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In Normandy, frescoes and bunkers from 1939-1945 come back to life in bars, lodges and exhibitions

A bunker transformed into a lodge, a bar or simply a work of art, a fresco in a hotel.

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In Normandy, frescoes and bunkers from 1939-1945 come back to life in bars, lodges and exhibitions

A bunker transformed into a lodge, a bar or simply a work of art, a fresco in a hotel... Long abandoned, the remains of the Second World War in Normandy sometimes find a second lease of life, relaying the witnesses who disappear 80 years after the Landing.

“The most important thing is the transmission of memory. We are in the process of moving from living memory with residents and veterans who are leaving, towards a story that is being told,” estimates Jérémy Dubois of the Bar du 6 Juin in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont (Manche). , passed by thousands of Americans who landed on June 6, 1944 at Utah Beach. The thirty-year-old is aware that the frescoes in his bar are exceptional and wants to preserve them at all costs “so that it remains a witness”.

Made in 1945 by Marcel Gautreau, cousin of the owners at the time, they show the first stele erected in France in honor of the liberators, the paratroopers in front of the village's recognizable bell tower and the landing on the beach. “It gives a bit of an idea of ​​what happened,” recounts Cécile Osmont, 14 years old in 1944. “We experienced all that. In reality, it was worse. Everyone was trembling, everyone was praying, we were wondering if a bomb was going to fall on our heads. It was horror!”

A stone's throw from the bar, in the old kommandantur, an American foundation welcoming veterans has renovated German frescoes: folk scenes with storks and beers, officers or even an illustration of the song Lili Marleen. The Americans, who made them their headquarters at the Liberation, were keen to keep them, believing that they had “caused enough destruction in Europe and during the war”. “We don't want the story to disappear,” reports The Greatest Generations Foundation president Timothy Davies. So far, 70 frescoes have been identified by the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs (Drac), mainly German but also American “comics” or British style with a map of Western Europe.

They are among the eight thousand elements listed over the past 10 years in Lower Normandy, including those destroyed. This database will be accessible on the internet in June. It includes a missile hangar which today houses boats and homes, a pumping station for watering dust-covered airfields transformed into a second home, as well as an emergency building for post-war rehousing in Langrune-sur -sea. A German swimming pool is even used for a trail near Cherbourg.

But most often, residents, businesses or communities cover the frescoes with paint or plaster, leave these vestiges like the Canadian house in Brouay abandoned or destroy them. Until the 1990s, any trace of the occupier was easily eradicated: brick kitchens, bathrooms, theaters, garages and other gatehouses built by the Germans were destroyed. “It requires a will on the part of the owners, an awareness that a fresco, ammunition bunkers... made by Germans, are heritage. It’s not obvious to everyone,” recognizes Cyrille Billard, coordinator of the census of these remains at the Drac.

As for the bunkers, often too expensive to destroy, they are left abandoned. Some, however, have become a lodge, a nautical center in Ver-sur-mer or even a shelter for cows in Saint-Martin-de-Vareville. Graffiti artists from Cotentin (Manche) see it as an artistic playground. On Biville beach where there have been no landings, Blesea finishes off a huge turtle. The graffiti artist, who enjoys painting Darth Vader or Dragon Ball on the bunkers, recognizes that “the fact of painting on them, people stop, take photos”. “It can also be an opportunity, according to him, to restore visibility to things that over time we hardly saw anymore.”

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