Visiting Reims, France: Where Kings Were Crowned and Where General Eisenhower Received the Surrender of Germany, 1945
A city which attracts history and leaders
This city has attracted the leaders of history at solemn moments. The cycle of events revolved in Reims for hundreds of years. For centuries, French kings were crowned here, at the magnificent Gothic Notre Dame cathedral, with its fine, Medieval façade (1). (That is, when France had kings to crown.) Paris may be France's official capital. But Reims is where the cycle of Medieval — and post-World War 2 — history was solemnized.
On May 7, 1945, from the Lycée Roosevelt , Reims, the headquarters of Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, an understated and prosaic message was sent to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, in Washington, DC:
'The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945. Signed Eisenhower.'
There had just been a solemn moment of relief, when Germany's General Jodl had signed the instrument of surrender, on behalf of the briefly recognized — and then arrested — German President, Grand Admiral Doenitz (2). The Surrender Museum (Musée de la reddition ) may be visited at 12 Rue du Président Franklin Roosevelt .
The smiles of the Allied commanders following this event were captured on camera (3) and the following day various countries rapturously celebrated VE Day. The smiles did not last very long, however, among the former Allies, when Soviet Russia took control of Eastern European countries, and increasingly cut off the Soviet sector of Germany from the rest of the country.
At Reims, the end of a gargantuan struggle had just been enacted, the geopolitical tectonic plates had just been realigned — and, if the main actors of the political scene did not realize it, they soon would. Another immense struggle would soon emerge, and not formally end until the opening of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, in 1989 — or until the end of the Soviet Union in 1991...? The vantage point of time will tell the longer term significance of the endings and beginnings enacted at historic places such as Reims.
(1) The cathedral was substantially rebuilt in the 12th century, on the site of a 3rd century church, where Clovis, King of the Franks, formally converted to Roman Catholicism in 496.
(2) Grand Admiral Doenitz was jailed and General Jodl was hanged, following the Nuremburg War Trials, 1946.
(3) Arguably, the publicity surrounding General Eisenhower's victorious acceptance of the German surrender at Reims was the most prominent event which, together with others in his distinguished military career, made it a near certainty that he would win the nomination for President of whichever party from which he eventually might seek it, and a near certainty that he would be strongly supported in the popular election, which ensued. In this sense, as Michael Korda has claimed, General Eisenhower's role at Reims, and his subsequent political career, is virtually a mirror of that of General Ulysses Grant at Appomattox, and his subsequent election — for two terms, like Eisenhower — as President of the United States (See: Michael Korda, Ike: An American Hero, Harper/Collins Publishers, 2007.)
Note on spelling
Because of Reims's presence in so many historical writings, the former spelling 'Rheims' is often seen. The more modern spelling 'Reims' was first adopted in French, while the former spelling continued to be used in English; however, the current French spelling now tends increasingly to be used in English also.
Also worth seeing
Reims has a number of fine buildings and structures (distances given are from the Cathedral at 2, place du Cardinal Luçon ). The Hôtel de ville (City Hall; distance: 0.7 kilometres) is a fine 17th century building, completed in the 19th century, destroyed in WW1, but rebuilt afterwards. The Saint Rémi Basilica (distance: 1.6 kilometres) was commenced in the 11th century and has many associations with French kings. The Tau Palace (distance: 0.4 kilometres) was the archbishop's residence which houses a Medieval history museum. The Porte Mars (Mars Gate; distance: 1.5 kilometres) is a well preserved, triumphal arch dating from Roman times: approximately 3rd century. The Place royale (distance: 0.8 kilometres) has a fine 18th century Sous-préfecture government building, formerly known as the Hotel des fermes , with a statue of French King Louis XV in the centre of the square.
Laon (distance: 51 kilometres) is an historic city, with a fine Medieval cathedral.
Guise (distance: 93 kilometres) is a town with an ancient castle, associated with the Dukes who carried the same name as the town.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), where car rental is available. (Paris-Reims, distance: 144 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains services from Paris to Reims. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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