Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Below and above Paris

In Paris, under the Gare de l'Est train station used by thousands of people every day still exists this World War II era bunker. What's missing in this photo is the bicycle connecting the ventilation system to leg power fresh air in case of a bombardment raid. Yours truly rode the bike and I got winded in a few minutes - just think if you had to pedal hours for fresh air!
Stepping into the bunker was like stepping back in time. From what I gleaned from my guide - the SNCF history buff who snuck me down there - is that the French railway prepared this for the eventuality of war, constructing this in 1938 or 39 to have a secure location to direct part of the train system. A place to defend and protect themselves in case of invasion.
But from above in the busy station you'd never know. Hidden beneath the platforms 2 and 3 nestles this old underground shelter against bombing. Inside, everything is still in working order; diversion systems, oxygen cylinder in case of attack toxic, cranks attached to a bicycle chain in case of power failure, telephones (unconnected now) and the rail network graphics.
But after the German Occupation in 1940 the German army took over this bunker. I saw graffiti and German notices are on the walls. More than 70 people could live in this building completely sealed in a concrete surface of 120m2. The bunker was composed of three main parts separated by watertight door: a room of machinery, a control station and, of course, a telephone exchange. If you enlarge the phtoe note that the Department of Defense continues to maintain the place and probably other similar places known and unknown

Here's a view in the Canal Saint Martin where part of the canal goes under the street

Talking about aboveground here's the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter grave of the greats the Parisian mausoleum that holds France’s greatest citizens,
where urban explorers part of les UX broke in and for over a year, at night in secret, restored a 150 year old clock

Les UX with 150 or so members has about ten branches. One group, all-female, specialises in “infiltration” – getting into museums after hours, finding a way through underground electric or gas networks and shutting down alarms.

But the branch called the Untergunther – specialises in restoration. Untergunther, whose members include architects and historians, rebuilt an abandoned 100-year-old French government bunker and renovated a 12th-century crypt, he said. They claim to be motivated by a desire to preserve Paris’s heritage.

Several years ago the Untergunther hid in the Panthéon, to repair a clock that had been left to rust. Slipping in at closing time every evening – French television said that they had their own set of keys – they set up a workshop hidden behind mock wooden crates at the top of the monument. The security guards never found it. The Untergunther used a professional clockmaker, Jean-Baptiste Viot, to mend the 150-year-old mechanism.

When the clock began working again, officials were horrified. The Centre for National Monuments confirmed that the clock had been repaired but said that the authority had begun legal action against the Untergunther. Under official investigation for breaking and entry, its members face a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a €15,000 fine.

The clock runs and now the question...would you prosecute them?

Cara - Tuesday


  1. Prosecute? No. Give them a medal? Probably not. But congratulate them? Definitely.

    Giving them a medal for their ingenuity would probably encourage too many who are less ingenious but would love the challenge of getting in some place with tight security but doing it for the thrill would probably lead to damage.

    Having little sense of adventure, I can't imagine myself doing anything so clever, and dangerous, but I have to tip my hat to those who see challenge and adventure all around them.

    It is too bad that the French built the bunker so well. Providing a safe place from which the Germans could control the city is the worst sort of irony.

  2. Beurocrats never cease to amaze. I wouldn't be surprised if they had at some point introduced a illegal clock-fixing clause into the criminal law. How very French though - both the underground secret fixing group and the reaction of the legal system/police. Gotta love it.