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Voyage d´Amour – Sans Retour

Issue 01/2008


Text Ilona Marx  Photos Andi Zimmermann  Illustration Roman Klonek

It's really hard to describe Paris without resorting to platitudes. Is there a single city in the world that awakens more romantic fantasies? Unlikely. Paris is a catalyst or – depending on which stage you happen to be in – a cell-regenerating experience, for love.

Even if the differentiation is difficult; what really makes your heart beat faster, the architectural magnificence or the sight of your companion? But these emotional ramblings are the privilege of tourists; Parisians themselves only rarely fall blindly in love with their own city.

It wasn't just the riots in the Paris suburbs that showed that life in the city on the Seine has its dark side too; the rocketing rents and daily traffic chaos are bemoaned daily by Parisians. Just as omnipresent: the symptoms of xenophobia and unemployment. But even the image of the homeless Clochards sleeping under a bridge on the banks of the Seine tends to be seen through rose-tinted spectacles by visitors to the city. In order to really understand Paris it's wise to stay level-headed and keep a grasp on the hard facts.

For example the historical ones: the founding of the university in the 13th century by King Philippe-Auguste, the rebuilding of the Louvre by Francis I in 1546. In 1661 the squanderous successor ascends the throne: Louis XIV and his famous Versailles. No less majestic are the kingly symbols of power that Napoleon I bequeathed the city: the Arc de Triomphe, the Arc du Carrousel and the pillars on the Place Vendôme. Only outdone in his enthusiasm for urban planning by Napoleon III and his engineer Baron Haussmann: they blew up medieval structures in the town and built magnificent boulevards through the city, erected schools, churches and synagogues and so gave us the Paris that we know now, with its unmistakeable look.

In more recent history great architectonic visions have become reality too: in 1977 George Pompidou promoted the building of an enormous high-tech art centre, whilst Valéry Giscard d'Estaing pushed for the transformation of the Gare d'Orsay into an art temple. Even Mitterand left a significant legacy behind: the Opera Bastille, the Louvre pyramid, the Bibliothèque Nationale and La Defense all belong to the bequest of his term of office. And two further mega-projects are in the pipeline: at first sight not as impressive but all the more precious for the Parisians themselves. With the opening of the Parc André Citroën and Parc de Bercy the traffic-plagued multi-million city can take a deep breath again.

Ilona Marx and photographer Andi Zimmermann wanted to see for themselves if there is still room for creativity and alternative approaches between all these ambitious projects and attention-commandeering showpieces and went there to find out for the J’N‘C Cityreport. Their search for inspiration led them to the already established fashion mile Etienne Marcel to the Jewish quarter Marais, from there onward into the quarters around the Bastille, the Place de la République and the Rue Oberkampf. Just as fruitful were Montmartre and the less central streets around the St. Martin canal and in Belleville.

Regrettably the sheer abundance of extravagant boutiques, original cafés and fantastic restaurants go beyond the scope of our series. Therefore the condensed version that we've put together on the following pages should be seen as an aperitif to all that remains to be discovered on your next visit to Paris.

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