The Blue Line – the Vosges frontier 1871 to 1914

The frontier separating Alsace from France before the Great War


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La Tête des Faux – one hundred years on. Christmas in the Vosges 1914 (2)

Commemorating the Christmas Eve attack on the summit of la Tête des Faux, one hundred years ago, 24th December 1914 – 2014.

Please visit the new gallery of my photos of la Tête des Faux

09 Reclaimed by nature Near the summit (my photo)

The dominant summit of la Tête des Faux was strategically important: its height (1208 m) provides an extensive view over this part of the Vosges and the villages of le Bonhomme, Orbey and Lapoutroie. Initially it was occupied by the Germans, who used the position for surveillance and artillery attacks, particularly on the French based at the Col du Bonhomme.

After the French command post at le Col du Bonhomme was destroyed at the end of November 1914, Chasseurs Alpins [French] attacked and gained a foothold on la Tête des Faux on December 2nd.

On 21st December, the snow began to fall and temperatures dropped to bitterly cold. There was some sporadic shooting, but the German full assault to push back the French began at 22h30 on Christmas Eve, preceded by a heavy mortar attack. The French had to withdraw to await reinforcements, who forced the Germans back into their previous position.

On Christmas Eve, 1914, there was no truce and no football at la Tête des Faux. 137 French and over 500 German soldiers died in the fierce cold and snow on this challenging summit.

Hexenweiher Hexenweiher (my postcard)

 

Please visit the new gallery of my photos of la Tête des Faux

 


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Tour de France, Stage 10: July 14th 2014. A view through old postcards

The second day of the Tour de France in the beautiful Vosges includes some of the towns and villages which suffered terrible destruction in the Great War. It climbs to altitudes where domination was vital for observation and defence in the challenging conditions of mountain warfare.

Mulhouse

Two postcards, one showing the famous Hotel de Ville and the other the Monument aux Morts (posted 1930).

01 Mulhouse hotel de ville

02 Mulhouse monument aux morts posted 1930

Ensisheim

Behind l’hôtel de la Régence is an intriguing war memorial commemorating Ensisheim 1675 – 1975. It depicts Turenne’s victory at Turckheim in 1675, saving Alsace from the Imperial army, and the American troops who liberated Alsace and the village in 1945. There is a plaque recording the names of villagers who were deported to concentration camps.

03 Ensisheim S of Guebwiller
Ensisheim WW2

Westhalten

Like many in Alsace, Westhalten’s war memorial depicts the mourning of woman and children.

Westhalten

Soultzmatt

La Cimetière roumain, Soultzmatt, is the resting place of 678 Romanian soldiers who died in captivity during the Great War in Alsace and Lorraine.

04 Soultzmatt Roumanian cemetery

Roumanian cemetery 7

Roumanian cemetery 6

Munster

The card below, posted in 1915, shows the town of Munster before the war, looking towards Hohrod and Hohroderg. In the background are the defended observation positions of Hörnleskopf, where vestiges of German structures can still be seen, with Barrenkopf, Kleinkopf and le Linge in the further distance.

Lancaster NN766 crashed into this mountainside on January 7th, 1945. A cross on the hillside commemorates the crew.

05 Munster facing towards Hohrod posted 1915

Hörnleskopf:

5b Hörnleskopf observatoire Français au sommet

5a Hörnleskopf

A few images showing the destruction of Munster during the Great War:
06 Album - Munster la place du Couvent

07 Album - Munster rue du Dome

08 Munster rue Hohrod ruines

The civic cemetery in Munster contains the dead of two World Wars and this Bavarian lion, erected by Bavarian troops in 1916. For a fuller account, please visit my other blog:

http://mightygwyn.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/cimetiere-militaire-munster-a-place-of-stories/

09   Munster cimetière posted 1925

The Monument aux Morts in Munster before the Second World War:

10 Munster les Promenades et le Monument aux Morts

Luttenbach-près-Munster

11 Picture map Munster area WITH BOX

The camping area in Luttenbach is the site of the château of Coubertin, founder of International Olympic Committee. The château was destroyed in the Great War.

