The small city of Kayserberg is a must-see in the region. Located in the Kayserberg valley between the Vosges and the Alsatian plain, this medieval city with a population of 2,700 inhabitants is typical of the local architecture.
Filled with many shops, restaurants, and cafés, Kayserberg is a popular touristic destination and was recently elected as the favorite city of the French by a TV show. The narrow streets, overlooked by the ruins of a medieval fortress, will take you through the centuries of Alsatian history.
After visiting the Haut-Koenigsbourg castle, Colmar Neuf-Brisach and Kayserberg, it was time to see the remnants of the two world conflicts that devastated Alsace. Memorials and graves of American, Colonial, German and French soldiers are scattered across the Alsatian landscape.
On the road of the Vosges, bordering the plain and among vineyards lies the National Cemetery of Sigolsheim. Built on a slope, the round-shaped cemetery is the resting place of 1,500 soldiers, including 15 Jewish and 700 African graves.
Most of these soldiers died during the heavy fighting for the Colmar Pocket in January and February 1945 and many belonged to colonial regiments or to the French Foreign Legion. A memorial with the flag of the United States and the insignias of the American regiments who took part in the battle is close by. The Sigolsheim Cemetery was also featured in Rachid Bouchareb’s war movie Days of Glory.
9 Kilometres North of Sigolsheim, the beautiful medieval and fortified city of Turckheim is home to a museum dedicated to the fighting in Alsace and around Colmar. It has an extensive collection of weapons, uniforms, objects of German, French and American soldier’s daily life. Among its most surprising artifacts, the museum has the cockpit and part of the engine of a Thunderbolt fighter that crashed nearby (the memorial of Marin La Meslée nearby), part of a Messerschmitt engine and the wheels of a German tank destroyer. Other objects include a military kitchen, rocket launchers, shells, helmets, an MG34 machine-gun and tobacco. The museum has photographs and documentaries helping the visitor to visualize the fighting in Winter 1945 as well as sound background to enhance the reconstruction of scenes of the battle.
Sigolsheim and Turckheim are only two of the numerous places WW2-related that we visited. Everywhere through the vineyards and the mountains, remnants of the battle that drew the German Army back from Alsace are scattered. Alongside museums and cemeteries, there are many memorials to visit such as the crash site of French ace Edmond Marin La Meslée or the Audie Murphy Memorial. Audie Murphy was one an American soldier who was awarded all the existing medals of the United States as well as Belgian and French decorations. A memorial was built on the site where he pushed back by himself an entire German company that was attacking his unit position.
Leaving the Alsatian plain, the museum of the Collet du Linge commemorates a hard-fought battle between French and German armies during WW1. In 1915, the two nations fought for the 987 meters high pass. Heavily fortified by Germany, the battle of the Linge is emblematic of WW1 with a deadly battle (over 17,000 casualties) for little gain which lasted for months until it became a stalemate. At an altitude of 987 meters, the visitor of the battlefield can observe the beautiful Orbey valley and imagine the conditions of the French attacks on the German trenches. Remains of soldiers are still found today (the last one was found in 2010) and the visitor can walk through the stone-made trenches and visit a museum filled with many objects such as rifles and guns, helmets, watches.
Not far from the museum is the French cemetery for the elite Chasseurs Alpins battalions that fought at the Linge, including a ski unit. The German soldiers had fortified the pass so well that the battle was nicknamed in France as the “tomb of the Chasseurs Alpins”.
The region is characterized by forests and mountainous terrain, hence the use of elite alpine units in the battle. Visiting the Collet du Linge also makes for a very good cycling journey for those not afraid of climbing such a road. In 2001, the Tour de France took the Collet du Linge Road. The Germans also suffered terribly in this battle and a cemetery was built near the village of Hohrod to commemorate the deaths of 2,438 soldiers, most of them from the 6th Bavarian Landwehr Division and 187th Prussian Infantry Brigade.
South of Haut-Rhin department, in the village of Soultzmatt, there is a Romanian cemetery. Atypical, it commemorates the deaths of 687 Romanian soldiers that were brought to Alsace by the German empire to work as prisoners. These Romanian soldiers were used to build roads and fortifications in 1917. However, many were badly treated and died of starvation, exhaustion or torture. After the war, Queen Mary of Romania and the region of Alsace worked together to find as many graves as possible (they were scattered in the region) and build a resting place for these men who died so far from home. The Romanian cemetery is unusual because of the history behind but also because of the Orthodox crosses shaped graves, very different from the Catholic and Protestant crosses or the American graves.
And there ends this historical tourism oriented trip, showcasing only a small amount of Alsace’s rich history and architecture. It is worth noting that many places mentioned, especially in the Vosges, require being in good physical shape and may be troublesome for handicapped people. Even if accesses for handicapped people exist and are very well done, places such as the various trenches or the Haut-Koenigsbourg castle may not be suited for people with movement disorders.