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by Wildcat Dianne
August 2, 2011
Whenever I take a vacation to Europe, I always make the effort to visit at least one World War II sight while I am there. This trip around from April-May 2011 was the Airborne Museum at Hotel Hartenstein near Arnhem, The Netherlands. The history of the Netherlands during this trying and horrible time has been a fascination for me and one of my favorite movies is A Bridge Too Far. I was looking forward to making the trip about an hour from my friend Monique's home in Vianen to see the history of Operation Market Garden, the failed Allied attempt to liberate the Netherlands in September 1944.
Monique, Manouk, Jiska and I were planning to visit the Airborne Museum on May 2, but Manouk was not feeling well and Monique thought a trip to Kasteel de Haar would be closer to home and a shorter trip for us. No problem. The next day, May 3, Manouk was feeling better (we thought), and we made the one-hour journey to the town of Oosterbeek, where Hotel Hartenstein is actually located. Hotel Hartenstein was the location of the British 1st Airborne's Headquarters during Operation Market-Garden and the Battle of Arnhem. Before the British took over Hotel Hartenstein, it was the headquarters of German Field Marshall Walter Model and then General Roy Urquhart during the battle for the town of Oosterbeek. In 1949, a museum with exhibits was opened at nearby Kasteel Doorwerth, but in 1980, it was moved to its present-day location at Hotel Hartenstein.
Monique, Manouk, Jiska and I toured the outside of Hotel Hartenstein before going inside the museum itself. Outside there are monuments to the British 1st Army, the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade that fought alongside the British during Operation Market-Garden, and to the Dutch civillians who lost so much during the German occupation and subsequent battles of Arnhem and surrounding cities and towns from September-October 1944.
Let me just say that the Airborne Museum has to be one of the best WWII museums I have ever visited in my 25 plus years of European travel. I was blown away by the many exhibits and attention to detail the Dutch have put into this place, and to keep all of you faithful friends and readers from falling asleep on your keyboards and shorting them out with your drool, I will give you my favorite parts of the tour and other observations. A separate entry will be about the history of Operation Market Garden.
When you first enter the Airborne Museum, you enter the main floor where the museum shop is and the beginning of the tour is. There are several rooms with exhibits of both Allied and German uniforms, weapons, photos, and other things that were used by the soldiers to get them through the battle. According to Cornelius Ryan's book A Bridge Too Far, Colonel John Frost went into battle with an umbrella and a suitcase with fancy clothing thinking he would be partying in Arnhem after battle. An American paratrooper jumped into battle with his pet rooster. I didn't see an umbrella or stuffed rooster during the entire exhibit, but seeing the weaponry and other personal items was pretty interesting.
Whenever I tour these WWII museums, I always like it when they have a part of the museum set aside for the civillians who saw the battle first-hand. This is one of my favorite parts of the museum. There are several TV screens showing videos in German, French, Dutch in English showing documentaries of interviews done with now elderly Dutch civillians who saw and survived the battles around Arnhem. Most of them were children at the time of war, but their memories are as fresh now as they were 67 years ago. Manouk and Jiska were just as fascinated by these documentaries as Monique and I were. But as we were pulling away from the screens to let the next tourists through, poor Manouk got woozy and had to be put in her sister's wheelchair. I now give the museum docents and curator a lot of credit here. They quickly got another wheelchair for Jiska and then helped us push Manouk outside to get some air. The rooms at Hartenstein are small and claustrophobic for some folks, but they were warm, too, and Manouk got a little overheated and got dizzy. A big dank u wel from us from us to the staff at Hotel Hartenstein is well-deserved here.
Monique didn't want me to wait with them outside while Manouk recovered and spoil my day, so I made sure they were OK before going back inside to complete the tour which led me to the basement where one of the most mind-blowing, fascinating, and sometimes scary part of the tour was. The entire basement was dark and lighting was only around life-sized dioramas of Dutch towns that went through the battles of Operation Market Garden. You could hear machine gun fire, shelling and other noises of war that had me jumping a couple of times in my shoes. But the part of that exhibit that had me wondering if I was going to be searching for German soldiers under my bed that night was when I entered the diorama that was a store and when I got inside via the basement, it was pitch dark and scary. I am one who can get to the bathroom in the middle of the night in the dark without a problem by feel, but being in the dark here and hearing the sounds of German jackboots and voices and other sounds, I was a little scared and backed out of there.
I finished the tour and went back outside to see how everyone was and had a sandwich from the picnic lunch Monique had packed for us. Manouk was feeling a lot better and wanted to complete the tour along with her sister, and I went back inside with her and their mother this time pushing Jiska in her wheelchair. I remembered where we left off on the second floor and we were able to complete the tour there and then headed down to the scary basement exhibit. This time I pushed Jiska through the store basement that had freaked me out minutes before and was able to get through it without a problem, but it was still scary.
After we finished the tour, I went into the museum shop to get a copy of the DVD of, you guessed it, A Bridge Too Far. I was looking forward to kicking back one night and watching my favorite British and Swiss-German actors, Michael Caine, Sean Connery and Maximillian Schell in the comfort of my own home, but when I got home, I didn't realize that European and American DVDs are different. I e-mailed the museum for assistance and they told me I could have it converted or exchanged by MGM. So now I have to call MGM Studios to see if I can exchange this DVD for one that is compatible for my DVD player. Bummer.
That was the only disappointment I experienced at the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek. If you are interested in visiting the Airborne Museum, they are open daily except for major holidays and you can see it online at www.airbornemuseum.org. Don't miss it if you visit the Netherlands.
From journal Doing It The Dutch Way II: Beaches, Castles, and Bridges.
by Emily Marie
Bronx, New York
December 14, 2003
The Hartenstein Hotel still stands, but today it's a museum devoted to the Market-Garden operation and specializing on the events around Arnhem.
When you enter, you are first brought to the hotel's lounge. In this room are displays honoring the officers of the 1st British Airborne who landed near Arnhem. There is also a multimedia map that shows how the troops tried to reach the Arnhem road bridge and how they ended up at the Hartenstein.
From there you go up a set of stairs to see the museum's collection. This includes Dutch artifacts of the 1940s, military gear such as uniforms and weapons, maps, and models of the aircraft used in Market Garden. The exhibits are arranged in chronological order, starting with descriptions of the German occupation and working through the airborne drop and the disastrous ends for the Allied forces in Arnhem.
The display ends in the basement, where there is a room for special exhibits and a number of panoramas depicting the Allied arrival and conditions at the Hartenstein. As you leave, you pass a bookshop that has a number of titles in both English and Dutch.
Outside the hotel is offers a number of things as well. A couple of tanks and cannons are out there along with a plaque honoring the men of the British Red Devils. Opposite the entrance to the building is a small garden where people can sit on a nice day.
I have always been a self-styled WWII historian, and ever since my semesters in The Netherlands, Market-Garden has become a special interest for me. I have been to a number of WWII-based museums in Europe, and this is one of my favorites. That’s not just because of the subject. The displays are straight forward and the English descriptions are clearly written. The building has been well-kept and repaired since the beating it took 60 years ago. This may not sound like anything special, but I have vivid memories of having a large moth landing on my neck at one museum set in an old barn. It’s also nice that this museum is in a building which played a significance in the war.
From journal A Bridge too Far