Luttenbach looks across to Reichackerkopf (c  780m), the site of extremely fierce fighting between February and April 1915. It was immensely important, partly because it controlled access to Munster and the two prongs of the valley. 4500 French soldiers and 4000 Germans were killed or lost on this small section.

There are numerous vestiges of the Great War still visible on Reichackerkopf. Many of these settlements in the two valleys were destroyed during the 14-18 war.

12 Reichackerkopf vers la Vallée de Munster

Petit Ballon (1163 m)

Kahlenwasen is now a peaceful, popular ferme auberge high on the Petit Ballon. During the Great War the farm premises were used by German troops and destroyed. Signs of trench lines are still visible. (The feature picture of this blog was taken from Kahlenwasen.) The second postcard is a military card.

13 Kahlenwasen dated 1904

14 Kahlenwasen in snow, military postcard

Sondernach

Sondernach after the Great War; and the French cemetery at Sondernach, Cimetière du Bois de Maettle:

15 Sondernach after war

16 Cimetière Sondernach

After the War, the villages close to Sondernach were left in ruins.

16a Metzeral before the War Metzeral, before the 14-18 War

16c Metzeral 17 janvier 1916 Metzeral

16b  Metzeral ruines in snow posted 1919 Metzeral

16d Metzeral pont de la Fecht postwar Metzeral

16f Mittlach multivue 1915 Mittlach (Chasseurs Alpins’ ambulance base in cellar of Mairie-école)

16e Breitenbach cimetière militaire allemand. German military cemetery, Breitenbach.

A new church was built on the site of the wrecked Chapelle d’Emm as a memorial to those who died for France in the Vosges, particularly in the bitter battle for Metzeral, June 1915. The principal memorial window is beautiful.

16g Metzeral Chapelle Emm

A nos vaillants

IMG_4479 (Detail)

Le Breitfirst

This small, naïve memorial is not far from the road through le Breitfirst (1280m). Its story is self-explanatory from the inscription.

IMG_5479

Col d’Oderen (884 m)

The Col d’Oderen was a frontier point between 1871 and 1914. The original bornes frontières can still be seen. It was also the scene of important action in December 1944. For more information and photos, please see this blog post:
https://thebluelinefrontier.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/two-quiet-cols-oderen-and-bramont/

17 Col d'Oderen posted 1906

Servance

Finally, to give a flavour of the landscape around Servance, here is a postcard showing movement of equipment on the Ballon de Servance in winter.

18 Servance sommet hiver

And these two blog posts wouldn’t be complete without …

La cigogne blanche –  symbole de l’Alsace!

Stork

All postcards and photographs are my own.


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Tour de France Stage 9: July 13th, 2014. A view through old postcards

The Tour de France in the Vosges and Alsace passes some of the most historically interesting parts of the area, places significant in the period before the Great War when Alsace and Lorraine were under German occupation and sites of sadness and commemoration afterwards. Postcard writers, travellers, tourists and soldiers, sent innumerable cards home from the Vosges. This is a small selection from my own collection, following the route of the Tour in two parts, Stage 9 and Stage 10.

Gérardmer

A German shell on display in Gérardmer:

01 Col de la Schlucht Gerardmer shell on display

Travelling in style from Gérardmer to Col de la Schlucht:

02 Services automobiles Gerardmer - la Schlucht

Xonrupt-Longemer to La Roche du Diable

Le Tunnel de la Roche de Diable:

03 Col de la Schlucht tunnel with people

Le Collet

The tramway from Gérardmer up to Col de la Schlucht, close to le Collet. The tram line was used for military transport during the Great War. The embankments and the path of the tramway can still be seen.

04 Col de la Schlucht le Collet tramway posted 1908

Col de la Schlucht (1140 m) This was a busy destination on the frontier between France and Alsace (annexed to Germany, 1871). The original bornes frontières (boundary stones) can still be traced following the frontier up the hillside, marked with F on the French side and D on the German.

The German side of the frontier with a customs officer:

05 Col de la Schlucht German frontier & officer

French customs:

06 Col de la Schlucht poste de Douane française posted 1917

A military halt at Col de la Schlucht before the Great War:

07 Col de la Schlucht grand'halte militaire avant la guerre

Chasseur à Pied at Col de la Schlucht, posted 1907:

07a Chasseurs à pied posted Schlucht 1910

The Hotel Français in ruins, posted 1917. (The Hotel is the furthest building on the right hand side of the road in the first picture.)

