Hartenstein was a hotel located in the Dutch village of Oosterbeek. Situated on the Utrechtseweg, the main road into Arnhem, the hotel profited from the traffic and visitors that passed through on the way to and from Arnhem. It was this practical location, five kilometres west of Arnhem city centre, that led to it becoming HQ Hartenstein in 1944, the headquarters of the British 1st Airborne Division. It was here, from Hartenstein, where they planned the execution of Operation Market Garden.
It began on the 17th of September, 1944. British and Polish forces parachuted into Arnhem, and their plan was to cross the Rhine and make their way southwards into Germany, bypassing the Siegfried line and ‘ending the war by the end of the year’. It was the largest air armada ever undertaken, with over 2,000 aircraft involved in the mission. 10,095 British troops parachuted into Arnhem alone. Meanwhile, British troops that had landed in France on the beaches of Normandy four months earlier, were making their way through Belgium towards the Netherlands, ready to act as backup to the paratroopers.
Operation Market Garden failed though. The German defence took the British by surprise. Suffering heavy loses, unable to secure any bridge crossing across the Rhine and surrounded by German troops on all three sides, the British launched Operation Berlin. It was a new mission, a mission to evacuate the troops that had become trapped in and around Arnhem. It was effectively a retreat. After nine days of heavy fighting the Battle of Arnhem was lost. Hartenstein HQ – which like much of Oosterbeek had been surrounded by German troops, and had been under heavy fire – was vacated. It was left in a state of severe disrepair, littered with bullet holes.
In 1945, at the close of the Second World War, the Netherlands was in a pretty desperate state. Having endured German occupation for the previous five years, much of the country’s population were close to starvation. Immediately, several hundred thousand Dutch people emigrated from war-torn Europe, heading to Australia, America, Canada or other New World countries. Nevertheless, with Marshall Aid starting to arrive from America, coupled with the natural industriousness of the Dutch people, the Netherlands started to recover. Life returned to relative normality and Hartenstein became, once again, Hotel Hartenstein.
Given the magnitude of Operation Market Garden, plans were drawn up to build a museum commemorating the Battle of Arnhem. The museum opened in 1949, located at Doorwerth Castle, a medieval castle located on the Rhine, 11 kilometres upstream from Arnhem. The collection quickly grew and soon it was clear that Doorwerth Castle had neither the space nor the capacity to accommodate the museum. Eventually, in 1978, the museum was moved to Hartenstein, which once again had to relinquish its role as a hotel. The museum has been based there ever since, and in 2008 it underwent a huge expansion. A basement was added to the building, which now houses a life-sized, 3D models, depicting scenes from the battle.