To the south of the Route des Crêtes, on a spur at an altitude of more than 900m, stands the Vieil-Armand (or Hartmannswillerkopf, often abbreviated to HWK).
A bit of history…
This mountain with multiple names (linked to the change of nationalities and therefore of languages) was the scene during the First World War (especially during the winter of 1915-1916) of particularly violent confrontations. The vigor of the fighting as well as the harshness of the conditions (extremely cold winter) made the Hartmannswillerkopf an emblematic battlefield of the Vosges mountains. As the confrontations did not result in a victory for either side, the Vieil-Armand (which can therefore be considered neutral) was chosen 100 years later to symbolize reconciliation and celebrate Franco-German friendship.
The site visit is undertaken in two stages (which can be reversed): the exploration of the battlefield through the proposed 4.5 km interpretation trail (which can be shortened if necessary), the cemetery, the crypt and then the visit of the Historial in order to understand the historical context and the life of the soldiers in combat.
The Battlefield (approx. 2 hours visit)
After a few hundred meters of walking behind the crypt (whose visit is also worth the detour) and the impressive cemetery, we find ourselves confronted with the traces in the mountain left by the fighting: shell impacts, barbed wire, etc. You will have to walk another kilometer to discover and cross the trenches of the battlefield (100% authentic, it must be said). Along the way, signs explain the difference between the French and German trenches, their evolution, their frightening proximity and even some anecdotes! After passing the summit cross, continue to the Volunteer Cross to enjoy the panoramic view of the Alsace plain (certainly one of the reasons why both sides were so determined to occupy this place). Below, don’t miss the impressive monument of the 152nd infantry regiment (known as the Red Devils).
Vous êtes intéressé par le tourisme de mémoire ? Découvrez notre guide des lieux de mémoire en Alsace!
The Historial (approx. 1 hour visit)
The building hosting theFranco-German Historial is already interesting from the outside: this “almond” flanking the hill, its green setting and its view of the Alsace plain (on a clear day you can see the Bernese Alps) create a very aesthetic whole! Now, let’s go in! After a first video explaining the context in which the war broke out, you will be immersed in the atmosphere of the battlefield through different themes: transportation and logistics, costumes and equipment. This conceptual (rather than purely chronological) approach allows visitors to visit at their own pace and according to their interests. The multimedia (touch screens, videos, sounds) and the possibility to touch certain things allow a more lively visit.
The central element of the exhibition is a round room in which a film made from photos taken on the battlefield and animated is shown. These videos are accompanied by authentic and poignant testimonies of German and French soldiers (bilingual video). The chronology of the fighting that took place at theHartmannswillerkopf is recalled in real time during the video by an animated relief map of the battlefield. The result is really impressive: don’t miss a moment of it!
Around this auditorium you will discover reconstructions of shelters, trenches (in their initial aspect) and excavations. A touch screen is also available so that visitors who have information on soldiers who fought at the Hartmannswillerkopf can enter it into a database: a great initiative to maintain the memory of these soldiers!
To finish your visit, consider taking a walk on the panoramic terrace, for a drink or simply to enjoy the view!
- The tour of the battlefield with its interpretation panels
- The impressive video with the animated map in the center of the exhibition
- The almond-shaped architecture blends perfectly with the landscape
I liked less
- Some touch screens were not in working order
My pictures of the Hartmannswillerkopf (Vieil-Armand)
Here you can find the prices of the Historial. The audioguide (available in French, English and German) is included in the entrance fee. For holders of the Museum Pass / Pass musées , admission is free.
Access to the battlefield is free, just follow the marked trails and the interpretation panels that have been installed. Be careful, it is necessary to foresee an approach walk of about twenty minutes.
Access to the crypt is free.
You will find here the schedule of the Franco-German historial and the crypt of the Hartmannswillerkopf. The battlefield is open all the time (access on foot, beware of the closure of the ridge road)
Guided tours are available upon reservation.
The address is as follows: D431 (route des crêtes) / Col du Silberloch – Lieu-dit Vieil Armand, 68700 Wattwiller. You have to count:
- 30 km from Mulhouse (about 38 min)
- 48 km from Colmar (about 50 min)
- 123 km from Strasbourg (about 1h30)
By public transport
You can watch on Vialsace.