Even today French locals , other Europeans and Americans find themselves drawn to the Meuse-Argonne region of France. Once drawn there, many return time and again; often working on a multi-year research or preservation project. In this irregular interview series, the webmaster hopes to introduce readers to some of these individuals and their labors of love.
1) What are your name, nationality and occupation?
Maarten and Didi Otte, a Dutch couple running B&B 14-18 Nantillois and private museum ‘Meuse-Argonne 1918’ which is open to the public. Maarten is also a tourguide on the Verdun and Meuse-Argonne battlefields and author of two books concerning the Meuse-Argonne battle.
2) Which languages do you speak, and how fluently do you speak them?
We speak English, Dutch and German. Our French is basic but sufficient and we learn along the way.
3) When was your first visit to the Meuse-Argonne?
It must have been around the year 2000. Together with his cousin, Maarten has been a battlefield tourist on the Western Front for almost 25 years.
4) When did you really find yourself drawn to the Meuse-Argonne?
As of the first time we visited the area. From the Roman period to the Franco Prussian War and First World War up until the Second World War, you can find it all in the Meuse-Argonne area. But like most people, our first visit started at Verdun.
5) What is your primary interest in the region?
The history and nature. It is one of the best kept secrets that it is a lovely landscape, full of historical points of interest not discovered by many tourists as of yet. To us however, history in general and the First World War in particular has our primary interest.
6) Approximately how many times and/or how often do you visit the Meuse-Argonne?
We live here permanently.
7) What do you do when you visit?
On our day off (Wednesday) we tend to visit as many historical and cultural sites as we can. Most of these visits are research related.
8) What research or preservation projects are you working on currently?
Maarten is currently writing a book on the ‘Bois des Ogons’, 80th Division. We also have plans to restore a German bunker in Nantillois.
9) What research or preservation projects have you completed in the past?
Maarten has written two books about the Meuse-Argonne campaign of 1918; ‘The U.S. 79th division in Nantillois 1918’ and ‘Medals of Honor in the Meuse-Argonne 1918’.
Also opening both the b&b and museum has been quite a project.
10) What is your favorite spot in the Meuse-Argonne, and why?
Our house in Nantillois. We are really at home here.
11) History aside, what is your favorite thing to do in the Meuse-Argonne?
Having a couple of beers with friends, listening to music, riding and restoring sixties mopeds, reading and playing guitar.
12) Schedule permitting, would you consider being a tour guide for individuals or groups traveling to the sector?
But of course, that is my occupation.
13) How can readers contact you for assistance or for more details?
14) Any other comments?
The Meuse-Argonne area is a really rich and beautiful region, we can recommend it to everybody. Also people that are not interested in history will enjoy themselves.