Friday, January 27, 2006

Gare de l'Est

Place du 8 Mai 1945. 10e arrondissement.

34 million people pass through the train station every year, making it the fifth-busiest station in Paris.

The Gare de l'Est is always a bit of an emotional sight for me because it was the train station from which thousands upon thousands of soldiers were sent to the trenches of Verdun in world war one. They all passed under the half-rosette of its glorious entrance, and for many it was their last sight of the civilian world...a point of no return.

The Orient Express still runs from here to Vienna and Budapest, even though it looks a bit different. It first departed from the Gare de l'Est to Istanbul on October 4, 1883.

Between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries, the square in front of the train station was the site of the Saint Laurent Fair otherwise known as the Carnival -- a much-missed festival now in the twenty-first century.

The original building of the Gare, now its western wing, was built between 1847-1850 by François-Alexandre Duquesney with the help of the engineer Pierre Cabanel de Sermet. Commissioned by the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer de Paris à Strasbourg, the building was originally called the Gare de Strasbourg, and served the railroad line Paris-Strasbourg, functioning since 1844. Streets in the neighborhood still recall the origins of the first passengers: Boulevard de Strasbourg, Rue d'Alsace... and restaurants in the area still reflect the choucroute and galette influences.

All the shoe ads are a little ironic given that this is a place devoted to other forms of transport...

Luckily, the French decided to change its name to the Gare de l'Est in 1854, well before the embarrassment of losing the province of Alsace to the Germans during the 1871 Franco-Prussian war. Growing railway traffic made extensions necessary, so the engineer Bertaud imitated the original building, adding on to it symmetrically, between 1924 and 1931.

Today, trains leave from here for eastern France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Pigeons beware. (So weirdly beautiful...where is Marcel Duchamp?)


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