach and the two American coastlines Omaha and Utah Beach. Two days ago, at the beginning of our Normandy trip, we came across the warlike past of the region in Rouen. Here, like almost everywhere in France, sat the German occupiers. At that time, a German soldier was on guard in the church tower of the cathedral, which is France’s tallest at 151 meters. He was supposed to warn of attacking British airmen. In order to avoid the fire of the German artillery, the English bombers attacked from such great heights that civilian targets, including the cathedral, were repeatedly hit. Today you can no longer see the wounds of the past. Not even the landscape. Directly outside the city we come to a small country road and immediately dive into the green. Small, shady woods, in between meadows delimited by hedges, in which cows and horses graze. For a while the road follows the meanders of the little river Scie. Thick clouds and the characteristic smell of fish and algae herald the sea long before we see it. In the port city of Dieppe we come across the Atlantic coast and immediately seek protection from a sudden heavy rain shower. Half an hour later, the sun is already penetrating the black clouds, warming up again. Typical for Normandy, these constant alternating baths. In the old port district of Le Pollet, the fishermen harvest their catch, which shortly afterwards – it doesn’t get fresher – reaches the market. A mustached face sells the right starter out of a plastic bucket: live snails. The chalk cliffs on the coast give the sea a milky turquoise color. In August 1942, the Allies attempted an invasion for the first time in Dieppe – with a catastrophic outcome. After nine hours, more than two-thirds of the 15,000 British and Canadian soldiers had died. The survivors returned to England. From that point on, the Germans believed that their Atlantic Wall was invincible. The Allies realized that it was impossible to attack a fortified port head-on, and Churchill’s insane idea of ​​”bringing your own port” began to mature. We follow the cliff east. The road leads in gentle curves through small forests, then past meadows that seem to drop straight into the sea. Really happy cows live here. Where else do they have such a prospect? The smells change like the weather: salty sea air, spicy pine trees, hay and finally fish. In Etretat, the chalk cliffs are particularly well weathered. From the coastal village a difficult, steep path climbs up to the lookout point. If you are not that good on foot, choose the road upwards – just follow the signs to the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde chapel – and then enjoy the surprised faces of the exhausted hikers when they enter the parking lot, which is not visible from below catch sight of. The cliff drops off a hundred meters here. In front of it is an arcade, the Ponte d ?? Aval, which is supported by the sea, and a little further out the 70 meter high Aiguille, an obelisk formed by waves and wind, is in front of it. Another gigantic monument, albeit man-made, is the Pont de Normandie, inaugurated on January 20, 1995, the longest tension wire bridge in the world. The futuristic construction crosses the Seine estuary and connects the ugly port city of Le Havre with Honfleur, the most beautiful fishing village in Normandy. There is a surprise at the toll station: Motorcyclists have their own lane on the far right and do not have to pay anything. The view from above is gigantic. The viewer sees an area on both sides of the Seine estuary that looks back on 2000 years of history. From here the Romans set out for England, in 841 the first Viking hordes, the Nordmanns, rowed up the Seine in their longships. William the Bastard crossed the English Channel to England in 1066 and became a “conqueror”. The Hundred Years War saw fighting with the English, Armagnacs, and Burgundians. In the course of this, the English took the town of Honfleur twice. In 1457 the seafaring Normans repaid them: They attacked the British town of Sandwich and brought home rich booty. Today Sandwich is one of Honfleur’s twin cities. One of the nice bistros at the old harbor is ideal for a leisurely end to the day. The next morning we follow the coast, past Deauville, the fashionable beach town, where every year in September the big names in cinema from the world meet for the film festival. Wild bushes line the bumpy road. Again and again the gaze falls to the right and left on pieces of jewelery of the Norman half-timbered building. So close to the coast, seagulls instead of ravens sit in the fields pecking for something to eat. In the small villages, the wind has blown the sand all the way to the road, and the Orne and Orne Canal drain into the sea near Sword Beach. For strategic reasons, at the beginning of the invasion it was important to keep the crossings over these watercourses intact. The lift bridge over the canal is still codenamed Pegasus Bridge. It was number one on the invasion’s list of actions. Shortly after midnight on June 6th, British soldiers landed in huge cargo gliders and captured the bridge from the completely surprised German soldiers who had no more time to detonate attached explosive charges. The first destination of D-Day was realized within minutes. The Pegasus Bridge still exists today, and we cross it without any problems on the D 514. On the other side is Cafe Gondree, which is decorated with flags. It was the first liberated house on French soil. Today the cafe is a popular hangout for veterans. Contrary to our initial fears, Germans are welcome guests here, just like everywhere else in Normandy. Almost all places have German twin cities in addition to British and American cities. The past is not forgotten, but reconciliation has long since replaced hatred. Not only the wounds in the landscape, but also those in the souls of people have been healed. Nevertheless, we see very few German tourists and absolutely no motorcyclists from home regions. The vacationing bikers all come from nearby Great Britain. At Sword Beach we meet the two British soldiers mentioned above. Here and on Juno Beach further west, the invasion caused real traffic jams on the beaches, so many vehicles and equipment were brought ashore. At Gold Beach, Churchill’s daring plan to build an artificial harbor finally came true. Mulberry A, nicknamed Port “Winston,” was only supposed to last 100 days, but