The Epic 450-Mile French Barrier That Couldnt Stop the Nazis

The French would just as soon forget the Maginot Line. Francespent 11 years and $450 millionfortifying 450 miles of countryside against German militarization. When the Nazis invaded in May, 1940, they simply went around it.

This isn’t something the French like to dwell on. But it sofascinatesAlexandre Guirkingerthat he spent a decade exploring what’s left of the fortifications for hishaunting series The Line. Hes photographed some500 abandoned barracks, turrets and other structures. Im a bit obsessed, he says. “Sometimes when I’m bored I still look for things I might have missed.”

“The line” was not one line, but several, with multiple layers stacked 15 miles deep in places. France poured 1.3 million cubic yards of concrete and erected 150,000 tons of steelbuilding thousands of turrets, towers, and bunkers that could shelter thousands of soldiers. Some called itFrances Great Wall, but it wasn’t. The countryexpected trench warfare and got a blitzkrieg. The Germans rolled right on through.

Guirkingers family has a home in Moselle, where the Maginot Line was particularly thick. His grandmother remembers seeing the wall go up, and he often saw mossy ruins while exploring the woods as a child. A visit to the house in 2006 revived his interest, and he was surprised to learn that fine art photographers have largely ignored the Maginot Line. Its very exciting for a photographer because you can approach it the way you want, he says.

He focused on the fortifications he found most interesting. Guirkinger scoured the Internet, historical documents, Google Earth, and paper maps to plan his trips, making more than 50 in all. It wasn’t unusual for him to spend as long as five hourstrekking through forests or over the mountains with his4×5 film camera.

Guirkinger’s sweeping landscapes of crumblingfortifications giving way to wildernessfeel surprisingly contemporary. France counted on the Maginot Lineto defend it against aggression, but many historians believe it actually weakened France by giving providing a false sense of securityan effect now calledthe Maginot mentality.That’s something to think about as politicians in theUS and Europe call for more walls.


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