08 Col de la Schlucht destoyed hotel written 1917

Col de la Schlucht in ruins, posted 1918:

09 Col de la Schlucht posted Nov 1918

The grand Hotel Altenberg, which hosted many international royals, politicians and celebrities before the war:

10 Col de la Schlucht Hotel Altenberg posted 1915

The Hotel Altenberg after the war (rebuilt as a hospital, now semi-derelict):

11 Col de la Schlucht Hotel Altenberg after war

Station du Lac Blanc

Lac Blanc in peaceful times:

11 Lac Blanc with car

The 1914 mountain battleground of la Tête des Faux overlooks Lac Blanc and towards the villages of Orbey and Lapoutroie. Lac Blanc after the Great War, the hotel in ruins:

12 Lac Blanc après la guerre - ruines d l'hotel

Basses-Huttes – the Tour does not visit Lac Noir, but goes close. Lac Noir was a peaceful destination with a popular restaurant. During the Great War, it was used as a place of shelter: Gen Pouydraguin had his headquarters here. The small single storey buildings to the left of the lower picture were used as a hospital. They have recently been demolished. The restaurant was rebuilt and remains busy.

12a Lac Noir snow posted 1907

12b Lac Noir Grande Guerre

Col du Wettstein (880m) The Tour enters one of its most sobering stages. 17000 men, including 10000 Chasseurs, died at le Linge between July 20th and October 15th, 1915. The French dead of le Linge, Schratzmännele and Barrenkopf lie in the great cemetery at the Col du Wettstein.

Two early postcards of the great French cemetery:

14 Wettstein

13 Wettstein cimetière Orbey

An image posted in 1930:

15 Wettstein cimetiere posted 1930

Le Linge

A selection of images showing le Linge during and after the Great War. It was, obviously, a place of pilgrimage and reflection for those who had lost loved ones or friends there, or who had experienced the hell themselves.

16 Le Linge Set 14 Barrenkopf & Schratz, road, people

17 Album - le Linge sur les pentes de la tête du Linge

18 Le Linge with tourists posted 1925

18a Le Linge Set 03  German cemetery Linge

18b Le Linge Set 10 Schratzmaennele

19 Le Linge with car and people

The German dead are buried in their military cemetery, Hohrod. The bunker outside the walls is still there, adjacent to the road.

19a Hohrod Cemetery showing bunker

19b Hohrod Barenstall German military cemetery

Trois-Épis

The town before the Great War while under German occupation, labelled with its German name Drei Ähren. There is now a  rather special German military cemetery in the town. Its headstones have been replaced with modern crosses and wild flowers dominate the grounds.

20 Drei Ahren Trois Epis

21 Trois Epis military cemetery

Trois Epis German Cemetery 2

Trois Epis German Cemetery 1

Le Markstein (1183 m) – vestiges of the Great War can easily be seen from the Route des Crêtes, established by Joffre for the efficient movement of troops and supplies.  My photo shows how close these vestiges are to the Route des Crêtes (they are best seen in spring before the vegetation has grown back).

IMG_3981

Grand Ballon (1336m)

Postcard posted 1903 written in both German (the language of Alsace in occupation) and French, which was discouraged.

22 Grand Ballon posted 1903

Uffholtz, Cernay

This is the area of Hartmannswillerkopf / le Vieil Armand, the strategically vital mountain which gave views over and control of the Rhine Valley, bitterly fought over in 1915.

23 HWK région des combats devant Cernay et HWK posted 1916

HWK autour de HWK

Next: Tour de France Stage 10 July 14th, 2014

Please explore the index of my blog for more pieces about this lovely region before the Great War!

All postcards and photographs are my own.


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The Vosges trams: Ampfersbach to la Schlucht

Ampfersbach 1

When the mist clears, and if in your imagination you replace the modern building with a distinguished Victorian hotel, you will see an alluring destination for travellers in the Vosges during the period before the Great War.

