South of the Crest Road, on a rock spur at an altitude of 900m, stands Vieil-Armand (or Hartmannswillerkopf, often shortened as HWK).
A little bit of historical context…
This mountain has many names (because of the changes in nationality and therefore in languages) and has been during World War I, the theater (especially during the winter 1915-1916) of particularly violent battles. The vigor of the fights, as well as the harsh winter conditions (an extremely cold winter) made of Hartmannswillerkopf, a symbolic battlefield in the Vosges. The battles didn’t lead to victory for any of the camps and Vieil-Armand (which can therefore be considered as neutral) has been chosen 100 years later, as a symbol of reconciliation and to celebrate the Franco-German friendship.
Visiting the site is therefore done in two stages (that can be inverted): exploring the battlefield through a 4.5 km interpretation trail (it can be shortened if necessary), the cemetery, the crypt and then visiting the Historial, tobetter understand the historical context, as well as the life of soldiers in combat.
The battlefield (about 2 hours of visit)
After walking for a few hundred meters behind the crypt (the visit is also worth it) and the impressive cemetery, you’ll be confronted with the marks left by the fights on the mountain: shell impacts, barb wire, etc. You will need to walk one more kilometer to see and cross the battlefield trenches (100% genuine). Along the path, signs will explain the differences between French and German trenches, their development, their frightening proximity and even some anecdotes! After passing by the summit cross, you can go up to the Cross for volunteer soldiers to enjoy a panoramic view over the Alsace Plain (probably one of the reasons why each camp desperately attempted to occupy this location). Don’t miss below the impressive monument of the 152nd Regiment of Infantry (the “Diables Rouges”).
The Historial (about 1 hour of visit)
The building hosting the Franco-German Historial is already an interesting sight from outside: this “almond” flanked to the hill, its lush setting and the view over the Alsace Plain (in clear weather, you can even see the Bernese Alps) create a very aesthetic ensemble! And now, let’s go in! After a first video explaining the context in which war broke out, you will plunge into the atmosphere of the battlefield through various themes: transport and logistics, clothing and equipment. This conceptual approach (rather than purely chronological) allows you to visit at your own rhythm and according to your interests. Multimedia (touch screens, videos, sounds) and the possibility to touch some objects allow for a more interactive tour.
The key component of the exhibition is a round room, in which a movie is broadcasted, made with pictures from the battlefield that have been brought to life. These videos come with genuine and poignant testimonies from German ad French soldiers (bilingual video presentation). The chronology of the fights in Hartmannswillerkopf is recalled in real-time during the video, with an interactive relief map of the battlefield. The result is very impressive: don’t miss a second of it!
Around this auditorium, you will discover reconstitutions of shelters, trenches (in their original appearance) and excavations. A touch screen is also available for visitors who have some information about soldiers who fought at the Hartmannswillerkopf, to put it in a database: a great initiative to keep the memories of these soldiers alive!
To finish your tour, don’t forget to have a look at the panoramic terrace, to grab a drink or simply to enjoy the view!
- The visit of the battlefield with interpretive signs
- The impressive video with the interactive map at the centre of the exhibit
- The almond-shaped architecture fitting in perfectly with the landscape
I liked a little less
- Some touch screens were not working.
My pictures of the Hartmannswillerkopf (Vieil-Armand)
You will find here the prices for the Historial. The audioguide (available in French, English and German) is included in the admission charge. For Museum Pass holders, entrance is free.
Access to the battlefield is free, and you’ll just have to follow the identified trails, as well as interpretive signs. Remember that you’ll need to walk for about 20 minutes before getting there.
Access to the crypt is free.
You will find here the opening times for the Franco-German Historial and the Hartmannswillerkopf crypt. The battlefield is always open (you can reach it on foot, but be careful to check if the Crest Road is closed).
Guided tours are possible, but you’ll have to make a booking.
The address is as follows: D431 (route des crêtes) / Col du Silberloch – Lieu-dit Vieil Armand, 68700 Wattwiller. It is located about:
- 30 km from Mulhouse (about 38 min drive)
- 48 km from Colmar (about 50 min drive)
- 123 km from Strasbourg (about 1h30 drive)
By public transport
You can have a look on Vialsace.