Welcome to the podcast show notes and transcript for Episode 10: The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2. In this episode Rachel Heller and I speak with Jeroen van Wieringen, who is with Liberation Route Europe. This foundation promotes greater knowledge of the route the Allied troops took to take back Europe from the Nazis during World War II. Many people know about and visit the D Day beaches in Normandy France. There are, however, many more sites to visit which help tell the story of the slow but inexorable march towards Berlin (and ultimate victory) of the Allied forces.

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

Time Stamped Show Notes

00:36 What is Liberation Route Europe?

2:14 The Path of the Allies in WW2

3:41 Beyond the D Day Beaches

4:34 The Highlights of Liberation Route Europe

6:42 The Battle of Arnhem

8:18 The Route’s Foundation Status

10:17 Visiting the Route with Kids

11:17 Visiting the Route with the Mobility Impaired

11:57 The Liberation Route In Berlin

12:56 The American Friends Fund

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Transcript

This is a transcript of 1001 Travel Tales Podcast: Episode 10: The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2. The text has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

A conversation with Shobha George (Just Go Places Blog), Rachel Heller (Rachel’s Ruminations) and Jeroen van Wieringen (Liberation Route Europe).

SG: So today we’re here with Jeoron van Wieringen and he’s with the Liberation Route Europe.

JW: Liberation Route Europe, yes.

SG: And he’s going to talk to us about this organization and what they want to do. Hello, welcome.

JW: Yes, thank you, welcome.

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

The Liberation Route Europe traces the path of the Allies during WW2

What is Liberation Route Europe?

RH: Tell us what the Liberation Route is.

JW: Basically it is an international remembrance route that connects the main items along the path of the western allied forces. It’s a route that is based on historical events of the Second World War and it aims to keep the memory alive of the Second World War.

RH: It’s not just a route from one location to another that had something to do with the war. It’s actually the route that the Allied troops took to take Europe back.

JW: Yeah. The original route is based on the Allied advance, the western Allied Forces. Basically starting in the southern part of the UK before crossing the Channel, it continues towards Normandy and the D-Day landings. Then into Belgium, the Netherlands, West Germany.

RH: And it includes Poland as well, doesn’t it?

JW: Yes, it does include Poland although very small parts so far. It’s in the area of Dansk. We have a partner museum out there which is called The Museum of The Second World War.  Earlier this year I think it was in April officially, Italy joined too.  That’s the most recent development.

RH: My history is a little shaky. The Allied moved partly of course back to Germany to push the German troops back to Germany and they did the same toward Italy. Did they split?

JW: No, no.  You had the Sicily landings in 1943 already. They came up from North Africa.  Like I said Italy has recently only joined. Before we start implementing the country into the actual route it will take 1 or 2 years at least.

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

A World War 2 commemorative statue (photo credit: Liberation Route Europe)

The Path of the Allies in WW2

SG: So you said this was an international initiative. When did the initiative start?

JW: Officially it was an original initiative of the Province of Gelderland in the Netherlands.

There were 2 trainees working at a war museum. In their final conclusion they said the Netherlands had so much to offer when it comes to the heritage of the Second World War but there’s no connection at all. People go to one place but they are unaware of the fact that there are other places too.

The Director of the Regional Tourist Board in the area said we have to do something with that idea. And they started to place big stones in the landscape with information plaques telling what happened at those places in the Second World War.

So it started to create a kind of connection and he called it The Route of the Liberators. And his idea started to roll out to spread towards other Dutch provinces. A couple of years later then officially it became a European project.

RH: Now when Americans come,  I think that it’s very common to go to Normandy.

SG: A lot of people go to Normandy and don’t go elsewhere.

RH: Yeah and there’s an enormous number of museums in Normandy. We only picked a couple of them fairly randomly when we went there.

SG: They’re really good.

RH: But there are a lot of them that address one little aspect of the Normandy invasion.

JW: That’s right.

RH: Then I would guess that when the Americans stop there they might go to Paris to see Paris. They might go to Brittany to see the pretty coast. They’re not continuing on the route.

Beyond the D Day Beaches

JW: And they should do because…

RH: What should they see?

JW: To give you an example maybe some of the Americans have never heard of the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest. It’s in Germany and took place at the end of 1944 in Germany. Sixty seven thousand people died including 37,000 Americans.

It was an American/German battle that took 3 months. Well, that’s one example why Americans should look beyond Normandy.

RH: Wow, and what would they see if they went there? What is there?

JW: Well in the Hurtgen Forest you still see a lot of traces from the war. Literally some tank traces are still visible in the ground.