I am in the pretty valley of Ampfersbach, looking upwards –

Ampfersbach 2

and the modern sanatorium is on the site of the fabulous Hotel Altenberg with its exceptional panorama.

Col de la Schlucht Hotel Altenberg posted April 1915

At 1059 m, the luxurious Altenberg was a short walk from the frontier at Col de la Schlucht (1139m). (The original 1896 hotel was destroyed during the Great War and a new hospital building was built on the site between 1922 and 1926. It closed in 2011.) La Schlucht was a popular destination, well supplied with restaurants, hotels and cafés where the intrepid traveller could relax after a stimulating walk in the French Hautes Vosges, contemplate the lost region of Alsace and breathe in the energising mountain air. There were customs buildings for French and German officials.

Col de la Schlucht multi 1896

It is, of course, possible for energetic people to walk up to la Schlucht from Munster or Gérardmer, or to travel by horse. In 1902, the embryonic idea of running a railway up to the Col and down the other side to Gérardmer began to take shape and a tramway was built. This opened up the beautiful valley and Col to tourists from Colmar, who could travel to Munster by train and board a tram, and visitors from further afield. It was a summer service and half a million people took advantage of it between 1907 and 1913.

The tram trundled at 17 kph along the flat floor of the Munster valley, calling at little stations such as Saegmatt in the Ampfersbach valley:

Sagmatt Schlucht tram  posted 1912

It is still possible to see the slightly elevated embanked track (minus rails) along which the tram travelled. When the flat valley reached the sides of the pass, the tramway began to climb at 7.5 kph up slopes of 22% until it reached the Hotel Altenberg.

Tram Schlucht

Tram Munster-Schlucht Melkerei Altenburg posted 1907

The tramway levelled out after the Altenberg, passed under the Schlucht tunnel cut through the rocks –

Col de la Schlucht tunnel with tram

and eventually reached Col de la Schlucht. There, the customs officers awaited in their official premises at the frontier.

Col de la Schlucht German customs building & tram German customs building

 

Col de la Schlucht German frontier & officer German officer, French side in the background

There is much more to say about Col de la Schlucht and the trams in future posts. When the Great War broke out, the French army took the Hotel Altenberg. The tourist trams were used in the early weeks of the war for the transport of troops and the evacuation of wounded soldiers. This stopped when the German troops cut the electricity supply to the tramway.

Returning to Ampfersbach, I am fortunate to have a special card: a postcard sent by a French soldier from Ampfersbach during the Great War. He annotated it clearly, identifying:

  • the small settlement where they were based
  • a chimney next to which was the first aid post
  • the house where he slept in the cellar
  • and the German side of the front.

According to his message, the X near the church marks the place behind the cemetery wall where he was guarding the trenches. Sadly, he didn’t date or sign his card.

Ampfersbach annotated by soldier trench marked

In very faint pencil marks, he marked his trench line. I have traced his line in red.

It’s a privilege beyond words to have bought such a detailed snapshot of someone’s war for five euros.

 

 

All postcards and photographs my own.

 

Note:

Ampfersbach and the Hotel Altenberg are in Alsace, in the territory annexed by Germany.

Statistics about the tram sourced from La Vallée de Munster: Le Tramway Munster-Schlucht et les environs de la Schlucht by Gérard Jacquat and Gérard Leser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The start of a 550 km journey: the Col du Bussang and the Moselle

On the former French side of the Col du Bussang a small stream emerges from an insignificant hole in the hillside. It is distinguished only by the shape sculpted around it: an M shape which could represent mountains…

Moselle M

… or indicate the name of the river. An elegant design set into the adjacent wall informs you that this is the source of the Moselle at 715 m and a map traces the route through France and Germany (where it becomes the Mosel) to Koblenz, where it flows grandly into the Rhine, 550 km from its insignificant source.

Moselle map

Now the main road N66 races through the Col, taking heavy traffic through the Vosges between Thann and Remiremont on dual carriageways and viaducts. About a kilometre onwards from the Col, a traveller in the time of Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen would be able to see the bridge over le Séchenat, a tributary of the Moselle. In these two postcards, horse-drawn traffic is warily crossing the Pont du Séchenat.