what remains of it still jut out of the sea in front of Arromanches. Hundreds of prefabricated components were dragged across the English Channel at walking pace. 60 decrepit ships and barges left England for the last time and for what was probably their most important task: they were sunk as breakwaters off the Norman coast. In their protection, soldiers put 146 concrete boxes each 70 meters long together to form an all-round pier about twelve kilometers long and flooded it. Quays in this semicircle with three entrances completed the structure. Despite the stormy weather, the port was completed within just nine days. In the following 100 days, 2.5 million soldiers, half a million vehicles and four million tons of war material safely landed here. The museum in Arromanches shows the individual construction phases of this facility in models, films and slides. The Americans had to contend with considerably greater difficulties on their beach sections. While they encountered relatively little resistance on Utah Beach, the landing on Omaha Beach was a bloody disaster. Almost the entire invasion would have failed here. The German defense turned out to be much stronger than assumed. The second mistake of the attackers was that the landing began too far from the coast, 19 kilometers instead of the 11 kilometers planned by the British. Hundreds of soldiers died when their boats sank in the stormy seas and heavy defensive fire. The few who made it had taken three hours to get there. The following lines are from someone whose landing craft ran aground on this beach: “There is a lot that I haven’t written. You could write for a week and yet not pay tribute to everyone for what they’ve done on a 1,135 yard section of the front. Real war is never a paper war, and reports about it don’t read as they look. “Author: Ernest Hemingway, poet, front-line reporter and later Nobel Prize winner. What Hemingway tried to do with words, the most famous war photographer Robert Capa succeeded with his pictures, which hang in all D-Day museums in Normandy. He too landed on Omaha Beach with the first wave of attacks and documented the soldiers’ struggle for survival in the storm-lashed sea and under the rubble of military equipment that offered them little protection. Eventually, with great losses, some managed to get to the cliffs and take one bunker after the other. The Germans ran out of ammunition, and a large number of them were looking for alleged paratroopers in the hinterland, who in reality were uniformed rubber dolls dropped by the hundreds. A successful Allied deception maneuver. In the evening the Americans had conquered the height of the cliff, over 3,000 dead and as many wounded remained on the beach. Today Omaha Beach is a peaceful place. Seagulls screech, and behind the beautiful sandy beach, where people in rubber boots look for mussels during the low tide, a belt of green dunes rises. A sign warns of wild boars in the bushes. The former bunkers have fallen into disrepair and overgrown with dense vegetation. Any scrap that was not removed has been rusted beyond recognition by the salt water. Above Omaha Beach near the small village of Colleville-sur-Mer, the American military cemetery St. Laurent with 9386 snow-white marble crosses commemorates fallen soldiers. Further inland, in La Cambe, 21,500 of the Germans who fell during the invasion lie under black crosses lined up in groups of five. A small road branches off north of Utah Beach into the interior of the Cotentin Peninsula. In Ste.-Mère-Eglise, where in the early morning hours of June 6th, American paratroopers actually jumped off to take the strategically important town, a rather unusual sight reminds of this maneuver. While many of the soldiers who came down over town were shot dead, John Steele’s umbrella got caught in the church tower. He pretended to be dead, the bullets whistling around his ears. Only hours later did his comrades bring him down. This was shown impressively in the cinema epic “The Longest Day” based on the book by Cornelius Ryan, which was produced for eight million dollars in the early 1960s. In the summer months, a life-size doll with a uniform and a parachute has been hanging on the church tower for several years. The bar opposite not only bears his name, but also houses a small John Steele Museum. A stained glass window in the church shows the Virgin Mary flanked by American paratroopers falling out of the sky. We park the Honda right in the church square. A stout, bearded Frenchman has set up his easel and is painting the church with its parachute. With a tiny difference to reality: instead of a G.I., Marylin Monroe hangs in the bell tower with a blue dress. An American commissioned the picture, he tells us, and after noticing our interest in the doll in the tower, he scratches a little on its heroic image. So we learn that when Steele jumped there were only two Germans left who would have surrendered relatively quickly. And to accommodate tourists, the tourist office hangs the doll on the south side of the tower every summer, even though Steele was caught on the north side. So enough light falls on the popular photo motif. In addition, the American parachutes were not snow-white, but dark green, but that doesn’t stand out so well from the masonry. We continue our way through a lovely hedge landscape, the Bocage, to the west side of the Cotentin Peninsula. Notice boards repeatedly explain where which military successes have been achieved. In the Museum of the Second World War in Avranches, a documentary film shows the advance of the Allies and finally the end of the Battle of Normandy on August 21, 1944 in Tournai-sur-Dives. Three days later, the Allies crossed the Seine and entered Paris. At the end of our tour, what is probably the greatest attraction in Normandy awaits. Thousands of tourists lay siege to Mont St. Michel, the famous monastery mountain in the sea, every day. In the evening, the narrow medieval streets empty, the inevitable kitsch and souvenir shops close their doors, and only those who have stayed in one of the small, historic hotels on the Klosterberg stroll through the streets. We sit with a bottle of cider, the Norman apple wine, on one of the monastery walls and watch the setting sun color the damp, shimmering tidal flats orange-red – a welcome, peaceful end to our journey to the places where Europe’s freedom began again.