JW: There are still some field graves to visit, remains of bunkers and so on.

RH: And these are still preserved so people can visit them.

The Highlights of Liberation Route Europe

RH: I see. Okay, I see. So if an American was coming on just a one week holiday because many Americans only get a week or maybe 2 weeks. They couldn’t do the whole route. It sounds like it’s a big route. What would you say? What are the highlights?

JW: The two highlights are Normandy obviously. The second one I would choose personally for a combination of Bastogne and the Germany Hurtgen Forest. Bastogne was the Battle of the Bulge where the American’s participated too. It’s great scenery over there. There are lots of forests so you can combine heritage with nature. The Hurtgen Forest is similar with a beautiful landscape and beautiful area. The history is really a kind of a black period.

RH: Okay, what is there to see where the Battle of the Bulge happened?

JW: There’s a relatively new build called the Bastogne War Museum. It’s a great museum. It opened its doors 3 years ago and it attracts over 200,000 visitors a year. It tells the complete story of the Battle of the Bulge with all new use of new media types. Its a real modern collection.

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

The Bastogne War Museum (photo credit: Liberation Route Europe)

RH: And how does it work with all of these, for example, at Normandy? All of these different little museums that look at very different little pieces of it. Are they part of your initiative?

JW: Yeah, some of them are. For example, the Utah Beach Museum is an American museum that is a partner of the Liberation Route. The Juno Beach Centre focusses more on the Canadian aspect. We have some site museums there. In general, there is one big museum called Memorial de Caen which tells the entire story. That’s the main museum of Normandy and then you have all the site museums each having their own perspective.

JW: One for the Canadians, one for the Americans, the British and so on.

SG: And there’s also different graveyards for each of the nationalities.

JW: Yeah, yeah, there’s a German one. You have the American cemeteries out there.

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

One of the American cemeteries from World War 2 (photo credit: Liberation Route Europe)

RH: Yeah. I think we visited a British one.

JW: Coming back to your previous question, if Americans visit the Hurtgen Forest. it’s only 20 minutes drive to the Maastricht area. You have the American war cemetery of Margarten. Beautiful place to visit too.

The Battle of Arnhem

RH: Now coming back to home where I live, the Netherlands I had actually never heard of  Arnhem. What was it called?

JW: A Bridge Too Far.

RH: Yeah the troopers jumping into Arnhem and the Liberation of Arnhem. That was complete news to me I’d never heard of it before. Maybe that’s showing my ignorance.

JW: You should be ashamed because Arnhem is known by a broad audience via the movie A Bridge Too Far.

RH: Well that will explain it. I haven’t seen that.

JW: There you go. Arnhem in the UK is maybe even more known than in the Netherlands.

RH: And what is there now? I assume that’s on your route.

JW: It’s, well you can visit the Airborne Museum, for example. There’s a British War Cemetery in the area.

At the bridge, there was this operation called Operation Market Garden. The Allied Forces (the Paratroopers) had to take all the main bridges in the provinces  so that the ground troops could go from Belgium to  Germany. The operation did not succeed at Arnhem so the operation failed over there. On that bridge every year there’s now a multimedia spectacle. It’s called The Bridge To Liberation Experience.

The Route’s Foundation Status

RH: Yeah, it sounds that way. You explained that this route was put together. It sort of happened rather than actually planning.

JW: No, there was some planning. Originally it was just happening.

It was our original project but in 2012 the current chairman of the European Parliament a German guy called Martin Schlutz, heard about the Liberation Route. He said well I’m a guy from Germany I’ve seen a lot of trouble. The Second World War is part of me. I think that what you’re doing is great so I want to be your patron. So he became the patron of our foundation. That gave us the opportunity to develop more and more in Europe with him behind us.

RH: So this is a foundation. It’s not a business.

JW: It’s a foundation. It’s a non-profit organization.

RH: And are there for-profit organizations like tour companies that are taking people along the route?

JW: As foundation ourselves, we don’t organize any tours. We talk with tour operators, travel agencies and so on. We say to them if you are willing to sell the story of the Second World War under our conditions then you are able to organize tours.

For example, we have bus company that organises 12 day packages along the Liberation Route. In other countries we work together with travel agencies, tour operators and they develop packages along the route.

SG: So you would have English speaking tour operators as well?

JW: Yeah we do. Actually, we are now working on a set up of a European guide network.

JW: A Liberation Route guide network. Most of them are from the British Guild of Battlefield Guides so they work together with us. Actually all battlefield guides we have must speak English.

