This immense Museum can seem overwhelming to you when you first arrive, and you could definitely spend a whole day here. We had decided to spend half a day and lunch at the Museum.
The Museum is divided into two sections – the world before 1945 and the world after 1945. Having just been to many D-Day sights and doing so much reading on WWII as preparation for this trip we decided to start with the world before 1945 section. As we entered this section we went on a downward spiral ramp with displays showing all the events that occurred in the years prior to the start of WWII. It is not until later that you realize you were walking in a downward spiral towards war.
We took advantage of the audio guides, which helps explain the displays in English (or whatever language you choose). We learned of the French Resistance Movement, Collaboration, Total War, and then the D-Day Landings, and the Battle of Normandy. We walked away with so much more concrete knowledge and context for what we had learned about and seen in the days prior to our tour of the Museum. A special treat was seeing a diorama of the Longues-sur-Mer Batterie as it would have been in June 1944. We had just seen the remains of them the day before, so seeing it how it was in the 1940s was very interesting.
It is grounding to see some of the items of clothing from the WWII period that people made, or even hearing recipes made with rations. You have to applaud the tenacity of people who made the best of a hard situation and made creative soups and stews out of rations, and recycled clothes into “new” clothes for another child or family member.
As with any Museum covering WWII there is a section dedicated to the horrors of the Holocaust. No matter how many displays I walk through whether in France, Washington DC or Germany the horror of this event is too much to take in and process. How brave people were to stand up and say this isn’t right.
After touring the pre-1945 section we went outside and under the Museum to tour a restored German bunker. The museum is built on top of an underground bunker that served as the command post of Generalmajor Wilhelm Richter, commander of the 716th German infantry division, which guarded the coastal sector from Omaha to the mouth of the Orne.
There are also memorial gardens honoring American, Canadian, and British forces lost. Unfortunately, due to rain we were unable to visit these gardens.
We then toured the World After 1945 section of the museum. This focuses on the Cold War, and is usually home to a temporary exhibit. There are sections of the Berlin Wall on display, and items comparing and contrasting lifestyles in the US and USSR during the Cold War years. Just as in the pre-1945 section, there are displays, models and dioramas of important events that have shaped the world we live in today.
After this touring it was time for some lunch. The museum has a full-service sit down restaurant or a quick-service café. We chose the café for some quick sandwiches. After lunch we visited the abundant gift shop, then were off to our next stop.
- This is a large museum. You have to plan at a minimum half a day. You could spend a whole day here to truly take in all the exhibits.
- The audio tour is well worth the upcharge. The narration is not too long at any point and adds more to the exhibits than simply reading the text at each display.
- They sell “cricket” clickers that US forces used to communicate with each other during the D-Day invasion in the store. If you are there when a school group is there the amount of clicking from the kids playing with them can distract you.