One-hundred years ago this month, “The war to end all wars” began in Europe. While it certainly didn’t end war, World War I changed the course of history, ousting governments, launching revolutions, and rewriting national boundaries. Commemorating a war that killed millions is a somber affair, but by traveling to key sites on this centenary, one can perhaps find a message of peace and togetherness as people from around the world gather to honor the dead — and even have a historic soccer game.
You can take several cruise trips through World War I landmarks in Europe. (Courtesy: CroisiEurope)
Life and Death Along the Rivers
River cruises have become a hugely popular way to tour Europe, stopping to see the sites from a mobile home base along scenic waterways. CroisiEurope is offering three different cruise itineraries to commemorate the centenary during the summer of 2015, doing day trips from the ships’ routes through Belgium and France. Historical outings include a walk into the sobering “Trench of Death” in Belgium and to the Douaumont Ossuary, which contains the bones of a staggering 130,000 soldiers killed in the battle of Verdun (perhaps only half the total of dead during the campaign). But the tour isn’t all gloom and doom — other stops are made to sample local wines, cheese, and Champagne, proving that civilization has survived even such a calamity as a world war.
(Courtesy: Interallied Memorial, Belgium)
With Kings and Princes
On Aug. 4, 1914, German troops invaded Belgium, beginning the war on the Western Front. On the same date in 2014, King Philippe of Belgium will welcome heads of state from around the world to honor the fallen at the Interallied Memorial in Liège, across the border from Germany. Also on Aug. 4, in western Belgium near Mons, Prince Harry along with Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge will lay wreaths at the St. Symphorien Cemetery, where the first (as well as the last) Commonwealth soldier killed in the war is buried. British companies dominate WWI battlefield package tour offerings covering these and other key sites in Belguim and France, with almost weekly departures by bus from England, though William and Kate will probably not be traveling by motorcoach.
An homage to the “friendly” at the Plugstreet 14-18 Experience. (Courtesy: Plugstreet 14-18 Experience)
Soccer Anyone? The 1914 Christmas Truce
On Christmas Day in 1914, British and German troops along the trenches near Ploegsteert, Belguim, declared an unofficial truce, meeting in no man’s land between the lines to sing carols, exchange gifts, and even play a game of soccer. To commemorate this moment of peace amid a brutal war, the Plugstreet 14-18 Experience center is arranging a re-enactment of the soccer match this December (including some international stars) on the very same fields where the original “friendly” took place. Visitors are able to tour the museum and local battlefields to get a sense of the incongruence of this never-repeated event.
A cemetery in Gallipoli, Turkey. (Photo: Griselda Ramírez/Flickr)
The Eastern Front
The whole mess started in Sarajevo, Bosnia, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a 19-year-old named Gavrilo Princip. Sadly, to commemorate the event this week, Bosnians and Serbs in the area held opposing events — Bosnians invited the Vienna Philharmonic to give a concert for remembrance, while the Serbs erected a statue of Princip, offered prayers to him, and shouted to the actor portraying him in the ceremony that he should “shoot at the European Union.” Not a good sign for the future. Farther east, on the peninsula of Gallipoli, Turkey, next April 24-25 will mark the 100th anniversary of the landings of Australian and New Zealand troops, who died in great numbers along with the Turks they were fighting. The commemoration ceremonies will be supervised by the Turkish government and attended in huge numbers by travelers from Australia and New Zealand. If those countries can work that out, maybe there is hope for the future.
Related: 7 Museums for 7 Days in Amsterdam
The World War I museum in Kansas City. (Photo: Missouri Division of Tourism/Flickr)
The American Perspective
The United States didn’t enter the war until 1917, but the American World War One Centennial Commission is gearing up for a series of events that will take place both domestically and in Europe over the next five years. They’re planning to support American memorials and museums like the National World War I Museum at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo. The museum’s current “On the Brink” exhibit (running through Sept. 14) outlines the causes and beginnings of the war 100 years ago. To get a head start on 1918’s centenary, visit the iconic (and deadly) U.S. Marine battlefield of Belleau Wood on a day trip from Paris.