June 19, 2014, Bastogne- I got off the bus, at the now shuttered Gare de Bastogne, in mid-afternoon. A college student sitting outside directed me to Place McAuliffe, a scant 200 meters to the east. General Anthony McAuliffe was the American commander who, when informed of a German ultimatum to surrender at Bastogne, replied, “Nuts!”, and kept his forces in the fight. Thus, the Battle of the Ardennes, or “Battle of the Bulge” was fought, and eventually won, by the Allies.
This small park, in the center of Bastogne, features a round Visitors’ Center, and a Sherman tank.
Some kids were being helped by their father to climb up for a closer look. I was more interested, at that point, in taking my bags over to my hotel, which has the captivating name, Leo At Home. It was a few steps away, in Bastogne’s solid business center.
As it happened, the town was hosting another of its regular Youth Fests. Teens and young adults from all over Wallonia were there, gathering in the town’s main park, and at brasseries throughout the city centre.
The park is as nicely landscaped as any in Belgium.
Along the main street, Bastogne has such attractions as the Bastogne Pig Museum.
There are an American Indian Museum and Bison Ranch, on the south side of town. I didn’t go there, but it is popular with Europeans, including the surprising number of Germans who visit the battle site. Bastogne keeps its war-related in-town historical sites in good order. Here is L’Eglise Saint Pierre, where many took refuge during the siege of 1944.
The town has its own memorial to those who worked to defend it, and the Ardennes, in those harrowing days.
An old farm woman who donned a helmet is memorialized in this sculpture.
The most moving symbol of the town’s fortitude and resilience, though, is Porte de Treves, adjacent to L’Eglise Saint Pierre. This is the sole remaining portion of the wall which once surrounded Bastogne.
The eerie light which highlight’s the entrance to the gate came to mind later, when I checked out the bicycle path that runs from Bastogne, north to Liege, or east, to the Luxembourgian town of Wiltz.
It is there, on a moonlit night, that local legend says one will encounter Le Loup Garou.
The story of the werewolf, and other legends of the Ardennes, is told at Musee de Piconrue, in an old convent, across from the bicycle path. Bastogne was nonetheless quite lively, with various war buffs and young adults from all over, staying at the Leo corporation’s two hotels. The concern also operates a fine restaurant, in a refurbished train car. There, I enjoyed sea bass and new potatoes, while being closely observed by two little girls there with their parents. “Yes this, my darlings, is how one properly uses a fish knife and fork.”
NEXT: Navigating “The Seven Roads to Hell”.