If the sun’s out, have a wander around the three memorial gardens - green spaces dedicated to the British, American and Canadian soldiers who liberated France.
Located in the northern suburbs of Caen, this touchingly curated museum details some of the bloodiest and most unpleasant episodes of the 20th century. While it can make for difficult viewing at times, the focus is very much on promoting peace by fully exposing the horrors of war, and the resulting experience is both informative and challenging.
Telling It How It Was
A large portion of the Mémorial de Caen, as the museum is also known, is dedicated to the Second World War. The first room details its causes, from the fallout of WWI to the inexorable, tragic disintegration of the manufactured “peace” in the 20s and 30s. This is followed by an eye-opening exploration of life in France after its invasion by Germany, covering everything from resistance members to collaborators. You will then be shown the rapid expansion of continental war into world war, and the unimaginable violence and depravation of the Nazi regime. The museum gradually draws you in with its increasingly in-depth accounts of the interactions of the different regimes and their figureheads, before transitioning to detail the final phase of the war. This section includes the highlight of the centre, an immensely detailed and engaging account of the Normandy Invasion of 1944.
Further on, there is a well put-together section on the Cold War. Here you will find a deceptively simple collection of artefacts - a Communist Party card, an American neon advertising board - which successfully build a picture of just how vast the divide was between East and West. You are then shown the way in which the “Balance of Terror” mounted, culminating in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and very nearly in the total annihilation of humanity. For those interested in 20th Century history, this is not to be missed.
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