Memorials in England, France, and Germany

This brief review of the often quiet architecture of heroism, brutality, and loss sometimes mark actual places of conflict but each attempts to preserve individual and collective memory.

This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by Smarthistory, now available on Google Arts & Culture

The Place de la Concorde is not explicitly a memorial to a single event (for example the many executions that took place here during the French Revolution).

The square was originally named for king Louis XV who planned it, then renamed Place de la Révolution when king Louis XVI and queen Marie Antoinette were guillotined here. The name changes continued, but Place de la Concorde, denoting peace and reconciliation won out.

Luxor Obelisk

The 3,200 year old granite obelisk from Luxor Egypt was placed here, in the tradition of ancient Rome, by king Louis Philippe in 1836. Its hieroglyphs celebrate the Pharaoh Ramses II and the base represents the ingenious effort to transport the 250 ton stone.

Looking North

The two buildings to the north, now the Hôtel de Crillon (left) and the Hôtel de la Marine or naval ministry (right) were designed soon after the site was laid out and remain key examples of Louis XV architecture.

Looking South

Looking across the Seine we can see the Palais Bourbon, an early 18th century building that now houses the French National Assembly, but had been built as a home for the daughter of king Louis XIV.

Looking East

Look past the traffic and you will see the gates to the Tuileries Garden begun in the 16th century by Catherine de' Medici, wife of king Henri II. The Louvre Museum is situated on the far side of the garden.

Looking West

Across the street and between the trees is the bottom of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the most well known avenue in Paris. At the top of the Avenue sits the Arc de Triomphe, Napoleon’s arch of triumph.


While not strictly in France, Germany, or the UK, the Lion’s Mound, in what is today Belgium, commemorates the Battle of Waterloo, the outcome of which had huge implications for those nations.

It was here that Wellington defeated Napoleon and put an end to his Imperial ambitions. Napoleon’s defeat is also credited with ushering in decades of relative tranquility between states that had been at war for years.

Lion Mound, Waterloo

The mound was ordered by the king of the Netherlands, William I in 1820, just five years after the battle. The earth was taken from various battlefields, reshaping the historic topography.

Lion of Waterloo

At the apex of the mound stand an enormous iron lion with his right paw resting upon a sphere. The Lion is meant to express courage, and the sphere, the globe—together a symbol of a united global victory.

Buxton Memorial Fountain

Buxton Memorial Fountain is a large, highly ornate drinking fountain built to commemorate the Members of Parliament responsible for the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. Construction in 1865-66, coincided with the abolition of slavery in the United States.

The monument was originally located a few block east in Parliament Square. Its many materials and exuberate colors have been recently restored. It is a prime example of Victorian design.

Buxton Memorial Fountain View Toward Houses of Parliament

The fountain is made of different types of stone, a brightly colored enamelled roof, mosaics, iron, wood, and terracotta. It is Gothic Revival in style and its octogonal base can be entered on four sides. Inside, there are four massive stone water basins.

A Closer Look

The playful Victorian interpretation of gothic forms can be seen everywhere. See for example the steep gables above the entries, the bundled columns alternating with slender single shafts and the play of color and textures.

Verdun, France

During WWI, modern artillery, machine guns, and chemical weapons drove soldiers into muddy trenches divided by no man's land strewn with barbed-wire.  In 1916, French forces checked German advances at Verdun resulting in the longest battle of the war.

230,000 soldiers died over 300 days, fighting over just a few miles of territory. Eventually, the battle of the Somme allowed the French to reverse the German advance. The battlefield remains mostly closed today because of poisons and unexploded shells.


We are looking across a field of graves. The cemetery holds more than 16,000 individual graves for soldiers who died at Verdun, including Christians, Jews, and Muslims. This is the largest WWI military cemetery in France.

Douamont Ossuary

Above the cemetery, the ossuary (place of bones) holds huge piles of the mixed bones of at least 130,000 unidentified soldiers, both French and German. These are divided into separate chambers according to battlefield in which they were recovered.

The Cenotaph, Whitehall, London

The Cenotaph stands amidst Whitehall traffic just steps from the Prime Minister’s residence.

E.L. Lutyens designed this cenotaph as a temporary structure of wood and plaster for Peace Day, held July 1919, eight months after World War I ended.Public support prompted the monument to be remade in stone. It was unveiled by King George V on Armistice Day 1920.


Flowers were placed at the foot of the original monument in 1919 and wreaths are now laid here each year by the Queen, the Royal Family, the Prime Minister and others after two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. on Remembrance Sunday.

A Closer Look

The flag of the United Kingdom is surrounded by those representing the armed forces. The simple and somber inscription reads, “The Glorious Dead.”


Above the stone wreath the Roman Numerals MCMXIV can be seen, and on the opposite side, MCMXVIII—1914 and 1918, the years of the First World War. MCMXXXIX and MCMXLV were added to honor the dead of the Second World War in 1946.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin

Hitler’s Nazi Party gained power based, in part, on reigniting historical anti-Semitism.  After Hitler was elected chancellor, anti-Semitism became national policy and millions of Jews were stripped of their property and imprisoned, enslaved, and tortured.

Six million innocent Jews including women and children were murdered. It took decades for Germans to face these crimes, but by the late 20th century an acceptance of the enormity of German violence began, if unevenly, to take hold. This memorial is an expression of that acceptance.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The memorial was designed by the American architectect Peter Eisenman (originally with sculptor Richard Serra) beginning in 1997. It is located in central Berlin near the historic Brandenburg Gate and covers a large field left vacant when the Berlin Wall was dismantled.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Eisenman placed 2,711 gray concrete stelae in rows slightly askew. The ground is uneven as is the height of each block creating an uneasy sense of disorder. Only the the length and width are the same, roughly that of a sarcophagus.

The Limits of Memorial

Germany reduced the size of the memorial site by roughly half, and has been criticized for the title that names neither the Holocaust nor Germany. For some, the austere abstract design erases the individual identities of the people who were murdered.

D-Day Landings (1944-06-06) by Robert SargentGetty Images

“Omaha Beach,” Normandy, France

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the 160,000 allied troops landed in Normandy, France.  The coastline was heavily fortified by the Germans and the cliffs and broad beaches exposed the invaders.

Omaha was the codename for this beach and the American army was responsibility for taking it.

Rough seas and strong German positions caused confusion and high casualties but the Americans met their objectives—connecting the landings at Utah and Gold Beaches and securing a foothold in Nazi occupied France.

Signal Monument, Omaha Beach

This is one of ten signal monuments designed by Yves-Marie Froidevaux c. 1948. It stands 30 feet high. The simple but powerful form is reminiscent of the prow of a ship and symbolizes the heroism of June 6, 1944.


The block inscription reads: “THE ALLIED FORCES LANDING ON THIS SHORE WHICH THEY CALL OMAHA BEACH LIBERATE EUROPE - JUNE 6th 1944” in both French and English. The sides contain shallow relief carvings.

Monument to the Women of World War II, London

A new monument was added to Whitehall, just a few steps north of The Cenotaph (visible at the right). The Monument to the Women of World War II was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005 in recognition of the essential contribution women of the United Kingdom played in the Allied victory of the Second World War.

The new memorial is bronze with gold lettering and stands in stark contrast to the light-colored stone of the original.

Relief Sculpture

As if hanging from hooks, work clothing worn by women surrounds the cenotaph including a Women's Royal Naval Service uniform, nursing cape, welder’s helmet, and a policewoman’s overcoat.


The small south facing inscription reads, “This memorial was raised to commemorate the vital work done by nearly seven million women in World War II.” The north side states, “Unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen July 9 2005”

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