Bussang Pont de Sechenat Grand Hôtel des Sources

Bussang Pont de Sechenat winter

In three kilometres or so the road down from the Col flattens out into the valley of Bussang, distantly overlooked by the Ballon d’Alsace* to the south. It then heads on west, under the shadow of the Ballon de Servance.

Bussang Vue générale et le Ballon-d'Alsace

Looking at the bitter winter climate even lower down from the heights, it’s unsurprising that the military personnel stationed on the Ballon du Servance needed protective clothing.

Ballon de Servance La Tenue de la Troupe en hiver au Ballon de Servance

 

 

All photographs and postcards are my own.

*Please see other blog posts to read more about the Ballon d’Alsace.


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Crossing the frontier by tunnel: the Col de Bussang

See d'Urbes resized

The main road between Thann and Remiremont passes the tranquil, natural lake of the See d’Urbès, where you can walk round the water’s edge and watch dragonflies darting among the marshes. You can take the little road to peaceful Storckensohn, walk past the pretty Alsacien houses and pause by the old oil mill, a watermill. I imagine that visitors from a century ago would have seen a similar scene.

Afternoon sun Urbes  –  Storckensohn. Timeless –  The oil mill, Urbes

Then you can return to the main N66 and begin the winding climb to the Col de Bussang. You pass the memorial to those whose lives ended in the Dachau satellite camp at the foot of Vallon. (It was also administratively connected to the concentration camp at Natzweiler-Struthof, 50 km SE of Strasbourg.) In 1944, the Germans requisitioned a partly complete early rail tunnel to the west of Urbès for an arms factory under the Daimler-Benz umbrella, in a scheme which was code-named KRANISCH-10. Two thousand prisoners and deportees, arriving in waves, were employed in atrocious conditions there between March and September 1944. A current project (2012-2016) aims to provide a memorial to those who worked and died there, with interpretation panels, a trail, a rose bed and art works by young people.*

Memorial

The N66 is a fast, winding road and I imagine that many drivers keen to finish the steep climb to the Col du Bussang (731m) are completely unaware that just to the north of the summit (the col) there is a tunnel through the hillside. It replaced an important road which passed above the site where the tunnel was constructed. The sign over the French entrance to the tunnel was specific: Limite de territoire français 155m de l’origine de tunnel. Shortly after entering the tunnel, the traveller was entering German territory.

Col de Bussang Côté Français

Customs and security on the other side of the tunnel were markedly different from that on the French side, in the officials’ uniforms and the language.

Col de Bussang côté de l'Alsace  Wirtschaft zum Tunnel

The tunnel was a great draw for tourists and travellers. The café was, I believe, Café Murat and postcards dated after the Great War show that ‘Wirtschaft zum Tunnel’ was promptly obliterated and replaced with ‘Café du tunnel’.

Col de Bussang Alsace side

Col de Bussang after war   Café du Tunnel

The entrance to the tunnel is still visible from the former German side (the Urbès side), but I have not been able to see any evidence of the former French entrance (the Bussang side). However, you can see the source of the great river Moselle (Mosel) as it trickles out of the hillside. (Take the D89, route des Sources, not avenue des Sources, and after passing the turning up the hill to Drumont there is a small picnic area at the source.)

Tunnel Col Urbes side (Former German side. Tunnel to the left of the picture. Modern hotel.)

These two cards demonstrate the difficulties of travelling through the Vosges in winter. Both show the French side of the frontier and the customs officials are visible in each. (The stamped card was posted in Wesserling, Alsace, German territory at that time, hence the German stamp.) The small chalet nearest the camera was built by Touring-Club.

Col de Bussang sous la Neige - La frontière en sortant du Tunnel

Col de Bussang route de Wesserling

The N66 remains an important road under pressure. In earlier centuries the route was vital for the defence of France and the movement of troops through the Vosges towards the Swiss border; now trucks are its significant load. The fast road is worth using briefly for the natural beauty on either side of the Col: from St-Maurice you can pick up the steep route to the Ballon d’Alsace , or it’s pleasant to linger in the tranquil nature reserves and lakes near Urbès and Kruth.

