The fortifications of the Maginot Line, built in the 1920s and 30s by the French government to deter invasion from Germany, are amongst Europe’s most notable feats of concrete engineering. They were named after a defence minister, André Maginot (1877-1932).
The Schoenenbourg fort lies 2 km north of the village of Schoenenbourg in the department of Bas-Rhin, about 80 km north of Strasbourg and 130 km west of Stuttgart. It was the largest of the Maginot line forts, and was designed to accommodate a garrison of about 500 men and to be entirely self-sufficient, with stored food, drinking water and medical facilities sufficient to withstand long sieges. Its eight component blocks were linked by electrified 600 mm gauge railways. There was a prolonged period of fighting around the fort in the first nine months of the Second World War, but the garrison did not surrender until 1 July 1940, long after the Battle of France had been lost. There was no significant fighting when the fort was captured by the US Army as the war concluded, but some parts were blown up by the retreating German forces. Schoenenbourg was restored during the Cold War in response to a perceived threat of an armoured strike by the Warsaw Pact powers, but was being run down by the 1980s.
From 1987 a group, of volunteers founded in 1981, was allowed by the French Army to conduct tours of the fort, and it was sold to the local community for use as a tourist attraction in 2001. It is open to visitors during the summer months between April and early November. Visitors are able to see artillery positions, hoists for ammunition, machine gun turrets, and the remains of the electric railway that linked the 8 blocks. The most significant aspect of a tour of Schoenenbourg however is the overpowering nature of the concrete construction.
Two other nearby fortifications, the Abri de Grasserloch and the Casemate d’Esch are interpreted by the same local organisation.