On Denmark’s Jutland coast an elegant new museum counters a Nazi monolith | Travel

West Jutland’s fields and poppy-strewn meadows stretch as far as the eye can see. In the distance there are sand dunes knotted with sea lyme and marram grass. It is a peaceful scene – but then you come across Tirpitz: a menacing fortification that was part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall defences, which extended from Nordkapp, Norway, all the way to the Pyrenees.

The immense Tirpitz concrete block, near Blåvand, was constructed in late 1944 to protect the sea route to Esbjerg harbour. The war’s end meant that it was never fully completed, yet it remains a vivid reminder of a darker past. Next week, a contemporary exhibition complex will open, revealing the little-known stories of this remote corner of Denmark.

An artist’s impression shows how the Atlantic Wall fortification is incorporated into the new building.

The elegant new museum, joined to the bunker by a tunnel, was designed by architects Bjarke Ingels. It is the antithesis of its hefty, imposing neighbour. A series of incisions appear in the sand dunes, leading to a hidden, airy square from which the exhibition spaces radiate.

“We had two demands of the architects,” says Claus Kjeld Jensen, director of Varde Museums: “We wanted world-class design; but also the museum had to have coherence with its natural surroundings. It is important that this space should embrace the light.”

A rendering showing how the museum blends with its surroundings.

A rendering showing how the museum blends with its surroundings.

Inside, the three new permanent exhibition spaces have been conceptualised by Dutch designers Tinker Imagineers. The result is an intriguing experience. It is, says Tinker director Erik Bär, “a scenographic journey through the time and space of West Jutland. The idea is that the whole place comes to life following the rhythms of nature.”

In the West Coast Stories exhibit, visitors embark on a “daylight” journey and a “darkened experience” that tell the story of how the tides brought wealth and stability to the area on the one hand, and took lives on the other. The largest collection of amber in Denmark is found in Gold of the Sea, complete with recreations of 40 million-year-old trees weeping resin.

In contrast, a recreated landscape of bunkers appear in An Army of Concrete, where visitors can learn about the Atlantic Wall and step back in time to see how war left its mark on seven individuals. It is profoundly moving. The bedroom of 10-year-old Astri is recreated, decorated with pictures drawn by local schoolchildren, inspired by her diary of the time; we meet Anna, a 20-year-old Dane who falls in love with German radio officer Paul. There’s Gerhard’s room too – a young soldier writing letters to his mum.

“It was our goal to create a one-of-a-kind experience: astonishing and dramatic, yet with great humbleness to this fragile environment,” says Jensen. They have succeeded. Here, tucked away among Jutland’s heathland and sand dunes, there are some remarkable stories waiting to be discovered.
Tirpitz, Blåvand opens on 30 June. Open daily 9am-7pm, adults £14.75, under-18s free

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