When I took a driving tour of central Luxembourg, I stayed overnight in Diekirch, one of the larger towns in the country. (In Luxembourg, "one of the larger towns" in the country means a mere 6,000 inhabitants.) It didn't take long for me to warm up to the town, especially on a perfectly sunny day in late spring. The town lies in the lazy River Sūre Valley, surrounded by thickly-forested hills and lush green farmland. Diekirch, like much of Luxembourg, was clean and friendly, and the inhabitants seemed to like living life at a nice, slow pace. I truly enjoyed it.
I started my tour of Diekirch by exploring the city park the followed the Sūre River into the hillsides. It was a beautiful day, and the outdoorsy types were taking advantage. There were campgrounds downriver and they were completely full. Dozens of bikers and speed skaters traveled the paths on both banks. A couple rowboats were on the water in the distance. The first photo shows a flower-covered pedestrian bridge leading toward the town hall (off the photo to the left).
The downtown was smallish, but with a pleasant pedestrian district about three blocks long. The most interesting buildings were decorative, but not lavish. For example, the town hall (Hotel de Ville) looked like a simple but large house. But it had full flower boxes on the windows and a huge display of flowers on the lawn. The City Theater at the edge of downtown also looked more like a house, rather than a theater. Tucked very deeply in the middle of one block is Diekirch's main historical structure, the Church of St. Lawrence (St. Laurent Church) which is so well protected by other buildings that getting a decent exterior picture of it was next to impossible.
The second and third photographs show two other significant buildings that were next to each other -- St. Martin's Church followed by the Palace of Justice. St. Martin's is the largest church in town, and it was where I went to Mass on Sunday morning ... in Portuguese. In one of those odd discoveries that stuck with me, Diekirch actually has a very large Portuguese immigrant population, enough to fill St. Martin's at two-thirds. It also explained why the Italian restaurant served Portuguese wine and why Portuguese goods were prominently advertised on a couple storefronts.
The Palace of Justice was, well, a typical Palace of Justice -- made of stone and looking stately. I included the photo more to highlight the tents lining the parking lot that would be used later that night for a town festival (it looked like a wine festival but I never did find out for sure).
The major highlight of the trip was the National Museum of Military History, just a half-block away from St. Martin's. The museum was undergoing a very significant renovation effort when I was there, and no wonder. This museum is bursting at the seams with donated artifacts, so overcrowded with exhibits that expansion was a must. This may be because (and I'm guessing) that the museum began exclusively as a place to tell the story of the famous Battle of the Bulge in World War II but has become so popular that it includes much more than that now, including exhibits to recent events in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Truth is, while it is Luxembourg's National Museum of Military History, the museum has mostly American exhibits. The entrance to the museum, shown in the fourth photograph, includes a Sherman tank from the 4th Armored Division and American cannons on the hillside. The opening room is a massive display of American military vehicles from the war, including trucks, ambulances, engineer equipment, and artillery. Among the ambulances were mannequins re-enacting scenes from field hospitals amidst a very thorough display of old medical and surgical gear.
That provided a taste for what was to come. In the main floor and basement were several life-sized dioramas re-enacting scenes from the Battle of the Bulge. Several of them re-created a scene from a real-life military photograph, like one of a three-man machine gun position hunkered down in a snow-covered foxhole and a room-sized diorama of soldiers hauling plywood boats filled of supplies across the heavy snow during the assault on Echternach in December 1944. Though somewhat stylized for museum purposes, the dioramas were very good at depicting the harshness of the conditions during this important battle. My only complaint, really a quibble, was that it was difficult to navigate the museum and get a clear sense of the sequence of major events from the Battle. (I knew it already myself, but I suspected a novice might not catch on, nor really understand why this battle was so important in the course of overall American and European history.)
The upper floors focused on the Luxembourg Army and NATO, plus special exhibits on women in the Army and other topics. There were exhibits on rifles, military uniforms, and American combat rations through the years (yecch!). Certainly the museum rated as a must-see for anyone with an interest in military history, especially World War II. Also available were guidebooks for walking tours of the Battle of the Bulge and the many American monuments around. For example, I drove past the 9th Armored Division monument at a major intersection not far away from the town.
When I returned to the city square to prepare for my journey home, I came upon marching band music coming from the vicinity of St. Lawrence Church. I found the band, about twenty strong, just beginning its march toward the center of town. Curious, I followed the band as it marched through the streets, eventually reaching the scene in the fifth photograph -- set up right in the center square. Just like in Ludwigsburg, Germany a few weeks earlier, the town was hosting an outdoor religious service -- this one Catholic. The marching band was part of the service, and when I took this shot they had just broken up to take their positions behind the tented altar (where the cross is seen). It was a nice touch, but I didn't stick around long as I had a long drive home ahead of me.
Diekirch was the right choice to stay overnight. It was in the middle of a major tourist region, with several popular destinations (like Larochette and Vianden) less than twenty minutes away by major secondary roads. And it was a beautiful town surrounded by fabulous scenery, with plenty to see and do. Since I didn't get the chance to do Patton's Museum is nearby Ettelbruck this trip, I suspect I will be back.
Trip taken 21-22 June 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2003 Tom Galvin