Info

Eight signposted routes lead to the points of the Allied invasion. The course of this gigantic battle, which was decisive for the outcome of the Second World War, can be clearly understood.

Arrival: By motorway either via Paris and then to Le Havre or Caen or from Aachen via Belgium to Calais. Spend the night: In Normandy, numerous castles are privately owned. Some of them offer very stylish and relatively cheap rooms with breakfast. What in English-speaking countries as a Bed & Breakfast (room with breakfast) is called “Chambre d ?? Hôtes” in France. Special recommendations: “Château d ?? Asnières”, 14710 Asnières en Bessin, telephone 31 22 41 16. Only three kilometers from Omaha Beach. 450 francs per room. “Le Manoir”, Mme. Claudette Gabroy, 50760 Montfarville, phone 33 23 14 21. The 16th century mansion is just 800 meters from Barfleur. 250 francs for two people with breakfast. “Manoir de Brion”, 50530 Sartilly, phone 33 70 82 36. Just after the village of Genêts. Four history-laden rooms, from 375 to 600 francs, breakfast 40 francs per person. “Hotel Saint-Pierre”, 50116 Le Mont Saint-Michel, phone 33 60 14 03, fax 33 48 59 82. Spend the night in historical walls directly on the monastery mountain. Rooms between 300 and 890 francs. The French Tourist Office, Maison de la France, Sabine Perras, Westendstrasse 47, 60325 Frankfurt / M., Telephone 0 69/74 70 91, Fax 75 21 87, can provide further travel information and lists of rooms and campsites. Very special tips on Normandy are available : Comite Regional de Tourisme de Normandie, Ms. Brigitte Muller-Konrad, 14, rue Charles Corbeau, F – 27000 evreux, phone 32 33 79 00, fax 32 31 19 04. The area code for France is 00 33. Activities: Who the famous Klosterberg Mont-St. Michel would like to see a bird’s eye view, should book an ultralight sightseeing flight. In the ULMs, as the »motorcycles of the air« are called in French, the passenger sits completely outdoors, directly behind the pilot. It is therefore best to leave your motorcycle clothes on. The airy excursion costs 200 francs. Information: Air Mont-Saint-Michel, 35610 Saint-Georges-de-Grehaigne, phone 99 80 30 84. Literature: The Vista Point Guide Normandy describes a seven-day tour between Giverny and Mont St. Michel. Price: 39.80 marks. Elke and Dieter Lobkarn have written a new work in the Unterwegs edition of the Motorbuch Verlag: France – Volume 1 contains, among other things, a detailed tour of Normandy. To order for 29.80 Marks from the MOTORRAD reader service, phone 07 11/1 82-12 25. The best map comes from Michelin. »Normandy« on a scale of 1: 200,000 and costs 13.80 marks. Distance driven: about 650 kilometers, time required: five days

Worth seeing – Normandy

At the focal point of the 1944 invasion there are interesting museums that give you an idea of ​​what happened back then: equipment, weapons and emblene can be seen in the Musee des Troupes Aeroportees, Pegasus Bridge, Benouville, and in summer there is a light on the bridge. and clay drama take place. Opposite the remains of the gigantic, artificial harbor »Mullberry B« is the Musee du Debarquement, Place 6 Juin, Arromanches. Models, slide shows and videos can be seen. Just a few meters from Omaha Beach is the Omaha Museum, Rue de la Mer, Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, where weapons, vehicles and uniforms are on display. Various landing craft are on display in the Musee du Debarquement, right on Utah Beach in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, and a slide shows the invasion in this section. In the Musee de la Liberte on Avenue de la Plage in Quinville there is a replica of a street train during the German occupation. Furthermore, a former German bunker is integrated into the museum.

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