For visitors to the Meuse-Argonne Jean-Paul de Vries’ Romagne ’14-’18 Museum is a well-known institution and often a must-visit location. The Webmaster has always assumed that the museum was a highly profitable institution, as it generated revenues from 1) museum entrance fees, 2) lunches, 3) hikes and tours and 4) the sale of rusty bits. However, a recent discussion with Jean-Paul suggests that Romagne ’14-’18 is far less profitable than one would think for several reasons. In fact, Jean-Paul is currently asking for donations to keep the business running. In the Q&A below, Jean-Paul talks about the issues. Readers can then decide whether to support his efforts or not.
1) Jean-Paul, can you remind us when you started the museum? How long has it been operating?
The museum has been open in its way now since 2005. Before that I had the museum for ten years in another building in Romagne.
(Webmaster’s note: My first meeting with Jean-Paul was in 2004, as he was closing his prior museum.)
2) Can you provide us some details regarding monthly or yearly visits? Can you comment on 2017-18 versus 2019?
Before the Centennial I had 4,000 visitors on a yearly basis. 2018 gave me 25,000 visitors and last year I had about 6,000 persons attending.
3) What percentage of your visitors are Dutch, American, French and other?
60% of my visitors are Dutch, 20% Belgian and other Europeans, 10% Americans, and the rest are French.
4) Can you provide us with an estimate of monthly expenses? What broad categories of expenses do you have? Does this number just include museum operating expenses, or does it include your salary / cost of living too?
Monthly expenses include French social security, insurance and electricity. I also had bad luck with my divorce. The combination of monthly costs AND divorce payments brings monthly expenses to more than 4,300 Euros.
During the divorce, the French courts wanted me to estimate the value of the whole museum by looking at selling prices on marketplaces like eBay. But as we all know, this is not a reasonable price, because nobody will ever buy the +300,000 rusted artifacts in my museum.
5) France is well-known for high tax rates. Can you talk about French taxes and tax rates?
Taxes here are crazy. You pay them for service and then pay them over again as wages. I pay 20% for services like selling souvenirs and guided hikes and 10% for restaurant and museum entrance.
(Webmaster note: France is a high-tax country, and that stifles a lot of small businesses. The French tax rate Jean-Paul mentioned is 20% and 10% of REVENUES. This is very different from the U.S., where tax rates are based on a % of pre-tax profits. Revenues – Costs = Pre-Tax profits.)
6) France is also known as a very bureaucratic country. Can you comment on other forms of bureaucracy that drive up expenses?
The French system is so difficult that you need to hire a bookkeeper, which costs 5,000 to 6,000 Euros annually.
(Webmaster note: Jean-Paul did not cover it, but employment laws are also very unfavorable for the employer in France.)
7) A few years ago you set up a museum foundation in Holland. Can you provide some details? Doesn’t that foundation provide a source of funds? What are those funds used for?
The foundation is Friends of Romagne ’14 – ’18. (https://www.friendsofromagne14-18.com/index.php/en/) It has been created to help the museum to exist in an authentic way. It can buy artifacts for the museum or pay a part of a new roof. But the foundation is not able to help when I need personnel to operate the restaurant so I can be a guide in the museum, for example.
When there are difficulties they are there to help; but don’t forget that most members are Dutch, and we do not have the same donation culture as you do in the USA.
8) What is the best way that Meuse-Argonne.com readers can support you? What is your target for donations?
What I hope is: 1) that my museum can keep on existing without yearly worries around it; 2) that I have the possibilities to change the exhibit yearly so people return; and MOST IMPORTANT 3) that I can liberate myself from the museum to take families into the fields and woods so they can walk in the footsteps of the soldiers.
(Webmaster’s note: The easiest way to donate would be via PayPal to [email protected]. Readers who prefer to use a credit card or bank transfer can contact Jean-Paul at the same email address to arrange payment.)
9) Is there any other comment you would like to make to Meuse-Argonne.com readers?
I want to thank many of you for all the support you gave already. Many came to my museum before or are following it on the net. I think it’s important that we keep the memories of those who fought, fell or are still fighting for freedom!
Webmaster’s Thoughts: I encourage readers–especially those who have visited the museum and know what a special place it is–to support Jean-Paul through a donation. What makes Romagne ’14-’18 special to me is that it illustrates the enormity of the Great War; especially to people who might only be stopping in the Meuse-Argonne for a short stay. It still amazes me that, in this one tiny sliver of France, the locas are still finding hundreds of rifles, canteens, toothbrushes, etc. decades after the war ended. On a personal level, I am also grateful for Jean-Paul de Vries and his tireless work. I met Jean-Paul in November 2004; almost sixteen years ago. On numerous occasions he has answered emails and phone calls quickly, provided contacts or other information and taken the time to greet my tour clients on a very busy day. Finally, I think of the contacts I have made at/through the museum and the number of times I have eaten at the museum, recharged my batteries (i.e. Coca-Cola) and/or used the WC. For WW1 battlefield visitors it really is a nice oasis in a rural area that does not offer many services!