The Frightening Beauty of Bunkers
A visitor to the beaches of Normandy in France will no doubt be aware of its historical evidence. It was only two generations ago that thousands of soldiers arrived here in the most dire of consequences. Nothing less than the fate of the free world was at stake.
As the Allied troops stormed the beach, waiting for them were thousands of Axis troops. Hitler’s army sat poised in bunkers, plotting and planning their next move. And those bunkers, in a myriad of shapes and sizes, still stand on Normandy’s beaches long after the fighting has ceased, but still serving as reminders of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
These bunkers were part of Hitler’s grisly Siegfried Line, a series of fortifications that ran along the Western edge of Germany’s empire. The bunkers—approximately 1500 of them—worked as a sort of protective architecture along with flak towers and submarine pens. There is an order to their placement and when visiting them it is easy to wonder what strategic purpose they may have served. Even though they may have been assembled hastily, they are far from bland, as is so often the case with military edifices.
From a design standpoint, the bunkers are firmly in the Modernist school. In fact, the noted British author JG Ballard points to the bunkers on the French coast as a sort of last gasp of particular type of Modernism where functioned defined form, and some of the bunkers recall the work of Le Corbusier.
When looking over one of the bunkers it is easy to forget that in these tiny blockhouses Hitler’s world view was defended, attacked and defeated. They represented a world view which its occupants felt was worth defending to the death—which is often how confrontations ended.
Visiting the Normandy region can be a somber experience. There are plenty of informative, organized tours that are worth your time. The Caen War Memorial is well worth your time. And if you wish to go further back in history, the Bayeux Tapestry is a must-see. But an impromptu visit to a string of Normandy’s bunkers can be stirring also. While you are admiring the durability and resonance of the architecture you can let your mind drift to what may have taken place on the hallowed ground where you now you stand.
A visit to the coastline of Normandy reminds us that history is all around. Often, specific locales are memorials with a plaque or a stone. Visitors can read about the great event that took place at or near this very spot. But in the case of many of the bunkers along the Atlantic coast of France no such explanations are needed. SD