RH: Yeah, you would expect as much because many of the tourists would be from England or America in fact.

JW: Yeah, Canada, US, UK.

SG: So it sounds like you have EU funding as well.

JW: Yeah, but only a small part. It’s only for the development of our website and our app.

Visiting the Route with Kids

RH: Now let me run a few hypotheticals by you. If a person was traveling with children which parts of the Liberation Route would you recommend with children?

JW: I would recommend Normandy and the Netherlands.

RH: So what in the Netherlands?

JW: The area of Gelderland is the most developed area.

RH: What’s there?

JW: It’s around Arnhem. You have the museums over there and most of the museums have a special room for children.

SG: Activities to help them understand.

JW: Multi-language, yeah. They were museums that created special booklets for children. And some of them have good lower pictures for the children. And it’s very compact you don’t have to travel long distance to get from one place to another.

RH: Right, so not too much sitting in the car.

Visiting the Route with the Mobility Impaired

RH: Let’s see if person was disabled what would you recommend of the route?

SG: Is there anything that’s not good for the mobility impaired?

JW: Yeah, well the problem is a lot of points of interest are in the landscape. If you go to the Normandy bunkers getting around in a wheelchair will be difficult.  Similarly for the Hurtgen Forest going through the forest could be a problem.

RH: Aah, okay so not Normandy and not the Hurtgen Forest. Where would they be able to go?

JW: Yeah, you can go to Normandy but you cannot…

SG: Some things you can’t do.

JW: I mean you can go to a museum. You can visit cemeteries. There is no problem at all.

The Liberation Route In Berlin

RH: Okay. If you were a foodie like Shobha and didn’t want to do only the Liberation Route which section would you suggest?

SG: My husband loves history, I like food. What would be a good compromise where we have both history and great food?

JW: Berlin. Yeah, we were together there with the Allied Museum for example but also the German-Russian Museum. They tell the Russian story about the war in Berlin.

SG: Where is that, I haven’t seen it?

JW: At Karlshorst. Karlshorst is in Berlin but outside the centre. The Allied Museum is partnering with us. We offer tours through the city of Berlin which leads you along the memorials and all that stuff.

JW: And well if you like food, Berlin is good. There’s something I want to add especially for the American readers because we recently started something.

The American Friends Fund

RH: Okay, he’s handed us a piece of paper called Liberation Route Europe Opens American Friends Fund. Foundation unveils the stories of American soldiers during World War II. Can you explain this?

The Liberation Route Europe of the Allies in WW2

Remembering the Americans on Omaha Beach (photo credit: Liberation Route Europe)

JW: We have recently started a campaign in the US for two reasons.

One, to create more awareness in the US for the existence of the Liberation Route and what happened in Europe.

And second one, we want to use the campaign for some extra funding.

We have a special donation page over there and part of the campaign is we are hoping to get some funding because we think it’s really necessary to tell the American story within the Liberation Route.

The important thing is to create more awareness. One of the reasons why we try to reach the American press over there.

SG:  I can see that because Normandy is such a huge part of the trip and that’s what a lot of Americans know. They don’t necessarily know about the parts at the end. Luxembourg, I saw Poland, Netherlands, France.

RH: Yeah, they know about Normandy. Everybody knows about Normandy.

Museums Have Joined Forces to create the Liberation Route Europe

Follow the path of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II

SG: And it kind of stops there. And the next thing you know is Berlin is occupied and that’s it. Everything in the middle is kind of fuzzy.

JW: Yeah, that’s about it, yeah.

RH:  This is an interesting way of opening up the  bridge between one and the other.

RH: I see. Now it says the stories of American soldiers. Are you actually recording stories?

JW: We are focusing to tell personal stories from people. We’re not a historical organization like division this and regiment that. No, it’s the personal stories.

One of our audio spots for example, in the Netherlands tells the story of a girl, 6 year old at that time. She’s walking around outside and she sees the paratroopers coming down. She’s running inside, she tells her mother Mum. Mum, God is throwing people out of heaven. And then her mother says, don’t worry it’s only confetti. Those stories make history more tangible.

SG: It’s a more powerful way to describe things.

JW: Yeah. And also stories of American veterans. Their story will be part of the website, biographies, story…

SG: We saw some of that was already up.

RH: We should name the website here. www.liberationroute.com is the website.

JW:  It’s available in 5 languages. English, of course, but also German, French, Polish, Dutch.

SG: Well that’s wonderful. Thank you so much for speaking to us Jeoron.

RH: Yeah, thank you very much.

JW: You’re welcome.

{End of Transcript}

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