Probably you have all heard of Ypres before. Sadly, not in a positive light. In history textbooks, Ypres is mentioned as one of the places where there was most severe fighting during the WWI. Ypres was a part of the western front, where the Germans fought against the French, Belgian and English. Also, another infamous fact is that there a poisonous gas was used during fighting for the first time – the yperite. During the WWI Ypres was completely destroyed, but has been rebuilt with German debt money to look like it has before the war. Now, Ypres is a cute little town with a beautiful main square where was already a Christmas market. Around the town only military graveyards and ‘lakes’ made by bombs give a hint that almost 200 000 soldiers died there.
There is a very good museum about the war in Ypres – the Flander Fields Museum. It does not take sides but just shows how futile war is. We spent there a record 3 hours and we had to leave because the museum closed at 5 pm. The most interesting for me was a story how soldiers stopped fighting for Christmas of 1914 and got out of their tranches, talked with the enemy, shown photos of family and sung Christmas carols. An estimated 100 000 soldiers took part in the Christmas truce. When their leaders heard about this they forbade it.
In Ypres, there is the Last Post ceremony happening every day since 1927 except during WWII. During the ceremony, a wreath is put under the memorial, each day by another family whose ancestor died in the WWI. The ceremony takes place under the Menin Gate which is a memorial to all soldiers who perished during the war and have no known grave. There are more than 54 000 names on the memorial. The ceremony attracts a huge amount of people and if you want to see anything, you have to be there at least 30 min earlier. It is quite a moving experience.
Ypres was a sad visit. But nonetheless important to see and to learn from it.