Window box

All postcards and photographs are my own.

• For more information please see http://www.struthof.fr/fr/nos-partenaires/memoriaux-des-camps-annexes/ and click on le Kommando Urbès. Also see http://www.lieux-insolites.fr/alsace/urbes/urbes.htm


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Fresh air and fun: Winter tourism on the Ballon d’Alsace before the Great War

Ballon d'Alsace Jumenterie in snow Hôtel de la Jumenterie (left) and farm

People living in developing industrial areas, in expanding cities such as Strasbourg and in increasingly urban environments viewed the mountains tracing their blue line on the horizon and dreamed of escapes to rural idylls where they could recapture an historic rural lifestyle, breathe fresh air and benefit from outdoor exercise. By the early twentieth century, the mountain areas were increasingly accessible and for those in north eastern France or in the territories to the east of the frontier, the Vosges offered beautiful landscapes, snow, space, pure air, a healthy environment and a range of accommodation. Families could choose between hotels, chalets and small establishments whether they were simply intending to explore the Massif privately or participate in great public  events.

Organisations dedicated to the pleasures and practicalities of visiting the mountains developed and by the time the Great War was on the horizon, these clubs were flourishing. Ski-club Vogesen-Straßburg was launched in 1896 – the German name was used  because Strasbourg was in Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen, the annexed part of France – and in 1902, the defiantly named Les Vosges-Trotters de Colmar was started by French-minded Alsaciens. Some of these clubs were modelled on the winter sports clubs which were already popular in the Black Forest, on the other side of the Rhine.

Ballon d'Alsace skiers, piste, Feb 1910 Skiers, Ballon d’Alsace, February 1910

The idea of a rural idyll was partly a myth, but it was a myth enthusiastically fostered by travel organisations and tourist literature. La Compagnie des Chemins de fer de l’Est promoted the Vosges with a vigorous poster campaign. Numerous intrepid travellers published works describing the unspoiled romantic beauty of the Vosges, an area apparently populated by simple honest folk who sang as they went about their daily lives and mingled with innocent animals straight out of fairy tales. The shallow, charming portraits almost entirely ignored the fact that the Vosges is a working area.

Ballon d'Alsace Jumenterie corridor to farm in snow Path cut to provide access to the farm

Ballon d'Alsace la récolte de la glace Cutting a path through the snow

However, the tourists came. Refuges were built, some by Club Vosgien*, chalets were constructed, farmers saw the opportunity to sell refreshments and their own produce such as cheese.

Visitors tended to gravitate towards their nearest mountain heights. The Ballon d’Alsace drew many visitors from the Belfort region to the south of the Vosges. Several hoteliers set up premises at the summit and one particularly original one is the ‘new’ Hôtel de la Jumenterie. It was built on the site of a small farm and its crenelated appearance deliberately evokes an historic past. The original jumenterie was a stable for brood mares, established by the Ducs de Lorraine in the 18th century. There is still la Jumenterie, now a riding-based holiday centre on the road to St-Maurice, but it does not use the original premises. I’ve been unable to see evidence of these and I think they have been demolished.

Ballon d'Alsace Jumenterie engloutie sous la neige Road snowed up between Hôtel de la Jumenterie (left) and farm

Yet, despite the tourists, the Ballon d’Alsace was still a frontier area, and customs officials still had to pursue their responsibilities, even in the bitterest winter, the deepest snows. The fun was a temporary mask; the realities could be extremely harsh, as the soldiers serving in the Hautes-Vosges in the Great War would discover in little more than a decade’s time.

Ballon d'Alsace Vierge dans un bloc de glace The statue of la Vierge du Sommet, Notre-Dame du Ballon, completely frozen into an ice sculpture

Ballon d'Alsace la Baraque des Douanes en hiver written 1911 The customs officers’ premises, card posted 1911

*Club Vosgien, founded 1872, focussed on walkers. It mapped footpaths and provided excellent sign posts through the whole massif of the Vosges. Today they have covered 17000 km of paths. Appealing to the less bourgeois who might not be attracted to the winter sports culture, Les Amis de la nature came to the Vosges just before the Great War, founding branches from 1912-14.  

All postcards my own